It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed since Bangkok 101 set up shop in an old teakwood home on Soi Langsuan. To say things have changed since then would be the understatement of the decade—and we’re not talking about the magazine. In December 2005, Siam Paragon was just about to open. The next year saw international flights start to shift to the sprawling Suvarnabhumi Airport. With every passing year, new steel stretched for the sun, towering giants carving their place in the skyline.
What else has happened in the past decade? HM the King Bhumibol Adulyadej welcomed foreign monarchs to a grand ceremony in Bangkok honouring his 60 years (soon to be 70) on the throne, one of the only times this century that nearly all the world’s kings and queens gathered in one place. In parliamentary affairs, a Prime Minister was exiled, his sister took power, and upheaval became the standard, not the exception. There were protests, coups, and random acts of violence. The one constant during this period of political manoeuvring was the city’s unparalleled sense of patience.
Or, perhaps, its profound affinity for food. Fine dining and street food have evolved, even merging in recent years. Pop-up and pairing dinners took the city by storm. So did visiting chefs. One Bangkok restaurant (Gaggan, in case you hadn’t heard) was honoured as Asia’s best. The word “Michelin” repeatedly emerged in local gossip. Though certain street food meccas—Soi 38, Yaowarat, and the On Nut night market—came under threat of closure, or their vendors were forced off the street, the chaotic vitality of congested sidewalks, smoking woks, and honest Thai food never faded.
We’ve seen artists, designers, and authors go abroad, spreading Thai culture like a dandelion seed head blowing in the wind. Art and architecture have changed domestically, too. Luminaries like Duangrit Bunnag and Manit Sriwanichpoom helped set a steady foundation for young and emerging artists and designers. Now, from Sukhumvit to the sois of Chinatown and Charoen Krung, for example, galleries feature and support all kinds of media—video, installation, dance: you name it.
Malls opened, malls closed. The popular Khlong Tom, Suan Lum, and Rot Fai markets shuttered, in some cases briefly (Talad Rot Fai now occupies two vast spaces, one off Srinakarin and the other behind Esplanade on Ratchadaphisek Road). Technological advancements, in particular phones with Wi-Fi and high-pixel-count cameras, expedited the transmission of selfies at popular public events to friends and followers, all with thumbs hovering anxiously over Like buttons. It’s a wired world now.
Transportation has developed, albeit at a decidedly Thai pace: languid, casually. The BTS and MRT currently service Bangkok from the border of Samut Prakarn to within earshot of the southern bus terminal in Thonburi. Next year, both will open lines linking the suburbs with the city centre, lines that seemingly have been in the works for the last 10 years. Public bikes have helped curb greenhouse gas emissions. People have become health-conscious like never before, filling up running events within hours and forming a veritable Tour de Thailand of amateur cycling nationwide. Although Bangkok isn’t quite yet on the green par with Singapore, these changes represent a start.
It’s been an amazing 10 years for Bangkok 101, and even more so for the city that makes this magazine run. In celebration of the last decade, we asked some of our close friends, names our readers undoubtedly recognize, to share a reflection or two on Bangkok—their Bangkok.
Korakot “Nym” Kunlopruksa, storyteller and street food expert
More than 100 places on the streets of Bangkok have been tasted and touched by readers of Eat Like Nym. I think the pages of Bangkok 101 have created a new dynamic: knowledge and entertainment with sincerity. Bangkok—keep on working hard, playing hard, and sharing more of what you love!
Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of Very Thai
Thais hadn’t considered pop as proper culture—only rarefied tradition officially counted—but in a sudden shift gained credibility as Thai creatives, followed by venues and businesses, public taste, and eventually ministries took notice. Pop artefacts finally got museum displays, from Museum Siam to the BACC to the TCDC. Now popular culture is part of the city’s tourism promotion, from street food and temple fairs to motorcycle taxis. After all, popular culture is what tourists—and Bangkokians—experience most of the time.
Writers yearn to have impact, but beyond the hoped-for readership and reviews, Very Thai veered out of my control. Timing turned it into the at-hand guide to that zeitgeist wave. Very Thai became a source book for advertising, designers, artists, fashion stylists, and event organisers. Social media fans coined #verythai hashtags for Bangkok street photography. The book even inspired a mime show, while the cover “acted” on stage as a shadow puppet! Two decades ago I adopted Bangkok as my city, so if I may humblebrag, I’m grateful that the city adopted Very Thai.
Jim Algie, author of Bizarre Thailand and The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand
The biggest cosmetic change in Bangkok is all the new malls and condos and Western brands and fast-food franchises, along with a new generation of Thai consumers to support them. But for all that, certain neighbourhoods like Saphan Kwai, and many parts of Thonburi and Chinatown, are very much the same as they were 10 or even 20 years ago.
My favourite experiences here stem from the privilege we enjoy as farang journalists to meet all sorts of fascinating people, from Thai supermodels and actresses to the former executioner from Bang Kwang Central Prison, as well as forensic doctors, top cops, and the chief gunnery officer on a Royal Thai Navy patrol boat who gave me an hour-long tour of the entire ship, including the bridge and the main weapons room. Where else in the world would you get that kind of access?
Bangkok by Tom Vitayakul
In the last 10 years Bangkok has been much more than my hometown—it’s my comfort zone. I was born, bred, fed, and schooled in the city. After being overseas for a long time, this is where I’ve re-established my roots. At the moment, I don’t think I want to live anywhere else. Family, friends, and familiar faces and places are all around. Bangkok may not best represent Thailand, but it’s the crux of what has made the country the way it has recently been, warts and all. For over three years of writing about anything Thai in Tom’s Two Satang, I have learned to love my city, my country, and her people more and more. There’s no place like Bangkok, as there’s no place like home.