Celebrate New Year by Exploring a New Adventure

Longboat in Bangkok

New Year for most of us feel like a crossing time, a time for reflection. What will the new year bring? Opportunities, adventures, love and happiness?

One of my goals is to take the time to open my eyes and explore the richness of my local context. Urban adventures are so inspiring and enriching. Explore the galleries, the side alleys, the urban richness with all your senses: the gritty, the artsy and the beauty. Be an adventurer! Explore with all senses -plus explore the world through the lens of a smartphone.

Longboat in Bangkok

The day before the New Year 2016 I explored the “darker side” of Bangkok (meaning less known) by taking a 2 hour longboat ride of the lesser known Thonburi Khlongs around Chrak Phra on the opposite side of CBD (central business district). Under the King Taksin Bridge at the BTS station Saphan Taksin you will find numerous boat tour vendors, and if you are persistent in negotiating, and insisting you are not a tourist, you can get a great deal for a 2 hour shared long boat ride.

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Synchronicity: arriving in a foreign city at the time of a disaster

Erawan  Shrine bombing in Bangkok  1 year ago

 Erawan bombing

TV image of the bombing disaster at Erawan Shrine

I arrived in Bangkok just 30 minutes before the horrific bombing took place at Erawan, one of my favorite holy shrines which I visit as often as possible, on a Monday evening one year ago. I probably sat on that particular bench a number of times where the bomber took off his backpack which caused the implosion. This place had such a strong spiritual energy. The mere thought of the disaster sent chills through my body during the hot night.

Erawan shrine
Erawan shrine: a holy place for prayers

The sound of the implosion shook the car as I was arriving into the Central Business District in Bangkok  from the airport. What had happened? The sky looked particular somber that night.  After checking into my hotel room my TV showed the disaster that had happened when someone, I believe still unidentified even after one year, imploded the holy site.  Quite terrifying when you find yourself  alone in a foreign city where you do not understand the language.  Everyone I met were extremely supportive, although shocked and horrified.  I was going to visit our office in Bangkok the following 2 days and so many colleagues were checking into each other via WhatsApp. This is such a great tool when you are traveling.  Everyone were rattled in disbelief that anyone could cause such a horrible disaster at a holy shrine visited by thousands daily in prayer. Thankfully no one from our office in Bangkok were injured, although one of my American colleagues was very close, shopping for food for an office reception the following day.

Bangkok noir
Bangkok at night that night seemed very somber

I have a fascination of Bangkok by night. The massive BTS train structures, the silent lanes of cars lining up, grid locked, stop and go. How the neon lights at the CBD add that layer of mystery and reflections. It became a bit of a tense week, but the following days I felt safer seeing so many police officers at every major building or important infrastructure.

Bangkok noir
Bangkok at night near Chong Nonsi BTS station

Thankfully the second attempt at bombing the bridge at the river landing and BTS only 2 stops from my hotel near Chong Nonsi BTS (sky train) failed. It felt somber and too much of a close call, as I also frequent that area often to go along the river in a long boat. The Thai people were all wonderfully supportive and caring while the government was on high alert all week. What a horrible thought that someone would bomb sites that are so dear to all and holy, symbols of world peace.

Bangkok noir
Bangkok noir: neon signs across from  Chong Nonsi  BTS reminds me of timing and synchronicity

Written by Zia Hansen. photos by Zia Hansen

 

A TALE OF 2 CITIES AS DIFFERENT AS NIGHT AND DAY

 

 

Bangkok city center
Bangkok Central Business District by sunset

 

CBD2

Singapore Central Business District by night

 

BANGKOK AND  SINGAPORE: 2 CITIES SO CLOSE AND YET SUCH POLAR OPPOSITES 

Singapore so lush and green, tropical, clean and orderly.  Well planned. Life is easy, although most work hard and efficient.  Houses are coated in fresh paint, in myriads of fresh pastels, crisp and fresh. 

Geylang Singapore

Shophouses offer a wonderful natural architecture for the tropical weather in Singapore

Lotus pond at the Sands in Singapore

Lush lotus pond at the Sands in Singapore

The city is safe, clean and very tropical.  Almost daily tropical rain makes everything exceptionally lush, green, hot, humid and very tropical.  You can leave your purse on the street and still have a good chance of finding it hours later.  It is safe to walk at all times of the day even as a single woman. Mosquitoes are abated monthly, yet the tropical paradise can offer sightings of flying Timorous Beasties. 

Tropical canonball tree in Singapore

Tropical beauty: Canonball tree in Singpore

Pavements are straight, orderly and clean for the most part, no black gum spotting, no spitting’s.  Only the red mud from daily rain tracks into your front door.  Transportation is efficient and cars are limited through permits that are so expensive that most people’s dream of owning personal cars will remain a very distant dream.  Public transportation on the other hand is efficient and well planned.  Air quality is good, except for neighboring countries’ uncontrollable wild fires. Covered roof structures will provide shelter against the almost daily sudden down-pour.  Noise is limited to the roars of Ferraris and Lamborghinis trying to rev-up before the next traffic light: No chance to ever reach the maximum engine possibilities on the small island-or chirping exotic birds and expressive utterings from tropical frogs.  Old traditional shop houses are juxtaposed by new slender mid-or massive high-rise condo towers, HDB government subsidized housing blocks or crisp white or pastel colored carefully restored colonial buildings.

 

IMG_5590 [573556]

Old colonial shophouses are overpowered by huge HDB apartment buildings at Duxton Hill

Bangkok on the other hand is unruly, and has a dirty urban grit.  Diversity and difference are key differentiators for Bangkok.  The city is unplanned and chaotic, with a large amount of imperfection.  Bangkok forces  and allows people to live without plans.  Chaos and a large degree of randomness is everywhere.  Old wooden shacks are flanked by office buildings or condo towers.

Riverfront in Bangkok  

Old shack houses at the main river, Chao Phraya in Bangkok

Tucked away in side alleys you can find gems and oasis of restaurants and cafes, if only you know how to get there, have a car and a GPS to get there.  It is almost impossible to walk, squashed between cars, Tuk-Tuks, motor bikes, street vendors and utility poles with dangerous infernos of electrical wires hanging overhead, dimly lit or not lit at all at nighttime.  Walkways are uneven, tiles are broken and under seemingly constant repair-in-progress, dirty and haphazard, aligned with the fumes of street food vendors’ temptations of fried fish, bananas, sausages, plastic bags of fresh cut colorful fruits, peppered by exhaust.  The city is grey and trees are far and few in-between.

Erawan shrine
Erawan shrine in Bangkok, cornered by the BTS skytrain

Well-kept street temples and offerings of yellow and fragrant flowers, incense, fresh coconuts and orange juice for good fortune provide a poetic juxtaposition to the dirty urban fabric of unpainted buildings, graffiti littered fences and the double-stacked ugly concrete structures of time saving and quite efficient sky trains.

Offering alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits
Offering street alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits

When in Bangkok try to live close to the BTS or be prepared to spend the next hour or hours grid-locked behind your personal car’s or taxi’s steering wheel.  Personal freedom means having your own car, but sacrificing your time and patience.  Grid-lock is everywhere, seemingly at all times of the day

Bangkok transportation

Gridlock seemingly everywhere and at any time of day in Bangkok

IMG_9523

Juxtaposition between colonial building and new condo towers in Bangkok

Food are the favorite hobby in both cities and joyful sharing of sumptuous meals are favorite pastimes in both cities.  In Singapore Chicken-rice or chili-crab is the all-time favorite national food, in Bangkok crispy fried street food, spicy curry dishes or chili flavored mango salad.  Shopping is becoming a second hobby for both cities.  New malls with ice skating rinks are alluring both Bangkok shoppers to become their new destination and pastime.  Singapore offers almost nonstop shopping, mall after mall after mall seemingly competing with the same high end luxury items.

Offering alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits
Offering alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits

Streetfood in Bangkok

Streetfood in Bangkok

Street signs in Bangkok are an inferno, competing for massage, yoga or snatch-thief warnings. Slippers are scattered in front of buildings indicative of a favorite luxury, taking time for a cheap Thai massage or foot massage treatment on-the-go.  Every Thai I have met is smiling, welcoming and love to enjoy life.  When asking a Thai what he or she loves to do: party is a good answer.  Singaporeans are more reserved and offer less facial expressions.  When asking a Singaporean what their hobby is, the standard answer is: eating and shopping.  Street signs are offering luxury lifestyle or food.

Shopping at Orchard Road in Singapore

Each city has so much to offer in such different ways.  

In Bangkok you need to discover pockets of art and sub-culture dispersed in seemingly unlikely places, hidden in small soi’s but a rich underground culture and appreciation of design and creativity is spreading roots; design and creativity is becoming a national differentiator.  Thailand is becoming the first country in Asia to come up with the idea of establishing design as a national agenda.  Creative freedom as differentiator. In Singapore life is very organized, efficient, a bit uptight, yet you can find pockets of alternative museums and galleries, especially in some of the old colonial military barracks. Art is more controlled, as is life, where only groups of people up to 5 are allowed to gather in the streets.

Written by Zia Hansen. Photos by Zia Hansen