I have mentioned a time or two that I enjoy visiting markets, whether on the street or covered. These are like museums of daily life of a country. Most are far more interesting than an antiseptic mall with similar brand name chains. One can always discover something new or different. Markets catering to tourists are less-interesting, but occasionally toss up a surprise.
One market that I have wanted to visit for a long time is Bangkok’s night flower market. Although open all hours, nighttime is supposed to be the most-vibrant. Unfortunately, the part of night that must be seen is the early morning hours, when the likes of me are in bed.
That said, we took a taxi from our hotel to the market to check out whatever activity there might be on the night after New Year’s Eve. This was the only chance, because we would be heading for the beach the next day. Although a mere shadow of its busy self--not busy at all--I still found the sights interesting. Flowers were varied, abundant, and cheap.
Many women were weaving garlands, which one finds on display throughout the country, especially at shrines.
Of course, one cannot avoid these oranges characters wherever one errs in Thailand. Although they seem to be purchasing flowers, I have heard that they have no money.
Western guests are impressed by the orchids blossom left on the pillow by the maid during turn-down service. After seeing the profusion of orchids in the market, one understands that this presents not great expense for the hotel.
I recall learning something obvious many years ago: flies do not differentiate between luxury hotels and slums. A fly--or any insect, for that matter--has no respect for wealth. Like a bank robber, Instinct takes them where the “money” is--in this case nourishment. That could be food in a hotel kitchen for a common housefly or bare flesh of a patron of a hotel’s outdoor restaurant for a mosquito.
I was reminded of this fact, when I stayed at one of Bangkok’s most-luxurious hotels. Inside, one felt protected from the teeming masses, sweltering heat, filth, and countless creatures. The manicured grounds, paved walkways, and luxurious pool area enhanced this impression. But, the view from my window told a different story. The hotel was build on a narrow strip of land extending back from the Chao Phyra River. I looked down upon the garden, the pool, and the riverfront, as well across the river at other luxury hotels and the city skyline. I felt safe from the environment in air-conditioned comfort.
But, my view extended to the property adjacent to and upriver from the hotel. Real Bangkok snuggled up to the wall of the pool area.
I left the hotel, walked the long drive to the road, turned right, and found the local street--more like an alley--that led to the river. This route was used by the local population to reach the ferry dock (visible from my room) where they paid 3 Baht (about 65 cents--the euro variety) to cross the river. Living conditions could not be more different from mine. Some would call this a “slum”, but I see the housing as typical for many Thai folks. No one seemed dissatisfied, as I usually witness in poor neighborhoods in Europe or the United States. Some must surely resent their neighbor, but this was not ostensible to a foreigner strolling down the street. Street food stalls might unattractive to Westerners, but at just as appealing to flies as nearby luxury hotel kitchens.
Between the dock and the hotel wall is a pond of stagnant water, filled with trash. If local residents or the authorities cared, someone would do something about what--to Westerners--must be a health hazard. Most, if not all, hotel guests enjoying the luxury of the pool have no idea that they lie so close this mosquito breeding ground.
Anyone, who knows Bangkok and has not visited the city since the new airport opened, will be surprised at how quickly reaching the city has become. Multiple lane elevated highways permit cars to whisk passengers to city addresses, trips that once took hours. Whisk was a word never heard in any discussion of road travel in Bangkok, especially when traveling to or from Don Muang Airport.
This may be the most interesting photo (from an "arty" aspect) that I have taken. I like the composition and lighting, all by chance; I was on a moving boat. It's purpose here has no greater meaning than to change the mood away from more serious stuff.
It was taken in February 1972 in Bangkok. Imagine an impressionable young American, experiencing the fascinating world of klongs and having a new camera. This photo could have been taken in any number of locations (there is no evidence of the unique watery environment), but I was on a boat. I can still picture the location and try to imagine life in this house (impossible). Anyone not knowing the locale, can still imagine what might be going on in the cat's mind. Is it thinking about mice or deploring the daily invasion of tourists?
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.