Fake plastic trees

27 02 2015

The Wishing Tree in the village of Lam Tsuen is a kind of animist shrine where once worshippers would gather during the Chinese New Year to throw oranges up into the branches, making wishes for the new year. Until, that is, the sheer mass of oranges broke the tree. Now there is a fake plastic tree into which people throw fake plastic oranges, before buying merchandise. In other words, the whole experience has been overregulated and turned to shit.

Bangkok traffic: ghosts and kings

11 01 2015

This is interesting. A section of what was previously Sukhumvit Soi 16 has been renamed “Soi We Love the King” or “We Love the King Road”. I stumbled across the odd name on google maps while searching for a nearby Theta Float Centre.

Meabwhile, officials are to clean up the “100-death shrine” of accident-prone Rachada Road. Full story courtesy of Coconuts here.

Bangkok Part 2: A city of surprises

4 01 2015

A few days into my trip, the surprises kept coming. I saw a white-haired white man stroking a white-haired cat at 2am at a table of hookers in sparkly minidresses, surrounded by the the sprawling bodies of sleeping kids and adults. I saw a man passed out in a Santa hat outside a temple on New Years Eve, with a pack of wild street dogs sleeping around him – one under his head like a pillow. A tut-tutting passerby snatched the few banknotes out of his begging tin and tucked them in to the sleeping man’s belt as he lay lost to the world.

I saw a homeless woman with four cats on plastic strings. I went to  internet cafes in the middle of the night filled with Middle Eastern tourists yelling down the phonelines to Cairo and Morocco, where the keyboard default language was Arabic and my browsing was interrupted by an amplified call to prayer.

I saw dwarf monks, and stumbled on to a huge kerbside statue of a gorilla. I found a coffee shop next to a mosque with an inflatable Darth Vader peering out of a top floor window. I saw a flock of pigeons roosting in the glittering eaves of a riverside temple and stumbled across an altar of offerings book-ended by enormous cigarette-like bundles of incense, each a metre tall, in the middle of an alleyway in Chinatown. I saw a clown in a blonde wig dancing in a vegetable market. And a Japanese porn star. And a friend’s ex.

And I discovered more and more of the strange and unexpected sights with which the city is so richly endowed.

Bangkok surprise #1: singing at the llama farm

4 01 2015

This year, my home city of Melbourne opened its first cat cafe, a place based on the Japanese model where patrons can sip a coffee and stroke a selection of cats. It was lauded as a hot new thing. Pfffft. Bangkok is so far beyond that it is not even funny. The Thai capital is doing karaoke with alpacas. “Alpaca View” is a restaurant, bar and “karaoke farm” in Lad Phrao where the main attraction (obviously) is singing in a barnyard-like environment complete with pigs, and dining next to a herd of alpacas. The alpacas have been conditioned to come right up to the fence of their enclosure to be fed, and sometimes poke their heads over inquisitively at the nearest tables. But I did wonder: how do the poor creatures deal with the city’s heat and humidity?

There is also a flock of free-ranging, unrestrained rabbits who roam the premises and – what the hell? – a white picket Eiffel Tower in which sits an effigy of Spiderman.

The restaurant is part of a wider trend in Thailand towards camelid-related attractions. There is also a new alpaca farm in Ratchaburi and a camel theme-park in Hua Hin.

Bangkok surprise #2: Crash landing

4 01 2015

Also in the northern suburbs, this time Ramkhamhaeng, sits the tattered remains of two aeroplanes, one a full fledged  – though now wingless –  747 and the other a smaller model. They sit on an empty lot, mysteriously abandoned and covered in grafitti. Where did they come from? Why were they left there? I had heard that you could climb inside and take pictures of yourself in the cockpit – and the doors were indeed wide open – but when I approached a homeless-looking woman started yelling at me from some long grass where she was sitting with a mean-looking dog, so I beat a hasty retreat.

Bizarrely though, these are not the only stray ruined aircraft scattered around the city. When searching for directions to this site on the internet (it is by a canal, 200 metres east of the entrance to Ramkhamhaeng Soi 101,) I read that there are two other decommissioned jets lying abandoned on patches of wasteland around the city too. In fact I remember passing one, smaller than the Ramkham 747 but in a better state of repair. It was being used as the backdrop to a beergarden around (if my memory serves me) Ram Inthra 77.

Surprise #3: Two strange shrines

4 01 2015

In a city of Buddhist shrines, technicolour Hindu temples, Sikh gudwaras, crocodile temples, tiger temples, turtle temples, dragon towers, huge statues and hell gardens and Muslim minarets, perhaps the most exotic place of worship is this: the Russian Orthodox church on Sukhumvit 101 near Punnawithi skytrain station. It was opened in 2014 having been purpose-built to replace the older orthodox church in Dusit which had catered to a few Romanians and Russians in the city. But with an influx of semi-resident, semi-vacationing Russians (1.7 million visit every year), and their money, a new church was built. Today the Archimandrite Oleg presides over services in the spanking new church, held every Sunday  in English, Russian, Thai and ‘High Slavic’.

On the way to the Cathedral of St Nikolas the Woodworker you will probably notice the pyramidal stupa of Bangkok’ tallest temple, Wat Thamma Mongkol, nearby. It was built by Sri Lankans and is said to contain a Buddha’s tooth.
The Chuchok shrine in Bang Khen, meanwhile,  is a more homegrown Thai affair. In fact it is hard to imagine it existing anywhere else.  The video below explains everything ;)

1 01 2015


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