Daily Archives: March 11, 2006

Turn The Music Down I Can’t Hear The Noise

It would be the understatement of the year to say that Thailand is a noisy country. As soon as you step out of the air-conditioning after arriving at Dom Muang you are immediately confronted with the heat and noise of Bangkok. Of course in this regard Bangkok and the rest of Thailand is no different to many other countries. But its human noise and the attitudes towards such noise that I want to talk about in this blog.

I live in Australia, which like most “advanced” countries, has a well-developed raft of noise ordinances. Example, in the suburbs you can’t start a lawnmower before a certain time or play music over a determined decibel count etc etc. On New Years Eve Australian police probably spend more time knocking on people’s front doors and telling them to turn the music down than they spend quenching alcohol fueled exuberance. That’s one reason that Farangs like myself who travel to Thailand regularly find it very liberating – you can be noisy, as you like.

stereo speakers

Thais in general have a propensity to noise, which seems to increase the further you move into rural areas. From the moment the roosters begin to crow in the pre-dawn, the clatter of domestic chores, the movement of trucks /motorcycles and the chatter of villagers fills the air. I spend a fair part of my annual visit in the Isaan village of Ban Phutsa where being noisy is an art form learnt from childhood. For instance, I’ve heard my sister-in-law Porntip sitting in the middle of the family home having an animated conversation with another neighbour who is also sitting in the middle of their own house (who needs text messaging). Get a few neighbours together and noise levels rise markedly especially with the consumption of beer/whisky and the general exuberance of the people involved.


Of course modern technology has played a big part in Thai noise making. Thai sound systems especially those built in the country are a sight to be seen – mounds of speakers are linked by cables and wires to other pieces of sound apparatus, which can punch out sound at frightening levels. It has become almost mandatory that at any wedding, funeral, house blessing that a sound system be acquired. Even village temples now have sound systems together with loudspeaker towers. Not that long ago in the village of Banphutsa you would be woken before dawn to the sound of music, important announcements from the village headman and the occasional sermon from the Abbot. Ban Phutsa now has a new Abbot who is more of a traditionalist and has subtly put the mockers on much of the blather from the temple loud speakers (more power to him)

The one instrument of torture that terrifies me most in Thailand is the common old microphone. In my view giving a microphone to the average Thai is a bit like reintroducing a reformed alcoholic to brandy. Put a microphone in the hands of a Thai and he/she thinks that they have become either:
· Thailand’s new pop sensation
· A Ronald Reagan communicator
· Or just simply turned on by the fact that together with a village loud speaker system their voice can be heard three miles away

Does noise of this nature have a downside? Not really. My experience over the years is that the inclusive nature of Thai culture deals effectively with minor disagreements over noise – In a sense it both reflects and moulds the tolerant nature of Thais in general.

As a Farang what is my reaction. In the main I don’t have a problem with the noise (the only noise problem – I find at times music played full blast for 48 hours during Thai funerals can be a bit tiring) but hey, that’s at worst a minor irritation. Coming from a country where local authorities have more power than the prime minister, I have always found noise making in Thailand to be liberating. On a hot night having friends and neighbours visit for beer and conversation and at the same time being able to turn the stereo right up is wonderful. Of course with this freedom comes the responsibility of reciprocation (tomorrow night the neighbours might also decide to have an all night party) who cares, perhaps I might get invited to.

I’ll finish this blog on noise on something that has intrigued me for a while. Over the years I have met many Farang’s visiting Thailand from Europe who all have the same complaint. Coming from large urban centres, they have no problems with loud traffic, music etc but when staying in Thai villages they find the sound of rooster calls to be very distracting and disturbing. On the other hand a city boy like myself has always found that a rooster crow in the pre dawn in Thailand to be particularly melodic. Who can figure.