kottke.org posts about Bangkok

Thailand flood photosOct 31 2011

The worst floods in 50 years have hit Thailand Bangkok...the Big Picture has photos of the flooding in Bangkok while In Focus has a collection from all over Thailand.

Bangkok photosJan 04 2006

Where does the time go? It's been more than a month since we got back from Asia, but I haven't posted my photos from Bangkok or Saigon yet. Time for amends, so with my apologies, here are a collection of photos I took in Bangkok.

Statue at the Grand Palace

Here's my posts from the rest of the Asia trip and my photos from Hong Kong. Saigon photos tomorrow (hopefully).

The sounds of AsiaNov 23 2005

Since recording the walk signal sounds in Hong Kong, I've been a bit slack in documenting the sounds as I travel around Asia (because frankly the iPod is one more thing I don't want to lug around with me all day). Stuff I've missed:

  • Bangkok river taxis are manned by two people, the driver and the guy with the whistle. When the boat nears the dock, the whistle guy -- who stands at the back of the long boat -- sounds a short burst to signal to the driver to cut the engine. Then a few other bursts to help the driver back into the dock in such a way that a gentle reverse keeps the boat close enough to the dock so that passengers can get on and off. A final whistle signals that everyone is on/off and the driver can go. It's a neat system, if a little ear-piercing if you're standing near the back of the boat.
  • The cover band at Saigon Saigon, the bar on the 9th floor of the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon. The woman was almost screeching during a rendition of Alanis Morissette's You Learn. (Re: the bar...the view is awesome, but I thought the bar was really cheesy, which is unfortunate for such a great location.)
  • When trucks back up here, they don't annoyingly go "beep beep beep" like they do in the US. Instead, they play music; it's like backing-up ring tones. The first one we heard played Happy Birthday, the rear of a delivery truck belted out It's a Small World After All, and there was one yesterday afternoon that played some classical tune I couldn't place.

In lieu of hearing any of those things, check out Quiet American's field recordings from Vietnam. (via np)

Bangkok wrap-upNov 22 2005

Wanted to share a few last things from Bangkok while they're still (relatively) fresh in my head.

1. Green tuk tuks. I read somewhere that a) the locals don't much care for the tuk tuks (photo) because they're noisy & polluting and that they're only still around because tourists use them, and b) supposedly no new tuk tuks are allowed on the street, but that's more of a guideline than a fast rule. How about this...start regulating tuk tuks like taxis, put a meter in them, stop the unannounced commission-subsidization detours, and require them to be electric (they're glorified golf carts after all). The crammed streets of Bangkok need more smaller vehicles like tuk tuks, not less, but without the pollution, noise, and the unreliability.

2. Both the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho are worth a look. We happened to go to the Grand Palace on the day they were changing the Emerald Buddha's clothes (done to celebrate the changing of the seasons), so we didn't get to see him. But the Reclining Buddha made up for it...I was not prepared for how large he was. Quite impressive.

3. We were lucky to be in Bangkok for the Loy Krathong festival, which is a celebration at the end of the rainy season where you float your worries out onto the water in the form of a floating flower arrangement with candles and incense. But it was largely a bust for us...it rained/torrential downpoured most of the evening, and we didn't really know where to go in Bangkok to participate/experience the event. I think Loy Krathong might be better experienced on a smaller scale (i.e. not in the big city).

4. On Saturday (which seems like forever-ago from my Wednesday vantage point in another country), we went to check out Chatuchak Weekend Market, which IMO is overrated. It's a completely overwhelming experience, it's difficult to find anything (they labelled each section with what could be found there, but they rarely matched reality), and is recommended only for really hardcore shoppers. Check out some of the smaller markets instead; the Suan Lum Night Market near Lumpini Park was a good one that we ran across. For food, check out the Aw Kaw Taw market.

Perhaps a bit more if I remember. (Oh, and I've got lots of photos from Hong Kong and Bangkok, but posting them will probably happen when I get home...need a proper monitor for editing and whatnot.)

Traffic flowNov 21 2005

One of my favorite things to do in new cities is to observe how the traffic works. Traffic in each place has a different feel to it that depends on the culture, physical space, population density, legal situation, and modes of transportation available (and unavailable).

Everyone drives in LA and Minneapolis, even if you're only going a few blocks. In San francisco, pedestrians rule the streets...if a pedestrian steps out into the crosswalk, traffic immediately stops and will stay stopped as long as people are crossing, even if that means the cars are going nowhere, which is great if you're walking and maddening if you're driving. In many cities, both in the US and Europe, people will not cross in a crosswalk against the light and will never jaywalk. In many European cities, city streets are narrow and filled with pedestrians, slowing car traffic[1]. US cities are starting to build bike lanes on their streets, following the example of some European cities.

In NYC, cars and pedestrians take turns, depending on who has the right-of-way and the opportunity, with the latter often trumping the former. Cabs comprise much of the traffic and lanes are often a suggestion rather than a rule, more than in other US cities. With few designated bike lanes, cycling can be dangerous in the fast, heavy traffic of Manhattan. So too can cyclers be dangerous; bike messengers will speed right through busy crosswalks with nothing but a whistle to warn you.

In Bangkok, traffic is aggressive, hostile even. If a driver needs a space, he just moves over, no matter if another car is there or not. Being a pedestrian is a dangerous proposition here; traffic will often not stop if you step out into a crosswalk and it's impossible to cross in some places without the aid of a stoplight or overpass (both of which are rare). More than any other place I've been, I didn't like how the traffic worked in Bangkok, either on foot or in a car.

Traffic in Saigon reminds me a bit of that in Beijing when I visited there in 1996. Lots of communication goes on in traffic here and it makes it flow fairly well. Cars honk to let people know they're coming over, to warn people they shouldn't pull in, motorbikes honk when they need to cross traffic, and cars & motorbikes honk at pedestrians when it's unsafe for them to cross. Traffic moves slow to accommodate cars, the legions of motorbikes (the primary mode of transportation here), and pedestrians all at the same time.[2] Crossing the street involves stepping out, walking slowly, and letting the traffic flow around you. Drivers merging into traffic often don't even look before pulling out; they know the traffic will flow around them. The system requires a lot of trust, but the slow speed and amount of communication make it manageable.[3]

[1] This is the principle behind traffic calming.

[2] That traffic calming business again.

[3] Not that it's not scary as hell too. American pedestrians are taught to fear cars (don't play in the street, look both ways before crossing the street, watch out for drunk drivers) and trusting them to avoid you while you're basically the frog in Frogger...well, it takes a little getting used to.

Mapping BangkokNov 20 2005

Good maps of Bangkok seem hard to come by. Before we left, we looked in several bookstores and decided on The Rough Guide to Bangkok. We'd never used a Rough Guide before but our usual (excellent) guidebook series, DK Eyewitness Guides, did not have a Bangkok-specific book, only a general Thailand guide. What a mistake...I've wanted to throw the RG right into the river about 10 times in the past few days. Meg promises me that once we get home, I can ritually set fire to it and cleanse ourselves of its crappiness.

On one of our last days here, we happened upon the Eyewitness Guide for Thailand and while it's thick and heavy, the Bangkok section would have been perfect for our needs. Argh! Oh well...one of the difficulties in traveling is that you never know what you're really going to need until you get to where you're going, and that goes double for maps.

We ended up relying quite a bit on the free SkyTrain/Metro map they give you at the station, as well as a slew of free maps available at our hotel and various other places around town. None of them was very good, but depending on what we were doing, one of them had the appropriate information on it. After all this, I wonder if a good map for Bangkok even exists[1]. The city is so big and sprawling that it's conceivable that no one has undertaken the effort to map it all.

[1] To its (possible) credit, the RG recommended a Bangkok map called Nancy Chandler's Map of Bangkok. We found it in a small bookshop on our last full day here, and while we couldn't properly evaluate it in its wrapper, it looked promising.

Red Bull was originally a Thai energyNov 20 2005

Red Bull was originally a Thai energy drink. I've seen the original in the stores here, along with several competing brands.

An exploration of what the young andNov 19 2005

An exploration of what the young and hip are up to in Bangkok, which is one of the hottest cities in Asia right now. (thx, david)

Speaking prettyNov 19 2005

When you only know a few words of a language, it's easy to get confused when speaking. Somehow the phrase "tod mon pla" is one of the few Thai phrases that has stuck fast in my head, so much so that I'm afraid I'll get flustered when somebody greets me with "sa-wat dee kha" that I will answer with "tod mon pla":

Them: "Hello!"
Me: "Fish cakes."

Thai also sounds a bit like Klingon to me; it's all the short one-syllable letter combinations strung together. Any day now, instead of "khawp khun khrap" (which means "thank you"), I'm going to reply with qapla' (roughly pronounced "kah-pla", it's the Klingon word for "success" or "good luck"[1]).

Meanwhile, my fast and loose eating on the streets of Bangkok has finally caught up with me as I've been spending a little more time in the bathroom than usual for the past day. I flew too close to the sun on bags of soda, my friends. It's not bad, but I think I'll lay off getting ice from places on the street.

[1] qapla' is the only Klingon word that I know, gleaned from hours of watching ST:TNG on TV in high school and college. I'm a big dork, but not the kind that's anything approaching fluent in Klingon.

Anna's CafeNov 19 2005

Just got back from dinner at Anna's Cafe (118 Soi Sala Daeng). I had the grilled chicken with garlic and pepper and Meg got tom kah gung (the coconut and galangal soup that we learned how to make in our cooking class, except with shrimp instead of chicken). The reviewers at Fodor's didn't like Anna's, but we thought it was pretty good. Anna's also seems to be the place in Bangkok to go for your birthday...we heard Happy Birthday sung five different times while we were there.

Meg basically posted what I was goingNov 18 2005

Meg basically posted what I was going to say about Jim Thompson House, so head on over to read up on this interesting house.

Fried chicken and gumNov 17 2005

We stopped for lunch today at Tonpo, which is right on the river near a water taxi stop. The heat is brutal here, especially in the middle of the day, so the breeze from the river was quite refreshing. One of the dishes we ordered was fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves:

Fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves

The fried chicken was excellent, some of the best I've had (I think we're venturing out tonight to get more at this place Meg heard about). But do you see that sauce next to the chicken? It tasted exactly like Bazooka bubble gum, swear to god. Fried chicken and gum, a match made in heaven.

Ran across Karin-Marijke and Coen on theirNov 17 2005

Ran across Karin-Marijke and Coen on their SE Asian trip...they were parked in Bangkok near Khao San. They've been on the road from the Netherlands since May 2003.

Street food in BangkokNov 16 2005

We've been eating a lot off the street[1] here in Bangkok. On our morning and afternoon walks to and from the Skytrain[2], there are one-person food carts each serving up a particular little snack for 5-10 baht[3] apiece. It's a good grazing situation; lunch yesterday lasted about five hours[4] and consisted of some orange juice, a thai iced coffee, pork balls on a stick, grilled chicken on a stick, some sort of sweet coconut custard thing, chrysanthemum juice, some noodles that very much tasted like ramen (with pork), more sweet coconut custard things, some peanut crepes...

[1.5 hour interlude for a foot and thai massage[5] that I quite enjoyed and Meg quite didn't]

...fried dough balls, pork and pineapple on a stick, a bag of orange soda, pork crepes with tiny egg[6], and dessert tacos. Altogether it was maybe US$6 for the two of us (and my dad ate some too).[7]

I love eating this way and it was something that was sorely missing in HK.

[1] From street vendors, not literally off the street.

[2] Auto traffic is awful here...traffic jams everywhere. So we've been using the Metro (subway), Skytrain (the elevated train), and the river taxis to get around. They get us to most places we need to go. There are motorcycle taxis available, but we'd rather not split up on the journey. Two/three-person motorcycle-powered rickshaws called tuk tuks are also available, but we've heard conflicting reports of the usefulness/sketchiness that we've opted out of them altogether.

[3] It's about 40 baht to a US dollar. A meal at a small restaurant with tables on the street cost us around US$5 for the two of us, including gigantic beer.

[4] We started out at Aw Kaw Taw market, walked over to Chatuchak market, and then to the area around Sala Daeng.

[5] The massage was around US$7 per person. I want one every day.

[6] Onto each crepe, the cook cracked a tiny egg. He made up about 10 for the woman ahead of us and cracked 10 tiny eggs, one for each crepe.

[7] To those who say they can't afford to travel, I say to you: stop making excuses. If you've got the income and leisure time to be spending time reading this blog, are sufficiently motivated, and make it a priority in your life[8], you can certainly afford it. The most costly item is the plane ticket, but if you watch for deals and are flexible in where you want to visit (maybe you go to Brazil instead of Thailand), you can get over here for less than you might think. And once you're here, you can get by on $20 a day, including lodging. Travel is cheaper here as well, buses and trains are always an option, and there are several low-cost airlines that serve the region. It requires a little effort and intrepidity, but low-cost international travel can be done.

[8] This is the big sticking point for most people, I think. If you choose to have a family or focus on your career or pursue a costly photography hobby, you might not have the money or flexibility to travel this way. But that's a choice you've made (on some level)...and I would argue that if you're 30 years old, you can arrange to make an overseas trip once every 3-5 years, and that's about 7-8 trips by the time you're 60.

Cooking school at BaipaiNov 15 2005

Meg and I took a Thai cooking class today at Baipai Cooking School on the recommendation of my friend Darby (thx, Darb!). Since cooking is her thing, Meg's got the full write-up with photos. They pick you up at your hotel, you spend 4 hours cooking (part instruction, part hands-on) in a small outdoor kitchen (there were about 8-10 other people in the class) tasting as you go, you eat the meal you cook, and then they drop you back at your hotel. All for around US$35 per person. We made pad thai, tom kha gai (chicken & galangal in coconut milk soup), fish cakes, and tab tim grobb (water chestnut in coconut milk). Very fun and highly recommended.

Arrived in BangkokNov 14 2005

Quick note to say that we've arrived in Bangkok, which I think is going to be more our speed somehow. Not that Hong Kong wasn't nice, but something about here feels better. We had a really chatty taxi driver on the way in (wish I'd gotten a photo or recorded some of the conversation, but I was too busy trying to keep up with his wall of words)...we learned a bit of the Thai language, that Pepsi is more popular than Coke here, and not to trust doormen. "Never go eat seafood where the doorman tell you to go eat seafood. Is too expensive. He get a commission. Go Chinatown, find your own." And then when we drove up to the hotel, he spotted the doorman and his eyes narrowed..."there he is, the doorman," and gave us a look of warning.

After checking in and showering, we met up with my dad, who took us for a typical Thai meal in a small, unassuming restaurant. Green mango salad, pork with spring vegetables, and a coconut milk soup with shrimp and mushrooms (it came in what looked like a bundt cake pan, with a small flame in the middle to keep the soup warm). Then we walked around a bit, orienting ourselves to the city. All the street food looked super good, and lots of bargains to be had at the night market (including about 15 different kinds of "pussy" listed on a card I had shoved in front of me on Patpong street). More to follow.

Bound for AsiaNov 05 2005

When I first conceived of doing kottke.org on a full-time basis, one of the things I wanted to do was to go to Asia and document the experience for the site. Several micropatrons asked me to use their contributions to, quote, "get out of the house, for the love of God, and go somewhere nice and take pictures and tell us all about it". Unquote.

So, that's what I'm a'gonna do. In a couple days time, we (Meg and I) will be traveling around Asia for about 3 weeks. We'll be heading to Hong Kong, Bangkok (where we're meeting up with my dad, who has traveling and living cheaply in Asia down to a fine science), and Saigon (or more properly, Ho Chi Minh City). We're planning on having internet access for most of the time, but we may be without it for short periods, so updates might be sporadic at times, but they will happen as often as I can manage.

What will probably not be happening is the usual updates to the site, i.e. non-trip related stuff. Few remaindered links for 3 weeks...I don't even think I'm gonna open my newsreader. No movie reviews, no book reviews (with one possible exception). No posts on sandwiches, Web 2.0, or popcorn (ok, everyone stop cheering). Bottom line, the usually scheduled kottke.org programming will be interrupted by a 3-week Asian travelogue.

I'm leaving the comments open, so if anyone has any suggestions on stuff we should see, things we should do, food we should eat, we'd appreciate it.

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