Bangkok is the final stop on my extended Southeast Asian sojourn. Its always great to be back in the city. I have written so much about it ( see my book here) but it still inspires me, and still surprises. There is nowhere in the world where normal comes in so many shades. All of life is here, and on display. It really is the least straight-laced city on Earth.
Every day I would see people riding on the skytrain in masks or costumes, or sitting with huge, bizarre teddy bears on their laps (below). I witnessed an amazing all-blind rock band busking on the street one sunset by the river, as a hobo-ish looking man danced with some dogs (also below), and then had the best cocktails of my life at an upscale mall.
I was staying in Silom and walked down the main road every morning and evening. I would see stalls selling miniature Eiffel Towers and USB sticks shaped like guns, hot pink tofu steaks, fried chicken feet and live rabbits. Vendors cycled around with huge slabs of honeycomb attached to their bikes, some still crawling with bees. This I had never seen before. They were selling jars of fresh honey. It must be a seasonal thing.
On my first night there I saw a scruffy, middle-aged violinist busking opposite the notorious sex-and-fakes Patpong market. Wrong crowd, I thought cynically. But just then I turned to see one of the lounging motorbike taxi-boys at the mouth of the soi, sprawled over his machine, drinking in the music with an expression nearing rapture. That is Bangkok -you never know.
There were also faceless beggars ( really shocking, one woman had no eyes, just flaps of skin), cruising gay men, office ladies in floral dresses, taxi boys, prowling touts, sex workers off to the office, buttoned-up business execs, the devout streaming out of nearby mosques and Hindu temples and tourists haggling for shitty T-shirts.
There were a couple of cool parties on that weekend, some art exhibitions. A gala performance for the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death (featuring 2oo Thai Elvises) was scheduled for the week – but then cancelled. I also missed a Thai Opera performance outside Siam Paragon but then stumbled into a breakdancing convention at Centralworld. In Bangkok, there is always something. You are never at a loss for something intriguing to do.
On this trip I revisited some of my old stomping grounds, explored the city’s art scene and struck out into the suburbs to break new ground, and make new friends. It was fun and filled with surprises. One day, on getting out of a cab, the driver decided to turn global convention on its head and tipped me – with a bag of fresh cashew nuts. They were delicious. It was a telling moment for me – a spontaneous gesture, something sensual and unexpected. Thats Bangkok.
The city – as always – was a whirlwind, and one that you never want to end.