22 Walks in Bangkok and written by (walked by?) Kenneth Barrett (ISBN 978-0-8048-4343-0, Tuttle Publishing, 2013) arrived on my desk, brought in by our foot messenger. Now, I have never been known as a champion of the cause of walking, for me, a long walk means I parked my car at the far end of the car park. So, with that in your mind, let us have a look at Kenneth Barrett’s ode to shoe leather.
I am not phobic about walking, but I can think of more pleasurable pursuits, especially in Bangkok. Pattaya, of course, would have been different, a walk means brushing aside young nubiles and turning down never to be repeated offers of “Hello sexy man, come inside please!”
Another off-putting factor was the fact that Kenneth Barrett’s walking was done in the daytime, and that can be hot, steamy, very hot or very steamy (and we will ignore for the moment multi-colored street marches by opposing political groups).
Barrett’s 22 walks, however, are well away from the main arterial thoroughfares and will take you through small sois leading into parks and back lanes. The detail is just superb; for example, he writes of the Tonson Mosque, built for the Cham peoples, who came from Vietnam and Cambodia in the seventh through to the eighteenth centuries. They were made refugees by the influx of Chinese refugees after the Ming Dynasty collapsed. The original wooden mosque has been rebuilt many times and author Barrett notes that “Although avowedly Muslim, they (the Cham) have largely been absorbed into the Thai identity and are no longer aware of their Cham ancestry.” (Perhaps this book should be in the Tonson school curriculum!)
Were you aware that the Corrections Museum is on the site of a prison modelled on the Brixton prison in the UK, and its construction was ordered by King Rama V? I certainly did not. Or that the Customs House (the original one) was designed by an Italian?
This book is much more than a guide book to byways and back lanes. It is also a magnificent history book, able to keep the reader engrossed with Barrett’s disclosing of the various eras in Bangkok, and how the Bangkok residents celebrated the times gone by with the development of the suburban (and urban) areas. But even before that, he explains the migration of the Tai peoples from China in the seventh century AD and their integration with the Khmer empire and then trading with China (the Chinese influence evident even then – I wonder if we had a Free Trade Agreement in those days). There are several excellent color plates in the center of the book showing the diversity in Bangkok buildings, with the first Presbyterian church and a Mon clay brick stupa on the same page. This is Thai history in a most readable way.
22 Walks in Bangkok is available in Thailand through Asia Books and Kinokuniya, and the RRP is B. 495. This book will have you looking out your Doc Martens, but do remember to wear a hat as well. Get this book!