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.
Have you ever wondered what the building you live in now used to be? When I found out that the condo I am living in now was one of stand-alone cinemas in the neighborhood, it excited me tremendously. It triggers my thoughts about the transformation of the Bangkok’s urban landscape.
When I moved back to Bangkok few years ago, it just happened that I ended up living in Phra Khanong area where I was very new to it. It’s on the other side of this big city as opposed to Don Muang, where I grew up. My last recollection of this strip was the heavy traffic jam on the intersection and there was a row of cinema signage.
On top of that, it is gorgeous to see its transformation as well. An enthusiast has posted a photo series of its demolition. And luckily, when Google Street View started to roll out in Bangkok in 2011, it has archived the construction of the new building as well.
Asia Rama was not the only stand-alone cinema in Phra Khanong area. There was a cluster of them. While it was in the hay day, there were at least six theaters and five department stores in this area. But I think the cinema was the last one operating. According to Wikipedia, it was closed down on 20 August 2009. The transformation is still happening as we speak. I will post about some of other cinemas later.
As soon as I got up on the train from Chiang Mai, my focus was almost immediately on the changing landscapes outside the window—from Ayutthaya Station right up Hua Lamphong Station. It was an enjoyable mixed bag of urban creep sceneries to see.
In Ayutthaya, there was a rhythm of rice fields and industrial estates emerging from the light of dawn. Then they started to work on the new Dark Red Line suburban commuter train in Rungsit. Don Muang was the mark that it had entered Bangkok with the old International Airport. Along the way, there was Bangkok’s Stonehenge, which became street artists’ heaven. It went through the train depot in Bang Sue, which would be the last clear horizon perspective from the train. Finally, while it was approaching the final destination in Hua Lamphong, Bangkok from the train view turned into dense communities.
By the time the train arrived Bangkok, the camera phone and the spare powerbank almost ran out of their power and I got very exhausted with the travelling and everything. But it was all really worth it.
How fortunate it was that I took a picture of the same spot and posted it here about a year ago. Things go up, things come down. And things go by without you noticing it if you don’t stop for a while and look at it.
Ok, the place is now an open-air beer garden, which I am writing this blog right now. And it is intriguing with the mixture (or the crash) of cultures. I’ll go into the detail what is inside later.
I have always been into urban landscape and paid attention to urban decay. But this time, living back in Bangkok, the refreshing thing is about urban development.
It is definitely not about how the estate development itself but how it connects people. This is why it is something to be explored.
Let’s have a look at the photos side by side, for now.