By Yodsapon Kerdviboon / Photos by Chris Beale
Khon Kaen city nights have not been the same in the past month. Vehicles disappear from the roads and people rush to get home before the clock strikes ten.
Only the silent red lights of police vehicles remain as evidence of life in the streets. The flashing red lights crawl into every nook and cranny of this city, making sure that this economic engine at the heart of Isaan is truly switched off.
Nobody one’s slurping hot noodles at roadside stalls; no steaming khao tom served, and no spicy som tam relished, because none of Khon Kaen’s nocturnal merrymakers are allowed out tonight.
Only the solitary security guards of shops and venues with things worth stealing inside can be seen munching on whatever’s in their takeaway boxes while at work.
But what’s the same as every past year is the homeless people taking shelter beneath trees, on the pavement, and in front of shops. They stay outside despite the curfew because there’s nowhere for them to go.
Ever since the government declared a state of emergency in late March (invoking the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations law of 2005), Khon Kaen city has been effectively shut down. People coming in and out of the city, and at the provincial borders, are scanned at checkpoints. Since April 3, the 10 p.m. – 4 a.m. curfew has been enforced to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in Thailand.
This is the first time in Thai history that the government has declared both a state of emergency and enforced a curfew to deal with a pandemic. In the past, these measures were reserved for national security crises, times of war, unrest at the Southern border, political unrest, and protests against the government in the capital.
Despite the curfew, homeless people continue to sleep on benches outside shops all along Klang Mueang road in downtown Khon Kaen. Photo by Chris Beale
Sonti (foreground) and Damrong are both homeless. They are making their way back to a nearby temple after scouring the city for plastic bottles to sell. Photo by Chris Beale
The Bobe market, a main hub of fresh produce and food in the city, is usually bustling at night with vendors setting up their stalls. With the curfew in force, the market is eerily quiet. Photo by Chris Beale
A security guard watches over a motorcycle dealership. He still has a job despite the curfew because his employer was able to secure a permit from the police for him to carry on as an essential worker. Photo by Chris Beale
Klang Mueang road, a main thoroughfare through the business district of Khon Kaen city, is completely devoid of people. In ordinary times, it would be full of traffic. Photo by Chris Beale
A pack of stray dogs roams the deserted roads, an unusual sight on one of the main arteries of Khon Kaen city. Photo by Chris Beale
Tawan Daeng, one of Khon Kaen’s most popular and famous night spots, remains closed. One of the city’s first COVID-19 cases was a visitor to the club. Photo by Chris Beale
The city gate of Khon Kaen straddling Sri Chan Road. Photo by Chris Beale
The entrance to the Friendship Highway (Mittraphap Road) underpass in Khon Kaen city still sees traffic from goods and logistics trucks, exempt from the curfew, rolling through. Photo by Chris Beale
This story was first published in Thai on May 3, 2020. Translated and edited by The Isaan Record.