Bangkok Daze

March 26, 2010

You could arrive in Kao San Road perhaps 20 years after you were last here and think ‘not that much has changed, if anything it’s gone a bit up market’. But then you would realise that you’re not on KSR, you’re on one of the adjacent roads which have all been ‘developed’ to meet the growing needs of the international tourist-traveler and of the now established Thai trendy-young-thing crowd for whom it’s a night-time entertainment destination of choice. Kao San Road is a hell-hole you could never have imagined it becoming, however imaginative you were twenty years ago, but if you stay clear of KSR itself (just as Old Compton Street is not the best that Soho has to offer), which I have, this is a pretty fine part of town. Any world-class city would benefit from quite such a melting-pot in its midst. (Ah, but what they really need is a beach!)

Not a stones throw away the red-shirts (‘the mob’ said the guesthouse owner) are gathered and are gathering for their anti-government protest / pro-Thaksin carnival. To read some of the international press you might think the city is coming to a standstill, held to ransom by these simple rural folk with their big ‘democratic’ ideals. (Whoever is firing off the odd grenade is clearly pushing that one.) Wander by and it’s a different story – lots of people sitting around waiting for something to happen (something that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon), queuing for soup or getting a massage and not many people listening to the speakers on the main stage. The set-up is impressive and clearly heavily bankrolled. It’s tying up quite a bit of the city centre around the government buildings, to the annoyance of cab drivers and the inconvenience of users of some bus routes. But beyond that, anywhere else you go, you wouldn’t know it’s happening; the stock exchange has apparently not so much as blipped.

At the Bangkok Centre of Art and Culture there is an exhibition of Contemporary Japanese art from the Museum of Tokyo some of which is pretty good (there’s a stuffed deer with glass balls all over it), some of which is sexually weird, some of which is perhaps just too Japanese to make sense (see top). Downstairs there is a parallel exhibition based around the influence of Japanese culture on Thailand, a collection of (really effective in parts) work by ‘blooming’ Thai artists (where the influence of Japanese culture is evident) and a long curved space given over to wall paintings some of which are ace. The Bangkok Centre of Art and Culture is a great, hollow, circular building (around an art-rium) with interesting and very artistique shops and cafes.

There you go; just some of the things you can do or see or think about in Bangkok when you’re jet-lagged and distracted by truly-great shopping, fantastic (cheap) food and lots of very pretty girls (can I get away with that?).

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