The color red has a lot of symbolic connections in Thailand with the fight for justice and national pride. The representation of red as blood serves as the democratic fight for justice. The historical growth of red shirts and the Red Movement in 2006 was only the beginning of more protests.
That said, can you wear red in Thailand, or will you get caught up in something unpleasant?
You can wear the color red in Thailand but not under particular intentions. When going to a political hangout, red shirts are linked to hatred towards the current government and can result in violent protests. However, there are no laws that prevent tourists from casually wearing the color red.
It is entirely safe to wear the color as a tourist. However, this can be a topic of controversial discussion amongst locals living in Thailand. Wearing the color red for any other love for sports, love, or clothing choice can wrongfully be linked to your choice of political side.
Let’s take a look at the representation of red in Thailand and where the organization comes through for the Red Movement.
The Representation of Red in Thailand
The national flag of Thailand has three important colors for Thai culture: red, white, and blue. Focusing on the red in this aspect represents the blood of life for the land. It symbolizes the blood spilled by the Thai people to maintain the independence of their nation (5).
Those of pro-democracy, pro-Shinawatra, and anti-monarchists are seen protesting the streets of Thailand. However, these colors can be used for various purposes, such as the color yellow, not only symbolizing love for the King but also for Father’s day (5). In the same way, Thai people used the color black to mark and mourn respect towards the beloved King, following years after 2016 (5).
The Symbolism Behind Red Clothes: Red Shirts vs. Yellow Shirts
Under recent government changes in Thailand, as of 2009, there have been continuous negotiations regarding the country’s long-lasting political relations (1). The yellow-shirt protests have been replaced by red-shirt objections, which can have different meanings for visitors coming to the country (1).
To summarize, the yellow shirts are worn by people who oppose former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies. On the other hand, the red shirt supporters value Thaksin and his policies, which have helped people in rural and working-class sectors (1). You will usually see more red shirt protests in the country’s north, while yellow shirt supporters are usually southern-based. However, the city of Bangkok also has a large percentage of yellow shirt supporters (1).
The Red Shirts and Red Movement
There is a history behind the red shirts rally in the country. The redshirt wearers are angry at the former government they support, which was forced to relinquish power due to rulings by the Thai courts. Thai people who helped the red team termed this change a ‘judicial coup’ and ‘silent coup’ and saw the heads of elite power bases, including figures of the Thai army (1).
The movement has increased in high places, even within Government Houses. Moreover, the two dominant groups, UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) and DAAD (Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship), are behind the movement. The leaders demanded that the parliament be dissolved and that legal action be taken against the PAD (People’s Alliance for Democracy) movement (1).
Red for Tourists Visiting Thailand
Although the emphasis on red has a vast political standpoint for the local Thai people, this is not necessarily aimed towards tourists. As tourism continues to be a massive indicator of Thailand’s economic success, visitors are welcome every day as life is typical, and they can wear whatever color they want (1).
It is not a promise that tourists would never come across such protests, though signs of political strife are seen across the nation from television programs, news outlets, and the local streets. While relying on exports and tourism, it would be economically lacking for Thailand to afford airport closures under such violent protests (1).
However, there is no doubt that there will be more red shirt protests under every new Government House, especially in the center of Bangkok (1).
Are you Allowed to Wear Red and is it Safe?
If you are not Thai, you do not need to worry about the color of your shirt. However, if you do not want to upset the locals, it is best to avoid wearing either yellow or red and choosing an opposition side (1). This is because this is a very problematic and controversial issue.
Moreover, when wearing red, you can take away from the symbolism of the yellow shirt (1). The Thai people proudly wear yellow as a sign of allegiance and respect to the Thai King. Usually worn on Mondays, there has been a high drop of people following this tradition, so it might be harmful to wear red on Mondays (1).
Avoiding the Color Red Under Particular Circumstances
Today, you will notice that there has been a drop in the color red and yellow for casual wear. Much of the Thai population stay true to being neutral, wearing either pink or sky blue to emphasize their neutrality. Another issue in the country is the connection of red to other monumental teams in the athletic sphere (1).
Many Thais support English football clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool. Most of these teams use red as their national color. This could sound ridiculous to the Western world but wearing such colors to support football teams could draw backward attention. Thai people do not want to be accused of supporting a specific political group while trying to enjoy their favorite sport (1).
Red as a Lucky Color
If you are traveling to Thailand soon, you will want to keep track of this chart which bases the best day to wear a specific color. The lucky color, red, is typically worn on Sundays.
Following this, Monday is yellow, Tuesday as Pink, Wednesday as green and gray, Thursday as orange and brown, Friday as light blue, and Saturday as black and purple (5). This is not based on random choice but instead taken from Hindu mythology. Red is particularly a lucky color for Sundays because the God of Sunday is Surya, which is the color red (5).
2010 Red Shirt Protests
In 2010, Thailand faced one of the most violent mass protections since the military rule in 1992. More than 2,000 people were wounded by security forces, leaving at least 90 dead. These anti-government protesters led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (DDD) were known as Red Shirts (3).
Most say that the high death toll and injuries resulted from violence forced by the Thai security forces on the protestors. This questioned the existence of human rights and the discussion of critical issues surrounding the corrupt system (3).
In 2019, the court dismissed terrorism charges against 24 street protest leaders that started the violence (2). The case states that 40 business owners were affected by the Red Shirts’ event, and the case proceeded with charges of terrorism, criminal association, and using force to damage government property. Moreover, inciting unrest, possession of arms, and obstruction of officials (2).
Thai Gen Z, Pro-Democracy ‘Red Shirts’ Veterans in 2021
Amongst recent protests were the police officers standing guard over a crowd at the government’s handling of coronavirus in Bangkok on August 16, 2021. The redshirt protest veterans threatened Prime Minister Prayth Chan-Rocha’s power (4). Tens of thousands of people joined the protest, including car mobs taking over the streets. Redshirt rulers also supported the north and northeastern Thailand (4).
This takes us back to when the Red Shirt movement began in 2008 following the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. A year later, protesters were put down by a bloodbath army crackdown led by Prayuth (4). This time around, there is new political wisdom amongst the angry and fed-up Gen Z. They have challenged the country’s power pyramid, calling for Prayuth to resign (4).
In conclusion, red has significant importance in politics in Thailand. It opens the discussion of power and corruption in the country, thus allowing people from the younger generation to protest for justice. The symbolism behind red and yellow shirts comes from the long-lasting oppression of the people and whether or not Thailand should head towards a democratic nation or we should continue to trust the monarchy.
However, it is safe to say that wearing the color red as a tourist will not get you into any trouble. This is instead a conservative topic between locals living in Thailand. Moreover, it is still better to stay safe and avoid wearing the color red on specific days such as Monday, when yellow is usually worn. Additionally, it is best to avoid political gatherings as tourists as they can get rather violent due to Thai security forces.
1. Cavanagh, Roy. “Who Are the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts?” Thaizer, 21 Feb. 2022, https://thaizer.com/who-are-the-yellow-shirts-and-red-shirts/.
2. Al Jazeera. “Thailand Court Acquits 24 Red Shirt Leaders over 2010 Protests.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 14 Aug. 2019, https://aljazeera.com/news/2019/8/14/thailand-court-acquits-24-red-shirt-leaders-over-2010-protests/.
3. “Descent into Chaos.” Human Rights Watch, 29 Apr. 2015, https:/hrw.org/report/2011/05/03/descent-chaos/thailands-2010-red-shirt-protests-and-government-crackdown.
4. Duangdee, Vijitra. “Thai ‘Gen Z,’ pro-Democracy Veteran ‘Red Shirts’ up Ante on PM Prayuth.” VOA, Thai ‘Gen Z,’ Pro-Democracy Veteran ‘Red Shirts’ up Ante on PM Prayuth, 16 Aug. 2021, https://voanews.com/a/east-asia-pacific_thai-gen-z-pro-democracy-veteran-red-shirts-ante-pm-prayuth/6209635.html/.
5. Hulme, Kyle. “Rainbow Nation: What 10 Colours Represent in Thai Culture.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 11 May 2018, theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/rainbow-nation-what-10-colours-represent-in-thai-culture/.