The fallout

19 08 2015

While the tragedy of the Erawan bombing is still unfolded, it hasn’t taken long for investigations to take on a typically Thai bizarre twist after model and soap opera star Sunny Burns, originally from Australia, was held up online as a dead ringer for the main suspect.

He responded by going in to the police to clear his name – complete with instagram post from the cop shop – and uttering the immortal alibi: “I woudn’t have worn that, I’m a fashion blogger.”

Police used CCTV footage to corroborate his claim to innocence, that at that time he was on his way to the “muscle lab” (aka, gym).

Weekend report

18 08 2015

The Bangkok Blasts

18 08 2015

Having just returned from Bangkok, it was with great shock and sadness that I saw the news of the bomb attack on the Erawan Shrine. Indeed I had a personal connection: a friend works in the mall opposite, and by that evening, some hours after the attacks, no-one had heard from her . For a moment, I felt the real impact of terrorism. Had it touched someone I actually knew? But as it turns out, she was fine, busily searching for her employees to make sure everyone had come away unscathed.

But some 20 people lay dead – Chinese, Singaporeans, Filino as well as Thais. Volunteers rushed to the hospitals to act as interpreters or donate blood, but the damage had been done.

Today, a second bomb went off at the Saphan Taksin boat terminal, apparently lobbed from a passing car, but luckily this time no-one was killed. Meanwhile police released CCTV footage of a suspect.

But still: its not clear who did this or why. Insurgents from the Deep South, where a Muslim vs Buddhist ethnic dispute has left more people dead in the last ten years than the conflict in Gaza? Anti-military supporters of the Thaksin political dynasty ( aka, “the Redshirts”) from the Northeast? Middle Eastern Islamic radicals (like the Iranians busted bomb-making in Ekkamai several years ago?) Xinjiang separatists from Western China angered by Thailand’s recent expulsion of Uighur refugees back to Beijing? Or even the Thai government itself, seeking to legitimise its increasingly tight grip on power?

Whoever did it, the site of the first bombing is both strategic and heavily symbolic. The Erawan Shrine has been the site of violence before – it is here that Redshirt rage burned down Central World in 2006, and where a deranged man once smashed the image of Brahma (which this time was unharmed), and was promptly beaten to death by outraged onlookers.

It is also the very heart of the city, and a major tourist site. The high number of foreign casualties, just before Thailand prepares to welcome a million Chinese for their October holidays, was no accident.

Whoever ends up being the culprit though, this is surely a wakeup call that it is time for Thailand to get its house (in the South) in order, before the bombs of Pattani and Sungai Glodok become a regular occurence in Bangkok too.

7 08 2015

Saphan Kwai

7 08 2015

On my return to Bangkok, I had to find a new hotel and I plumped for an old favourite, the Liberty Garden in the Northern residential area of Saphan Kwai. The Liberty is a wildly eccentric place, the kind of hotel Donald Draper might once have staid in. In the 1960s this part of Bangkok had a string of top-class hotels, the Liberty Garden, the Elizabeth, the Ambassador. In fact they are all still there and – more or less – much as they were then. Unrenovated, the rest of the city has slipped past them, and the action has moved away from Saphan Kwai leaving these hotels, and the Liberty Garden especially, in a kind of dreamy rundown timewarp. It doesn’t take internet bookings, or even creditcards, its not on Agoda but it is still there – half fallen down ( one wing was torn down for renovations which never happened several years ago giving it a pleasingly dilapidated air). Fans whirl in the oddly decorated, quiet lobby and for 20 USD per night you get a big double room with air conditioning, breakfast in the Lynchian “Blue Diamond” coffee shop and use of its generous pool, with its clear water and chipped tiles, in a courtyard under a lamphu tree, next to the Beirut-like rubble of the torn-down wing.

Its rare to see another guest. The Liberty Garden seems to be something that has slipped down the side of some enormous couch somewhere. You can imagine a junior member of an enormously wealthy Bangkok family stumbling across it in a dusty ledger book and asking in astonishment, “did you know we have had a hotel in Saphan Kwai for the last forty years?”

One day as I was swimming, gloriously, through the little used (but clean) pool, I heard a strain of music coming from the ruins. I couldn’t help smiling. It was the perfect song for ¬†an aging sixties belle like this- “You Only Live Twice”.

Other than its seedy dated charm, and the price, the other great thing about the Liberty Garden Hotel is its location. Saphan Kwai might not be on many visitors’ hitlists, but the main drag of Thanon Pradiphat is as vibrant a local Thai neighourhood as you could hope for. Every single time I walked down the street I would notice something new that I had not seen before. There was simply too much to take in in one go – food stalls selling tom yum or gai ying chicken or barbecued skewers or fruit, little local coffee shops and desert places, Buddha shops, the garlands of flower sellers, traditional Thai clothes, underwear, Arab and Indian tourists ( seemingly the main market for the aging hotels in the area) and dusty-looking foreign exchange stores, blaring internet cafes, an occasional junkie or homeless person, motorbikes, monks. Towards the skytrain station, a ten minute walk away, there were footpath vendors of porn magazines (gay and straight) and magical amulets and a great second-hand book store.

Saphan Kwai really has everything.

Coffee model

7 08 2015

Coffee Model is Thanon Pradiphat’s sole concession to hipsterdom, well together with the nearby and co-owned Mystic Place design hotel (formerly Reflections Rooms). I stumbled on to its one day and was delighted – it has a very laidback, ramshackle Thai kind of cool, consisting of a shady garden around which have been strewn random pieces of retro ephemera – a London phone booth, an old rickshaw, statues of deer and old-fashioned corporate logos, and at the back exit, a guard booth staffed by zombies. There is a record store, a cafe/bar, retro memorabilia for sale (much like the much-lamented old Train Market) and when I was there, they were playing classical music. Perfectly bizarre.

7 08 2015


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 772 other followers