As a photographer I love exploring new cities and countries but Bangkok draws me back like an addiction. They say people in Bangkok eat five times a day. With the choice and quality on the streets, I think that’s not often enough.
Bangkok – a city that assaults all of the senses like no other. The smell of fermented fish hits you in the nose harder than a Muay Thai fighter’s spinning back elbow. The sound of a thousand horns fill the streets as eight million Thai’s go about their business 24 hours a day. Your eyes overload your brain with images teeming with colour, whilst the heavy humid air clings to your skin. But it’s taste that we’re here for – and Bangkok delivers by the bucketload. Hot, sweet, sour and salty flavours hook you in and keep you clamouring for more.
Street food is the very soul of the city. It’s a non-discriminatory way of life for Bangkokians – young and old, rich and poor, boys, girls and boy-girls all queue up side by side to get incredibly tasty, incredibly cheap classics cooked à la minute by wok veterans who may have been doing one dish all of their working life, perfecting it every day.
But this street vocation is in jeopardy. I had been asked to accompany the Guardian and Olive Magazine, along with Thaikhun to Bangkok, my third visit in just over a year, to shoot photos for an article they were writing about the potential removal of the cities informal chefs.
The government claims that it wants to make the city a safer, more hygienic place and aims to move traders inside gentrified hawker centres, similar to those in Singapore. Street food without the street becomes just, food – like a magic carpet without the magic becomes a rug. Thankfully, it looks like this is a long way off as the night markets and streets were filled with kitchens on wheels and the continual smiles of their entrepreneur owners. Our brief was to capture the vibrancy, colour and energy of the capital, its people and its fantastic food, and in a city like Bangkok… that’s a pretty welcoming task.
Bangkok is home to a plethora of food markets and I love them all, but I have a soft spot for the Maeklong Railway Market. Only in Thailand can you find a fully functioning food market with a fully functioning train track running through it. Several times a day trains roll passed nonchalant traders who begrudgingly move their stalls back a few feet from the tracks, whilst the inconvenient locomotive passes tilapia and papayas. Just imagine that in Tesco. ‘Train in aisle three. And we don’t mean lift weights’. My size 13’s nearly came home size 9’s. And my 12 incher nearly became a sixer. I bloody love that ruler!
This is my third visit to this market and I was amazed that I was seeing the same people that I’ve met on previous trips – one even had the same tshirt on!
It can be hard to get a natural photograph of people in a foreign country. One technique is to become barely noticeable, like a gecko on a wall. You blend in with the crowd and wait for the perfect shots whilst remaining almost invisible. This is extremely hard when you’re a 6 foot 4 white westerner absolutely buzzing to be back in your favourite market in the whole of Thailand. I love the Railway Market but the Street Market at Charoen Krung is my number one. This is my third visit to this market and I was amazed that I was seeing the same people that I’ve met on previous trips – one even had the same tshirt on! I got chatting to a few familiar faces and showed them the edited images and videos from my previous trip. The tourists can keep the Floating Market for themselves (way too touristy), but if you want a piece of the real Thai pie, head to the Street Market at Charoen Krung – Just don’t tell anyone about it!
The Thai Basil Farm supplies all of the Thai Leisure Group’s 20 restaurants across the UK with their fresh herbs – within 48 hours of being picked in the Thai sunshine they can be found on a plate in Oxford (cold), Manchester (colder), and Aberdeen (coldest).
As a photographer I love exploring new cities and countries but Bangkok draws me back like an addiction. I crave the people, the food, the markets, the buzz. I even miss the smell of semi-rotten fish (nam pla Yankee Candle anyone?). I just sincerely hope the next time I return the streets are still filled with red-hot woks and their remarkable masters.
A big thanks to Felicity Cloake (Guardian food columnist), Janine Ratcliffe (Olive Magazine), Geoff Campion (Fleet Street PR) and James Hacon (Thai Leisure Group Brand Director) for making it a memorable week.
And of course to the beautiful people of Thailand. Khob khun kha, khob khun krab from the bottom of my heart. See you next year… Hopefully!
About the author:
Dan Burns, MD Natural Selection Design
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