The Bangkok of the typical mind’s eye is a sleazy, illegal, exotic, out of the ordinary place that never sleeps. Most foreign accounts of Bangkok play to this image, or on the contrary, to an ornamented description of the city as spectacularly dazzling as the gilded mosaics of the Grand Palace, which forms the ideal Land of Smiles postcard.
In truth, Bangkok doesn’t require such seedy embellishments or historical imagery when its reality is already so uniquely remarkable.
So, how to sum up the energy that this city radiates? Rather than focusing on the must-visit attractions and monuments, maybe a few photos of the people and dynamics that make Bangkok tick will really convey a sense of what Krung-thep-maha-nakorn-boworn-ratana-kosin-mahintar- ayudhya-amaha-dilok-pop-nopa-ratana-rajthani-burirom-udom-rajniwes-mahasat-arn-amorn-pimarn- avatar-satit- sakattiya-visanukam is all about.
So what do an urban elephant, a street dog, a hawker, minorities, Africans, Arabs, buses, durians, the huay (lottery), the monarchy, motosai (motorbike taxis), phuangmalai (flower garland), pollution, sanuk (fun), Soi Nana, the Sky Train, Gucci, street food, tam boon (merit making), taxis, touts, uniforms and traffic all have in common? Well they reflect through Niall’s eyes an attempt to echo the madness, enthusiasm, sounds, smells, tastes and creative energy that shines from this incredible city.
The elephant…. An eccentric sight …. Enjoying a cool beer on the sidewalk when one of these huge animals appears from around the corner. It’s depressing to see this highly intelligent and self aware mammal being led around noisy, polluted streets by a mahout handing out bananas for money, Thais seeing the feeding of elephants as a form of merit making, with extra money coming from photographs taken for thoughtless tourists. Of course, uncontrolled logging in the mountainous Thai border areas has meant less work for the elephants, less food supplies, with owners claiming they have no choice but to roam the streets of Bangkok begging with bananas.
The street-wise (soi) dog, or mad dog, is almost always to be found lazing way in the burning midday sun outside a 7 – Eleven, or a temple. With looks only a mother could love they are not certainly not pretty, invariably have a dreadful skin disease, and have almost zero hair. But this is part of their allure… By night they roam Bangkok’s polluted streets, relying on food from ‘merit making’ locals.
Whether its balloons, squeaky toys, floor mops, silly masks, fruit, food, coffee, ice cream, or cold drinks, just about everything under the sun, the hawkers provide sound and smell to the commotion that is Bangkok.