Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Flood info and updates

Hello there, patient readers and potential stumblers. I'm posting from the UK, but I notice that I've had a few hits for flood-related search terms so I thought I'd link to some useful and reliable sources of information for anyone who finds this blog because they're looking for flood news. I'll update this as and when I find more, and if you know of any please let me know in comments, or tweet @streetsofbkk.

Here's what I got so far:

Thai-language website with lots of info.

A publicly-editable google document collecting info and tips, in English.

All stories tagged 'flood' from the Bangkok Post can be found here. In English. Anyone got a good Thai-language equivalent?

A post about some free flood-related iPhone apps - post in English; apps in Thai.

On Twitter, use/search for the hashtags #ThaiFlood and #ThaiFloodEng

As far as I've been able to see on twitter, there's lots of good info out there, but as ever in times of uncertainty there's some misinformation flying about too. Check your sources and try not to spread unverified news.

To all in Thailand: hope you're safe and dry, good luck, and lots of love.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Amphawa: just magic

A while back I did a post about the Mahachai-Mae Klong-Amphawa route - a fantastic little day trip out of Bangkok, with trains, a railway market, boats, and canals. I didn't get to spend much time in Amphawa that time round, and my camera gave out before I got there, so I've been wanting to go back and do it properly for ages. And last week I did.

Everything about Amphawa is delightful. It's a tiny village with a wide canal as its main thoroughfare, crossed by an ever-busy bridge that joins two halves of the market, which spills over both banks. Boats selling fruit and fresh seafood, as well as ones carrying tourists off on adventures, go up and down the canal. There are gorgeous guesthouses and homestays, and firefly-watching boat trips at night. The bankside market sells traditional sweets, retro-kitsch souvenirs, and a whole bunch of (tastefully!) cute stuff from independent artisans and designers. There's a definite tourist vibe, but it's geared towards Thai rather than farang visitors, and there's a real sense that it's a community project - no big corporations, no same-same tacky market tat; a lot of the small businesses have adopted firefly motifs as a kind of unofficial town logo, and the drinks vendors even sell 'Amphawa'-branded bottled water.

An amble through the market yields up all sorts of things you didn't know you needed, plus a good few gifts for friends and relatives. And sweets. Lots of sweets. I have a particular weakness for 'golden' sweets - thong-yip, foi-thong, etc - and guess what was the very first stall was selling?

Not just foi-thong; foi-thong in ceramic boats. With a paddle for cutlery. Place could not be more charming if it was shaped like a kitten and knew how to waltz.

... and a few stalls further in was one selling some very pretty thong-ek, with dabs of gold leaf on them. This is the market's tragic flaw: there's so much delicious food being sold in it that you risk filling up before you reach the canal, and you really should eat at the canal. Restaurants are set up on steep waterside steps, with miniature stools and benches acting as chairs and tables. Below are rows of moored boats with their noses nuzzling together; each boat a little kitchen specialising in one or two dishes - some do grilled prawns, squid, crab, or scallops, others do pad thai or som tam. These get passed up the crowded steps to the tables, money passed down. It's worth doing this just for the experience of eating in what is essentially a 30-capacity restuarant crammed onto a set of canal steps (it's cosy!); the hot delicious freshness of the food is a wonderful bonus.

The one thing I was really sad to miss on my last visit was the temple, which got a mention in my guidebook for its murals - and I love me some murals. So I was excited to check them out this time. Wat Amphawan Chetirayam dates from the early Rattanakosin period. Formerly the residential palace of Queen Amarindaramas (wife of Rama I), and the birthplace of Rama II, it was later renovated by the Queen into a temple in memory of her mother. The murals are a mix between scenes from literature, from daily life, and from royal ceremonies. And they're stunning. I took more photos than I'll ever know what to do with - these are just a few of my favourites:

Behind the Buddha image is Rattanakosin Island, bursting with detail.

A royal funeral procession. As this was painted some time in the first two reigns, this is very possibly the first ever royal funeral, that of Rama I's father, for which these golden chariots (that are still used today; you can see them in the National Museum) were built. Amazing.

Krai Tong, hero from folklore, diving down with his magic spear, cloth, and candle to defeat the Crocodile King Chalawan.

Detail from one of the courtly-life scenes. A lady and her maid, presumably, but looking rather excellently sapphic.

I can't recommend this place enough. It's far enough away from the city to feel like a proper break, but close enough to do in a day - or an evening, if you drive. Or a weekend, which I'd love to try. (there'll just have to be a third post in this series!) For the full day's adventure, get the train from Wongwien Yai to Mahachai, then a ferry across the river and another train to Mae Klong (and check out the railway market), and a songtaew to Amphawa (all this is described in this post). There are also buses to and from the city.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Weekly Photo: mis-en-scene

This was taken on the new platform between the Chong Nonsi BTS and Sathorn BRT stations. There was movie-camera stuff all around the place so clearly they were setting up to film a scene. The writing on the little flower booth is all in French, though it's hard to imagine Sathorn standing in for anywhere in France... The boy was running to fetch something, saw me with the camera, and leaped up into the air.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Weekly Photo: river lights

The view downriver from Patravadi Theatre's restaurant/performance space.

Friday, 15 July 2011

And here we go

Hellooooooo Bangkok! I got in last night, so I'm a bit of a jetlagged mess at the moment, but hopefully I can kick it fairly quickly. It'll take a few days to get used to breathing tropical soup again and breaking into a sweat the moment I step outside, too. But ah, it's grand to be home. To get back into good blogging habits, here are a few snaps from the little neighbourhood wander I just went on. Mostly of food (what can I say, I've missed it).

I was very restrained and only bought something from one street vendor. I'll work my way through the rest over the next month, I'm sure...

Friday, 24 June 2011

A bit of dusting, a bit of new furniture...

Streets of Bangkok has been sitting in its corner of the internet, gathering dust. Well, no more! I'm heading to Bangkok in July for a month, part holiday, part research trip for the novel. I hope to be blogging my socks of during that time - I've got tonnes of places that I never got around to writing up before, but will take requests too! Which streets, sights, districts or general bits of Bangkokiania do you want to read about?

But first some announcements. The site has a couple of new features now - if you look at the top you'll see an about page and a write for us page. I don't like to see this project languishing while I'm away, and I also think that a mish-mash of different perspectives suits the blog's ethos, so I hope people will consider doing guest posts. Do check out the guidelines if you're interested. We also have an email address now: thestreetsofbangkok [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, Streets of Bangkok is now on twitter! Follow @streetsofbkk for updates about new posts and for anything Bangkok-related (it was feeling increasingly strange to keep tweeting about Bangkok on my regular account, given that I'm based in the UK for now).

Have a lovely weekend, everyone, and look out for new content soon!

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Temple Fair

Happy Loy Kratong everybody! I'm breaking my hiatus to post a piece I wrote about the Wat Saket temple fair last year. It's a mad and magical experience, a real old-fashioned ngan wat the likes of which it's hard to come by in the city, and anyone with nothing to do on any of the next couple of nights should head on over there. It's a bit of a mystery fair, hard to track down the exact dates online, but it generally happens over several days around Loy Kratong night.
If you're coming from around Silom the number 15 bus should get you there, or if coming from Sukhumvit take the saen saep taxi-boat.

Wat Saket

All the waterways are brimming, inky-black with city lights floating on them like heralds of the krathongs that will be launched in a few nights’ time. This moon’s waiting patiently to be filled to overflowing with light, the streets less so. Kratong stalls on any street near water, little floats of banana-trunk or lotus-petalled bread or the banned-in-theory polystyrene. Firework shops bought out. And fairs on temple grounds: in side streets tucked behind shops, or either side of the grand river-bridges, but most throngingly, blazily, blaringly at Wat Saket, the Golden Mount, temple and its surrounds packed, reveller-heaving.

Mixing currents of traffic and people under this brightlit hazy night—I’m not entirely sure this is the right bus or that the right stop, except on some level I am—the fair has a magnetism of its own, assures me this is the way. And suddenly the crowd’s pattern becomes obvious, turns from milling people and vendors and crawling tuktuks and balloon-sellers to a flow with a single direction, we’re both funnel and funnel’s contents, pouring like water into the temple’s grounds.

And I’m one with the crowd—it would take an effort not to be, to stay an onlooker only. There’s nowhere to duck out of the scene in order to photograph it; any snapshot will just have to contain half a dozen half-heads of fellow fair-goers. And here, at Loy Krathong that’s what everyone is, even if I’m a particularly lonely specimen, everyone else here with friends, family, parents with clouds of kids, bubbles of teenagers, close-pressed couples. We’re still not in the grounds proper, but a long fleshpacked avenue selling toys, 69-baht jeans, and sweets, roofed and walled with patchwork tin and tarpaulin, bulbs hanging all along it like fat buzzing stars on strings. No knowing how long it goes on—but here’s an opening, and through it a glimpse of open space. A Nang Nopamas talent show on a stage, blue-sequinned singer crooning Northeastern songs; shining in the air behind her, the Golden Mount itself, hanging between the black of the trees and of the sky as if floating on the night. There are folk crowding up its spiralling sides to pay respects at the top, and encircling its base, a great ring, a neon-sprinkled donut: the fair.

There are games stands—here, a father coaxing his son to shoot the bamboo arrow at a target, like a King Thotsarot teaching a young Rama—and souvenir sellers, and every other stall sells food: noodle shops with hook-pierced jellyfish hanging down in front of the counter, crepe-makers with sizzling hotplates, sweet-shops, meat shops.

‘This way!’ calls a man, into a megaphone; ‘Haunted shack, ten baht only!’ Real Wat Saket ghosts, I wonder? Could this tin shack with garish ghouls painted on crude banners over its facade house the ghosts of old plague-victims, the crowds of corpses that were once heaped on this ground? One way to find out: be packed into the entrance with a crowd of stranger, pushed in. The walls are all covered on the inside with black cloth, backdrop for the neon paint-spattered skeletons that dance about us, animated by string. A man in a white sheet with a devil mask follows us—CLANG! He rings the metal wall while we're distracted by something moving ahead. We press forward against each other to get away from the sound, jumpier than we should be in this tiny space that reverberates when struck. We're in for maybe a minute before being forced to escape by running past a leaping ghoul’s head—no way back, with more crowd pressing in behind us—the head is rubbery, jerking wildly on its rope, controlled from somewhere unseen. And we’re out, into the equally cramped outdoors.

Temple fair crowd

There best way to get breathing space, it seems, is a 25-baht ticket onto one of the fun-sized ferris wheels that turn and turn, dwarfed by the ancient trees. I'm locked into a little round cage by myself, my weight lop-siding it. My 25 baht gets me more turns than I can keep count of. The lights from up here make the leaves look painted, cheaply enamelled, as they shake (it’s November, after all, itchy humid heat stirred by a smear of winter breeze). Through the leaves I can see a portion of the crowd, all heads and shoulders from up here, hemmed in by rides and sideshows and shops selling glazed grilled chickens, carousel-bright bottles of orange and lime juices. They’re so crammed together they’ve lost all sense of their way, looking back and forth for lost companions and finding a roving jam donut seller instead.

Tiny ferris wheels and enormous balloons, music and noise from everywhere, a radiance from the coil of pilgrims and a haze from the food-sellers, shrieking crowd, spirit-shrines, everything in this light, in these colours, disturbed, distorted, stretched or squashed out of proportion, all of us trapped in some yaksa’s human kaleidoscope. I go with the jostling flow, bumping up against a line of coin-operated fortune-telling shrines, finding coal-hot squid and shining bags of Chinese peanut toffee to buy. These stalls like the ones I came in by, though I haven’t passed the haunted house again. Everything’s kaleidoscope-shifted for real—surely that’s the ferris wheel I just got off—but suddenly I’m face-to-face with an oversized two-headed baby peering wide-eyed from a glossy banner. ‘See the mermaid’s child! Real live ghosts and monsters!' blare the megaphones. The banner also advertises Pii Krasue, Nang Tanee, pin-up mermaids. I know these ghosts well from my creased folklore books and B-movies watched disjointedly on youtube, but I’ve never seen one up close. Ferried along on the crowd-flow, I pay my coin and enter.

Sideshow 2

The inside space is outdoors too, a tree growing up from the dirt floor out through the roof, the only spot that could be found unfilled by food stalls. The promised ghouls are kept in booths, human heads growing from papier-mache ghost-bodies. A Pii Krasue's with a little girl's face, entrails hanging from her neck glistening red, sticks her tongue out; Nang Tanee's face grins, perched on a slender banana stem. You can see the mirrors if you look, but spotting them doesn't make the effect any less gruesome. Along the other wall is a narrow table supporting jars of foetuses—where in the wide warped city can those be from? Loaned from a hospital, the show-keeper’s private collection, or a black-magic-man? The two-headed human foetus floats there as advertised, another has its ears growing in its neck. Then the mer-baby—a real mermaid’s child, or a stillborn human with legs fused together? Goats and pigs with too many legs, and a naga—a real one, I’m sure of it, with a snout and crest like flames, shapes that should exist in carved gilded wood, not colourless flesh in formaldehyde. Thai teenagers peer with mild interest, and a tourist with his heavy black camera stays much longer than anyone else, leaning in to capture these strange sad en-jared beings, lens ghoulishly close.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


I've been remiss in not posting about this, mostly because it makes me sad to announce a hiatus. I'm heading back to the UK for an MA in Creative Writing, and so won't be able to walk around Bangkok and find things to write about any more. For a time! I'm not, emphatically not, closing this blog. I'll come back for holidays, and, of course, I'll wind up living in Bangkok again before long. It's not really somewhere I could leave for good.

If any readers are interested in guest-blogging on walking-related things during this time, or fancy doing a bar/restaurant/market/theatre/something review, let me know. I may post intermittently about interesting things going on that I hear about, and I've got a couple more posts to finish that I'll get up soon.

For now, check out some photos from Gavin Gough's upcoming 'Photographer's Guide to Bangkok': Bangkok Transport System (BTS). As he says, the BTS is "enormously photogenic". And doesn't that book sound exciting?!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Weekly Photo: Treelift

This was taken on my road, a spot I pass on my way to the supermarket or coming home from work. A year and a bit ago it was some kind of nondescript building that I only noticed by its absence, after it had been knocked down. Then for a long time it was walled off from the street, and in the last few months it's been a building site. To my delight, when I walked by the other day, they were planting trees outside the new building (which looks to be some sort of showroom, perhaps, lots of glass). Now there are pretty green rows there, very pleasant to walk past.

Speaking of tree-planting, check out this blog: Plant a Tree - Bangkok. The author plants seedlings in likely-looking spots around the city and posts about the process and the progress of the little treelings. Anyone interested in tree-planting in their own area (and it looks pretty straightforward) can find advice or ask questions there, and it's a nice, calming read, too, with lots of pictures of greenery.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Iron Faries

Thong Lor, consumercultural mash-up of nightclubs, boutique mini-malls, pizza places and ramen shops, has almost everything - including a portal out of Bangkok and into a fantasy world. An appropriately dark door in an appropriately dark facade leads to The Iron Fairies, the bar-cum-smithy (yes, it actually is a smithy), and the interior is a dark fairytale, steampunk decor with metal-working tools on the walls, vials of fairy dust clustered in corners, arcane machinery and the little iron fairies themselves, which are for sale at 600 baht each. A spiral staircase glimmering with fairy lights coils up into the gloom; on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights a live jazz band performs on the platform above (or, indeed, on the stairs themselves).

I first heard about Iron Fairies some months ago but only managed to get there last week. I knew it would be cool but didn't dare hope it would actually feel like sitting in the tavern at the beginning of a fantasy novel, waiting for something magical to kick off. It did. Boxes of peanuts sit on every table, and patrons are encouraged to throw the shells on the floor. The food and drinks aren't cheap, but good - a range of burgers served on wooden platters, stabbed through the heart with a knife (about B240 each). An article I'd read said they did a veggie burger, but it wasn't on the menu - they made one for me when I asked, though. Here's my chocolate martini (B280), photographed with the iron demon I was sitting next to (he turned out to be a great listener):

The Iron Faries is located at 395 Soi Thonglor, Sukhumvit Road. Open 6pm-2am. Turn up early to ensure you get a seat!