This is my fifth visit to Bangkok and I have done all the usual sights before, most several times (see here and here). So I decided to visit the modern parts of Bangkok, like Silom and Sukhumvit where few tourists go, to see how the city works. It’s quite modern and clean, lots of malls, office towers, concrete, steel, and glass, but also trees. When I saw this part of town for the first time 11 years ago it was a howling mass of traffic and unbelievably polluted, and they were constructing an elevated skytrain system. That system was now complete and running, and it’s working. The tracks and stations use about ten times as much concrete as you’d think would be necessary, but it’s fast, efficient, and clean. I could no longer see blue smog rising up from the streets. The Bangkok business district has still too much traffic and is certainly not beautiful, but it has come a long way to a modern working city.

Christmas ornaments are everywhere in this Buddhist country. Huge opulent dioaramas with six-meter trees, green, blue, gold, or silver; phone booth-sized snow-covered swiss chalets, Cinderella, Disney dwarves, elks, snowmen, angels, and gingerbread houses. I asked some people about this but they were very unclear about the notion of snow. Like in Europe, all these things are just symbols for the annual shopping season. No prisoners taken.

Pantip Plaza is a six-floor department store packed with electronic shops. It’s like Tokyo’s Akihabara district packed into a single very large building. Shabbier of course, and not as cutting-edge, but it’s a lot of fun. And there are no orange-rober Buddhist monks browsing around in Akihabara. I also had the pleasure of meeting another Bangkok institution, the Common Gem Scammer. He walked up to me and gave an impeccable textbook presentation, well-dressed and polite (check), has a brother in Frankfurt (check), the place I am going to is closed today (check), please follow me (check) – but here I excused myself because the next stage of the script is fun but time-consuming. It involves following him to his uncle’s one-time government gem auction where I can buy expensive worthless pieces of glass that I am supposed to be able to sell for twice that price at home. Right. I decide to spend the money on a fresh fish with Thai spices at the excellent Baan Khanita restaurant instead.