Author Archives: richardb

Very Bangkok: Neighbourhoods, Networks, Tribes

Undoubtedly one of my favourite books about the real Thailand is one by Philip Cornwel-Smith called Very Thai. I always recommend it to any of my friends who want to see the country with new eyes. I thought I already knew a lot about Thailand but Philip’s book certainly opened up a new chapter for me. Now he has a new book coming out called Very Bangkok: Neighbourhoods, Networks, Tribes which is published by River Books. I just ordered an advance copy from where they say it will be published on16 July 2012.


The following information on the book comes from the publisher:

Bangkok arrests the visitor with its bewildering juxtaposition of old and new, hi-tech and impromptu, sacred and profane. While modernizing at great pace under myriad outside influences, the Thai capital draws equal vigour from its historic communities, cultural diversity and contemporary urban tribes.

The author of Very Thai and Time Out Bangkok, Philip Cornwel-Smith takes an alternative look at the subcultures of his adopted town in this practical thematic handbook. With the aid of maps, listings and references, the visitor can engage with Bangkok’s contradictory character according to their mood or interest.

Explore the city’s contrasting environments, architectural fabric, ethnic patchwork and intertwined beliefs. Encounter distinct social scenes, whether hip or hi-so, local or bohemian and see how traditional roots infuse the current Thai flowering in arts and entertainments, fashion and food lifestyle and spas. Photography by Dow Wasiksiri – selected for the prestigious 9 Days in the Kingdom project – enhances this insider’s guide to a city like no other.

UPDATE: I’ve had the follow update from the author who talks about the delay in publishing this book:-

Thanks for your interest. I really appreciate it. The Bangkok book is taking much longer than expected to write. It keeps expanding and having to be cut back. Much research I’ve done will have to go into later works. Meanwhile, I’ve needed to update Very Thai into a full 2nd edition with more pages, some new concluding chapters – and a bigger typefont! Yay! Most chapters have changes big and small, while some have been heavily rewritten to deal with Thailand’s dramatic transformations of recent years. The 2nd edition of Very thai will come out in about 3 months, along with an updated German version and a new Japanese translation, ‘Tottemo Thai’. The Bangkok book will then follow. Thanks for your patience.

How much does a meal cost in Thailand? More than you think!

I often get asked the question how much does it cost to live in Thailand. That is like asking how long is a piece of string. The answer will vary depending on what and where you like to eat. Take my meal today for example. Mega Bangna is a new shopping mall that has opened up in my province. It is the biggest of its kind outside of Bangkok. Many of the shops cater for the more well-off Bangkok citizens as do the restaurants. From our point of view, it is nice to have some city restaurants in our neighbourhood. Which is why I decided to check out the Bangkok Burger Co. restaurant. I had a very nice and filling meal there and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have a real burger. However, you do need to consider the price. Their gourmet burgers, with chips on the side, are 195-350 Baht. This one is called a Bangkok Dangerous and comes with crispy bacon, fried egg, Thai green curry sauce & jalapeños. The price was 320 Baht though I had to pay an extra 40 Baht for the curly fries instead of the regular kind. I also asked for a bottle of water that cost me 40 Baht. So, the grand total, including service charge, was 471 Baht.

For some people, that is the cost of an average meal. Maybe more if you factor in alcoholic drinks. Now, before you say that all foreigners are rich and can afford it, let me add that in the packed restaurant I was the only foreigner. Who said Thais are poor? The Bangkok ones are certainly not. Have you been on the skytrain lately? So many have iPhones and in the mall today I counted half a dozen Thai kids walking around with iPads. To go back to the original question, if someone asked me how much I spend on a meal, then I would say about 30-35 Baht and that includes the drink. The amount of money that I spent on that one meal today is about how much I spend on meals from Monday to Friday. For the three meals that I eat on an average day, I usually spend less than 100 Baht and feel perfectly content. Take the picture above of my dinner yesterday. I had khao soi gai which is one of my favourite noodle soups. It came with a succulent chicken leg. Did this meal cost 471 Baht? No, it was only 30 Baht. The drinks would have been free but they charged me 2 Baht for ice. And that is basically the kind of meal I have every day here in Samut Prakan. If I lived and worked in Bangkok then I guess the story would be a lot different. And I probably would be a lot poorer!

Caroline Wozniacki Goes to Thailand

Caroline Wozniacki, the world’s number one female tennis player, was back in Thailand recently to take part in the World Tennis Invitation Hua Hin 2012. This was her second time to take part in this exhibition match in the seaside resort of Hua Hin (see my report from last year). Caroline has really fallen in love with the country and the people. She didn’t just come over for the tennis match as she came here early with her parents to celebrate the new year. Her boyfriend, world No.2 golfer Rory McIlroy, arrived a few days later.

I thought that this was only her second time in Thailand as last year she was telling everyone that she had never been before. However, at the press conference she revealed that she has been back quite a few times. She told reporters, “I’ve been to Thailand six or seven times. I’m basically half Thai”. Caroline went on to say that she loves the people and the culture. During this trip she was able to ride horses on the beach at Hua Hin, play with elephants, cook some Thai food and enjoy a spa at the InterContinental which she described as “unbelievable”.

At the exhibition match, Caroline played against Victoria Azarenka, on the left of this picture, who is the world’s number three player. The event took place at the InterContinental Hotel’s Centennial Park in Hua Hin on New Year’s Day.  Both Victoria and Caroline entertained the crowd with their skills and also off-court humour. At one point they got together to do a little dance. Victoria won the match in straight sets 6-2, 7-5. After the match she told the crowd,  “Thank you so much for having me in Thailand. You know, it was the first time and I enjoyed my time I hope everybody enjoyed our match and I hope to be back soon”.

Also playing at the exhibition match was world number 18 John Isner from America and former world number 9 Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand. Paradorn has been retired for a few years now and although he looked lean and fit, he was sweating and was visibly tired. However, he played a good game against the American and surprised everyone by winning 6-4, 7-5. At the end of the match, John told the crowd, “I really had a good time here. I will stay in Thailand for a few more days and then go to Sydney to play in a warm-up tournament before the Australian Open.”

At the start of the World Tennis Charity Invitation Hua Hin, each of the players, and golfer Rory Mcllroy donated 100,000 Baht to help flood victims. In fact the whole event this year was in aid of charities helping with flood relief. You can view more of my pictures from this charity match on my Facebook Page. Later this week I will be writing about some of the places that I visited in Hua Hin on this trip. So, keep an eye on and

Celebrating Christmas in Thailand

The closest I have been to celebrating a Christmas in Thailand are the Christmas lights and the big trees in the shopping malls. If we are lucky, like this year, we might also have a cold wind which will add to the illusion that it is Christmas.  But none of this is real as the majority of Thai people are Buddhists and they are just celebrating for fun. Like in the West, it is all very commercial.

For the first time in many years, I’ve just celebrated what I consider to be more of a real Christmas. I’m in Sakon Nakhon Province which is in the Northeast of Thailand. A number of districts here have large Christian communities. The biggest is in Tha Rae sub-district where I’m told that out of the 50,000 or so residents, nearly 100% of them are Christians. To confirm this, all you have to do is walk around the neighbourhood on Christmas Eve and you will see that the majority of the houses are decorated with Christmas lights and decorations.

This is where I went on the 23rd and 24th of December. On the first evening I joined a tram tour around the neighbourhood where we took picture of all the beautifully lit houses. Everyone was so friendly and many people shouted out “Merry Christmas” to me.  Afterwards I joined in with the first of three parades where local people carried handmade Star Lanterns to Saint Michael’s Cathedral. On Christmas Eve I was back again for a bigger parade of brightly lit stars on the back of about 30 pick-up trucks.

At the conclusion of the parade, the church bells started to toll and everyone headed to Saint Michael’s Cathedral for the nativity play.  This was the first time I had seen this performed in the Thai language.  It was the normal story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus in a stable.  They even had kids dressed up as sheep and shepherds and three wise men. They all did a very good job much to the amusement of the large audience. The play was followed by a Christmas Mass.

On Christmas Day they had another parade, but this time much bigger. In addition to the floats from Sakon Nakhon, Thai Christians from three neighbouring provinces also took part in the parade.  These provinces were Kalasin, Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom. I was told that this time there were over 300 vehicles taking part in the parade through Sakon Nakhon city. Apparently the day before they had all taken part in smaller parades in their local communities.

Lining the street were thousands of people who had come to watch the brightly lit parade. Most of the floats had a Santa Claus that was handing out candy to the children. Adults too joined the scramble to pick up the candy that was thrown into the crowd. It reminded me a bit of Halloween. Some of the floats were better than others. One of my favourites was the brightly lit tuk tuk being driven by Santa Claus.

What all the floats had in common was a giant Star of David which gives the name to the parades. The parade finished at St. Joseph School where everyone was entertained with Isaan style music. I had a great time and would recommend it to anyone who wants to celebrate more of a real Christmas in Thailand with other Christians.