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With late April marking the anniversary of my move to Thailand, and with this year marking my sixth anniversary, I have decided to compile a series of “Six of the Best” features encompassing my hobbies and interests, which I have enjoyed during my time here. I will start with films made in, or set in, Thailand. The list is in chronological order of the year of production.
1. MUAY THAI CHAIYA (2007)
The first Thai film I saw after moving here remains one of my favourites. I watched Muay Thai Chaiya (simply Chaiya/ไชยา in Thai) almost as a token – “I’m in Thailand so I should watch a Thai film” – but I had a similar experience to when I watched Fight Club for the first time. Expecting a simple beat-‘em-up, I was given so much more. Chaiya is, on the surface, a martial arts movie, but its narrative charts the coming of age and moral corruption of three pugilistic brothers as they move from the idyllic southern district of the film’s title to ’70s Bangkok to chase big bucks in the ring.
The three brothers’ fates take differing turns; one’s boxing career is cut short through injury, another pursues legitimate championship aspirations, and the third is drawn into Bangkok’s lucrative but increasingly dangerous underground fighting circuit. Organised crime influences all three, and their competing egos and influences make for a blood-soaked morality play of love triangles, sibling rivalries and childhood bonds. Chaiya culminates in an absurdly violent climax that some of Japan’s more notorious splatterhouse directors would be proud of, yet it is testament to director Kongkiat Khomsiri’s work that it somehow doesn’t come across as unrealistic. (Kongkiat would later direct another of my favourites, Slice – see next entry).
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“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown, around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel. Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.
There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.
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Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.
For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.
Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.
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Talk to any old-timer expat here in Thailand and chances are that, before long, they’ll regale you with tales of when places such as Pattaya and Phuket were quiet fishing villages, and then lament that if only they’d bought land or property back then, they’d be stinking rich now.
Which raises the question of where tomorrow’s Pattaya or Phuket might be, or whether there even remains such potential in a country which is vastly more ensconsced on the tourist map than it was in the 1970s or 80s. Surely anywhere of commercial opportunity will already be long-discovered?
Maybe not. Continue reading
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As I work in the press, I’m always quick to defend journalists, especially against the stereotype that they “make things up”.
It is true, though, that facts can be shaped to fit an agenda, and also that whenever there are two or more sides to a story, a journalist can take whichever side best fits his remit. But they can’t simply make things up.
For a start, it’s against the law. If a newspaper prints a story about a person or event, and cannot prove that it is true if required to do so, then it will face penalties.
Take, for example, the 2004 case of the Daily Mirror‘s publication of photos which apparently showed British soldiers abusing an Iraqi captive. Desperate for a sensational scoop, The Mirror didn’t check the authenticity of the pictures, which were later proven to be fake. The result – editor Piers Morgan was fired.
So, a publication really can’t “make things up” without risking personal, political or financial repercussions. However, that’s not to say it never happens. While I may be quick to defend the press against this stereotype, at the same time I am quick to criticise journalists who do contribute to it.
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Hua Hin is the best beach spot within easy reach of Bangkok – by a long way, in my opinion.
Pattaya remains the busiest, but its popularity is more due to it being Thailand’s sex central – and unabashed position as such – rather than its unremarkable beach, dirty sea and culture-less city centre.
Cha-Am and Bang Saen have a nice atmosphere to them, but their beaches are gritty, with parasols spoiling most of the views (Thais like to be beside the seaside as much as Europeans, but hate the prospect of the sunshine darkening their skin).
Ko Samet and Ko Chang are both wonderful, but at around 4-5 hours’ drive from Bangkok, plus a ferry ride, they’re just a tad too far for a short hop.
Hua Hin, then, at 2-3 hours’ drive from Bangkok, is not only viable but also offers a lot that the aforementioned seaside spots don’t. Continue reading
Filed under: Expat life, Outside Thailand, Travel | Tags: airport, airport closure, Amphawa, anti-government protests, Asia, Ayutthaya, Bang Saen, Bangkok, Chachoengsao, Expat life, Hua Hin, Ko Chang, Ko Si Chang, Krabi, Pattaya, political unrest, politics, Samut Prakan, Samut Songkhram, Singapore, Sri Racha, Suphan Buri, Suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand, Travel, UK, United Kingdom, working overseas
The first item on the agenda is to fill in the gaps between September 2008 and September 2009, before I will start writing about more timely stuff, as and when it happens. I will be concise, because 12 months is a long time to chronicle, and will perhaps return to certain points in more detail at a later date.
Everyone who knows me will know how much I love to travel. The prospect of living and working abroad always excited me, and now I am doing it. I expected that living in Thailand would enable me to jet off to nearby Asian countries frequently, not to mention that Thailand itself is chock-full of attractive destinations.