Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Work, eat, sleep: adjusting to life in Bangkok

A street vendor selling fruit and veg in Ari. © Andy Brown/2011/Thailand
Living in Bangkok is a very different experience to visiting it, and after our first week we started to feel less like tourists and more like inhabitants of the sprawling metropolis. We moved into an apartment in Ari, a residential Thai area. It’s upmarket but still feels more adventurous than living in expat central round Sukhumvit. We’re staying in a small block of 15 apartments around a swimming pool. It’s very homely and ‘traditional Thai style’ with lots of shade and pot plants everywhere. We’re surrounded by quiet leafy lanes, populated with villas and garden restaurants. It feels a bit like a Thai equivalent of the more villagey suburbs of London like Highgate or Hampstead.

The streets near the Skytrain are lined with food stalls, selling fruit or fried noodles. Scattered among them are occasional folding tables covered with lottery tickets. There is also a cobbler and a middle-aged man with an old-fashioned sewing machine, patiently repairing an endless succession of garments. The ready availability of fruit here is a welcome contrast to Manila and, along with my twice-daily swims, allows me to maintain the semblance of a healthy lifestyle while eating spicy soup noodles every night.

Each of the street stalls is in fact a small trailer with gas canisters pulled by bike, moped or sometimes by hand. Owners of the larger stalls set up folding chairs and tables along the roadside to create a makeshift restaurant. Late at night, they take all this down and do their washing up with large plastic bowls and hosepipes, emptying the dirty water out into the gutters. One night, after the stalls had gone, I noticed that the pavement was actually marked out into small areas with painted lines like a car park. Presumably the stall owners pay rent on their space to the local council.