Yaowarat (เยาวราช), referred by locals as Chinatown, was the only place I wanted to shoot some photos this time in Bangkok. The subject has been in my interest for a while and I didn’t even scratch its surface.
Of course, there were food, lots of street food and also people. Some stalls had a long line to get their services. But I was more interested in shophouse facades, one of the features that characterised cities in Thailand. Also, small alleys drawn me into them to explore deeper in the environment and its people.
It will be more interesting how a new subway station would affect this urban area.
One thing I couldn’t afford to miss when in Bangkok is the Royal Crematorium. The royal cremation ceremony was held in October 2017. The Royal Crematorium was still on display as an exhibition until December. I had an observation of people paying the last homage of the late King Bhumipol in December 2016. I was eager to see how they transformed Sanam Luang to glorify the monarch. They have done a very good job.
I don’t use a DSLR camera for a photo shoot much these days. But the day I visited Sanam Luang to take picture of it, I had so much fun. Because it was spectacular.
I arrived the place in late afternoon and the weather was perfect with overcast cloud to diffuse sunlight. It was not so busy that we needed to queue up. That gave me some rooms to take photos without bumping with the crowd.
Then, I realised that it was impossible to get deep down in details of the crematorium while photographing because of each element was created through the royal tradition with ancient Buddhist and Brahma believes. From the Funeral pyre to the surrounding pavilions converted into exhibition halls. And I didn’t do any homework on any of them what so ever.
So, yes, I was in awe and overwhelmed.
It wasn’t just the structures and the decorations that amazed me, but also the people. As the day went into dusk, the magic started to emerge—the golden hour of sunset. That was when the crowd started to form. There were some top spots for photographers stationed. But most visitors used their mobile phones or tablets to take picture considering it was a one-off event in their lifetime.
This was one of the most fun photo sessions I had for a long time. The last one I had real fun could be sunrise in Sydney I took in 2016. It reminded how much I could engage with photo shooting when the subject was astounding like this.
I love Bangkok for many reasons but one of the things I hate the most about the city is that the pedestrians’ rights are being ignored and violated heavily. However, when I get back from DC this month, there are some obvious changes on my neighbour’s streets in Phra Khanong area that make me feel welcoming. One is the installations of anti-motorcycle barriers and the other is the reorganising of street vendors.
Bangkok is quite infamous for its traffic but it doesn’t really bother me that much as long as public transport is still running reliably. So often that I rather walk unless it’s too hot, humid, or raining. But it is also often when you walk on the pavement and have to give ways to motorcycles. They illegally make a cheap short cut on the footpath—pedestrians’ footpaths—to avoid traffic on their roads where they are supposed to be. I find it is extremely unfair.
This is why I’m glad to see those anti-motorcycle barriers popping up on Sukhumvit Road around Phra Khanong Station. They are called ‘S-guard’, apparently. Even though I don’t think they will completely eradicate the behavior, at least, it’s a start to discourage bikers to evade walkways.
To a more controversial issue—street vendors. It has been somewhat a win-win to both vendors and customers. Optimising public space for micro business is not uncommon in Thailand. Bangkok’s street-food scene is one of the best in the world. And I couldn’t agree more. But when Bangkok Metropolitan Administration announced they were going to clear up the streets, there were some outcries about banning the unique Thai vendor culture.
On the very first night back in Phra Khanong, I am disoriented to find that half the vendors disappear from the street. There are only stalls on the building side of the pavement. But further down, those missing vendors are grouped together in small open area in front of a building that hasn’t been commercially utilised for years. It’s a relieve to see that my favourites noodles vendor is still there.
Personally, I like to have good footpaths to stroll on. At the same time I don’t mind getting something to eat there as well. These changes seem to be a practical compromise for me. And Phra Khanong is fortunate that is working. This might not be the case in other areas as some reports say.
One of my definite to-do lists when I was back in Bangkok last December was to pay respect to the late King. The main reason wasn’t for the sake of myself paying the respect but to see the people and their activities around it.
Totally, it took about six hours that day to eventually get into the Grand Palace for ten minutes to pay the homage to HM’s body. Most of that time was just a wait in Sanam Luang, outside the Grand Palace. That would be enough for me to get a glimpse of the mourning environment.