Fishing boats that smell of bait. Protests that never get heard. Doors that hold back street smog. Markets packed with crowds. When there is no rhyme or reason you can always just sit back and look at the pictures.
While thousands of dedicated political protesters stay their ground at intersections all over Bangkok, there is a flip side to the city which shows you that life continues as usual for many more thousands.
I spent a day showing some friends around a few of my favourite sights earlier this week and it gave me the usual opportunities to witness the wonderful variety and extraordinary people that make Bangkok such an interesting city to live in.
The flower markets (Pak Khlong Talat) are a 24/7 thriving mass of traders and buyers, where colours and smells are overwhelmingly fascinating. It’s hard to go there without buying some kind of bloom or exotic branch. It is supposed to be at its best at 3 in the morning when all of the farmers come in from the provinces, but any time of the day is worth a visit.
In the Amulet market that occupies the dusty sidewalk between the Chao Phraya river and the Grand Palace, locals huddle over tables spread with all range of trinkets and objects of worship. It is a great place to see Monks bargain for a deal and traders while their time away.
Pigeons: the ubiquitous winged park carpet that no city is exempt from.
The khlongs off the Chao Phraya River team with a life that sits behind the facade of the streets and express ways. Even though tourist boats hustle up and down the narrow waterways, the locals go on with their life in a way that represents reality – allowing you to see a side of the city that you would otherwise never see.
The 2010 floods wreaked havoc on some of the already weak buildings along the khlongs.
Behind closed doors, and shutters of wooden windows, one never knows who lives, and how.
temples and barges, haze and heat, smoke and water….
locals.. you just cant account for some peoples taste.
I make no claim to understand what the hell is going on in this country right now. When foreigners who have lived here for over 20 years tell me they are no closer to understanding the intricacies of Thai culture it is little wonder I cant get my head around what is happening.
The Prime Minister dissolved the Government and is now operating in a ‘care-taking’ function. The opposition party resigned parliament as a show of disrespect for the system. The protest movement is being led by an ex-politician and clearly states that a win-win outcome is not acceptable. The Army Generals have neither confirmed nor denied that they might stage a military coup. The king is remarkably quiet on the whole affair, and while he has the power to veto the outcome – he believes the people should find a solution.
There are thousands of people crowding the streets 24 hours a day to block intersections, disrupt government process and make threats that they will storm political offices and capture politicians. When you walk amongst them you can see that they are dedicated to their belief. Old woman and families are sleeping on the roads. Everyone is smiling and dancing to around the clock entertainment. Whistles blow, music blares, voices fill the city from loudspeakers. At night there have been some gunshots. Redshirt clashes, or angry lash-outs at Political targets. It’s not an entirely peaceful protest.
Some speculate on the outcome and the timing, but not me.
Meanwhile the carnival continues…
When far from Bangkok and not in the mood for street photography, this little piece of me never fails to inspire my passion for life.
Just as random and surprising as life, I include this section of shots into my normally Thailand focussed blog to reflect my recent Trip to South Africa.
I hardly picked up my camera while I was there. It was one of those trips where I wanted to soak up the moments myself rather than with my lens. Most of my shots were focussed on family with little direction to street photography for my blog.
In this post are a few pictures taken in Knysna, a small coastal town north of Cape Town.
The trick is to wait until there are no tourists in the shot right?
It has certainly been my motto over the last 6 months of this blog. Frankly, they’re just not a pretty sight. They don’t represent the culture of Thailand and they usually dress funny!
Some tourists represent their stereotype so blatantly. I suppose we’ve all been there. I remember my first journey into SE Asia; Dreadlocked hair, braided bracelet, sleeveless t-shirt. A wide eyed face coupled with a defiant look of ‘I’m very well travelled you know’.
I feel an odd stigma to being a tourist. When walking with my camera I’m often asked if I want a tuk-tuk ride or a massage, I quickly reply in Thai (with the limited vocabulary I have!) to ensure they realise I am NOT A TOURIST!! Then there are those times when I’ve been visiting a well trodden tourist site and suddenly surrounded by a bus load of tourists I cringe at the idea that I may be mistaken for one of their pack. Ridiculous concerns; as even separated from the group, and having lived here for 9 months I am still a tourist to all of the locals I meet. With my Nikon camera, My khaki shorts, a sweaty t-shirt and a backpack with water bottle in the side web.
But to be fair, the tourist has been a part of the Bangkok ‘culture’ for years! You couldn’t say they are part of tradition, but as soon as the first colonials arrived they started buying, bargaining and behaving badly and their presence has influenced the way Thai people do business, advertise and educate themselves to this day.
On June 1, 2013, Time magazine reported that Bangkok was identified as the most visited city in the world by the 2013 Global Destination Cities Index. (excerpt from wikipedia). So I guess it would be wrong for me to document my time in this city without including a few photos of the people who make up nearly 7% of the GDP.
Please let me know if you spot yourself in this lot – All photography taken with the utmost respect!
I’m no conflict journalist. Well, not in this conflict anyway. The opportunity for sensational photography is certainly tempting, but for some reason I just haven’t been compelled to go out and get amongst it.
Today it was unavoidable… 150,000 people marched through the streets of Bangkok on their way to Government House. Only 150 metres from my house was a line of peaceful protesters stretching as far as I could see in either direction.
Someone theorised that todays march was a world record for volume of people in peaceful protest. I wonder though what will happen tonight when the smiling people go home. When the sun goes down and the angry people remain.
I was in Phuket over the weekend. I stayed on the quiet side. The East. I took a trip into Old Phuket Town early one morning to get some bakery breakfast. It was early by local standards and most of the stores were all closed. There were a few people making their way to work in cars and on motorbikes, but for the most part the old town was only just beginning to be roused by the morning sun.
I prefer this part of Phuket. I’m not a fan of the way tourism has completely blurred the traditional culture and beauty of the west coast beaches. In the Old Town you still feel like you are in Thailand as opposed to Bali, Portugal or some other over-exploited tourist location around the world.
I went on a trip to Cambodia recently to help document a charitable education development project. What I saw and the story behind the journey is absolutely incredible and I will share it in this blog later this year.
In the mean time I’m posting a few of the candid shots captured outside of the project work.
Cambodia is only 1 hour from Bangkok, but it is different in so many ways. The way of life is similar due to the agricultural society, but the simplicity seems accentuated in Cambodia. Regulation and systems appear less structured than Thailand (in everyday life on the streets).
Most of all, the people have a different aura about them. Thailand has never been invaded in all of history, whereas Cambodia has experienced rule by Thailand, Vietnam, even the French and the Portuguese. More recently the people suffered the terrible oppression and tyranny under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
When I was in my 20′s, I had romantic ideas about Chiang Mai. They were fostered in stories from travellers, and embellished through fantasies cultivated out of B grade movies about the golden triangle!
Twenty years on, riding a bamboo raft down a muddy river, trekking across jungle suspension bridges and drinking coffee and whiskey made by villagers… my fantasies were given some foundation.
The ideas I had back then have now been shaped into a view that reflects a more realistic picture of this beautiful region.
I’m sure Thailand has changed a lot in 20 years, but not so much that it is a completely different experience to that of travellers back then. I think that the way I travel now probably influences my view as much as the developing country around me. I look at twenty-something backpackers arriving in the country and I cant help thinking that their thoughts & experiences will not be too dissimilar to my own from 20 years ago. Even if I can now see that there are changes.
When it come to travel, the motto is: It doesn’t matter when you go, just go.