October 6, 2023
SINGAPORE – Singaporeans Vanessa Han and Amanda Tay were paying for groceries at Bangkok’s Siam Paragon on Tuesday when they suddenly saw at least 50 people screaming and running through the supermarket.
Little did they know there was a shooter on the prowl who would go on to kill a Chinese and a Myanmar national.
“Initially, I didn’t react because coming from Singapore, we always feel very safe, so I didn’t think much of it,” Ms Han, 25, said over the phone with The Straits Times on Thursday. She and Ms Tay were on a five-day holiday in the Thai capital city.
But the duo, who had not heard any gunshots, sensed something was not right after seeing the faces of the terrified crowd and the cashier’s look of shock. Without even knowing what was happening, they followed their instincts and bolted towards the nearest mall exit, along with other people.
Ms Han and Ms Tay, 28, were among hundreds of people who fled after the lone gunman opened fire in one of Bangkok’s busiest luxury shopping malls on Tuesday afternoon.
Two people were killed and five others were injured, said the authorities. The suspected assailant, a 14-year-old boy, was apprehended shortly after at the mall.
At a loss on what to do and where to go, Ms Han and Ms Tay headed towards Siam Kempinski Hotel, which is adjacent to Siam Paragon, to seek refuge after seeing people running towards it.
“But inside the hotel lobby, it was quite scary as well, as people were just running around and most people were crying,” said Ms Han, who added that the pair initially thought there was a bomb or a terrorist attack.
“So we went out to the porch of the hotel to hide behind bushes and police cars. Everyone said stay low, which was why we were squatting down.”
While trying to crouch down, Ms Han fell and had abrasions and bruises on her leg after a panicking woman pushed her from behind.
The Singaporeans struggled to find out more information at the hotel as most people around them were locals who could not speak English, said Ms Han, who works as an assistant brand manager.
They began to put two and two together after overhearing words such as “gun” and “shooting”, and seeing two crying girls using their hands to signal a gun.
When the situation became slightly calmer at the hotel, Ms Han texted her family and boyfriend to let them know about the shooting. Over the next eight hours, she shared her live location with them over WhatsApp and Telegram.
“They just wanted to keep hearing from me, because the worst thing for them was if they could not get any replies,” said Ms Han.
She added that her worried mum went to a temple the next day to pray for her. Her mother also stayed up till 3am on Thursday to wait for her to get home.
Ms Han and Ms Tay left Siam Kempinski after about four hours there, and made the 30-minute walk back to their hotel in ponchos under the rain. They did not take a cab as they wanted to avoid traffic congestion and flooded roads.
After the incident, the fear of going to another mall made them ditch their initial plans to visit the Big C hypermarket and other malls on Wednesday. Instead, the women chose to spend their last day in Bangkok at a spin class and getting a massage near their hotel.
Describing the incident as “traumatising”, Ms Han said while the pair were at Siam Kempinski with no official news on what was happening, she saw rumours on social media app Xiaohongshu that there could be more than one gunman.
She said: “I couldn’t sleep until around 3am or 4am on Tuesday night, not because I heard the gunshots, but seeing everyone so scared made me overthink a little. I kept thinking, what if they didn’t catch everyone?”
The two women returned to Singapore early on Thursday morning.
“Since Covid-19, this is my first time back in Bangkok, but before that, I would visit every year or once in two years with family and friends,” said Ms Han.
“But after this, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Bangkok in the next five years,” she added.