• Acclaimed bestseller that explains the perplexing charms of Thai life.

• Definitive source on Thai pop, trusted by locals, experts, media, students
and visitors.

• Iconic style book for designers, authors, artists
and curators.


This pioneering celebration of Thai pop and streetlife has been totally revised to reflect the dramatic changes in Thailand. With a contemporary eye and two decades’ experience, the author delves beyond the Thai clichés to reveal the casual, everyday expressions of Thainess that so delight and mail order bride from russia puzzle, from floral truck bolts and taxi altars to buffalo cart furniture and drinks in a bags. Full of savvy insights into the impromptu creativity behind the exotic image of Thainess. Like no other book, Very Thai captures the quirky vigour of the Thai street.


70 Chapters • 320 pages • 591 Colour Photographs

Foreword by Alex Kerr • Afterword by Pracha Suveeranont

Very Thai Blog
August 15, 2016

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Posted in: Blog,


July 7, 2016

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June 8, 2016

Finding Bangkok’s Creative Edge

A Very Thai live event in Bangkok’s ‘new’ old town.
by Philip Cornwel-Smith

Finding Bangkok’s Creative Edge

Bangkok experienced a new kind of festival over the middle weekend of February – an “ideas festival”. BangkokEdge combined diverse threads into an unusual mix: literary talks, city forums, lifestyle workshops, outdoor films, food trucks and big-name Thai singers. In this downcast period, thousands of Bangkokians relished the intelligent entertainment and cultural sophistication in a scene dominated by lowbrow commercial pop. It was such a success that BangkokEdge 2 is being planned for next year.

The festival’s name reflects its progressive tone. The talks had real substance, with edge. Hyeonseo Lee relived her escape from North Korea. Jung Chang spoke about the bans on her memoir Wild Swans and biography of Mao. Duangrit Bunnag’s provocative vision for a creative city, Bangkok Manifesto, drew cheers from a hall packed with young Thais. Panels discussed the threats to rivers and communities, the geo-poltitics of the new Asia, changes in Burma, and whether Bangkok really is a gay paradise or not.

Bangkok Manifesto

Duangrit Bunnag announcing his ‘Bangkok Manifesto’ at Bangkok Edge

There was a focus on contemporary culture too. Edge is located is in the historic old city, on a riverside that is reviving into a creative district. The bands (headlined by Hugo, Palmy, Ornaree, Lek Greasy Cafe) were indy. We got to hear Kevin Kwan discuss his hi-so hit Crazy Rich Asians; thriller novelists John Burdett and Christopher Moore debate the rise of Bangkok Noir; and Veraporn Nitiprapha dissect her SEAWrite-winning novel ‘Blind Earthworm in a Labyrinth’.

Veeraporn Jung Chang_1

SEAWrite Award-winning author Veeraporn Nitiprapha, and Jung Chang, bestselling author of ‘Wild Swans’

A panel called ‘Bangkok’s Leading Edge’ explored Thai subcultures with three leading Thai creatives [disclosure: I was moderator]. Graffiti artist Alex Face spoke on street art, director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee on indie films, and nightlife impresario Pongsuang ‘Note’ Kunprasop on the rise of Thai fashion sense as seen from the DJ booth at his Dudesweet party nights.

Bangkok Leading Edge_1

Alex Face describing his graffiti with film director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and Dudesweet party organiser Pongsuang ‘Note’ Kunprasop, moderated by Philip Cornwel-Smith

The festival founder, Mom Ratchawang Narisa Chakrabongse, comes from a literary background, as the publisher of River Books. She wanted to launch a writers festival in Bangkok, but the format hasn’t taken off here, despite a couple of low-key attempts like two WordPlay festivals at the Neilson Hays Library. The secret to BangkokEdge is that she conceived it not as “literary” but as an “ideas festival”.

Ideas do matter in Thai society, but it has traditionally been an oral culture, less focused on the written word. Even in the modern era that remains largely true. Historically, Thai books tended to be manuals: how-to guides in ritual, medical, farming, or some other practical need. Manuals still rule Bangkok bookshelves today, whether business, education, language, cookery, decor or guidebooks. The other historical format was graphic. The murals, banners and illustrated folding books of scripture and epic poems were essentially panel cartoons – and illustration still flourishes in comics, travelogues, cute indy pocketbooks and social media.

The festival format was also styled to appeal to Thai ways. “We staged Bangkok Edge as a ‘contemporary temple fair’,” says Narisa. “Many things are going on at the same time, so people can browse around and choose what appeals to them. Some may go for the talk, others for the music, or the films, or for the food. We have lots of things to nourish different interests.”


Pop stars Hugo and Palmy headlined at Bangkok Edge

Veterans of film, arts and literary festivals are familiar with the fact that you can’t see all the talks, workshops, and other events. This was frustrating to some, but is unavoidable if a festival is to have diversity and buzz. Most of the Thai language programs were strung in a series at one venue. In the end, several sessions ended up bilingual. No matter: the talks and concerts have been uploaded to YouTube.

Among workshops on book design with Xavier Comas and crowdfunding with Jay Montonn, were cooking demonstrations. Chef Bo of Bo.lan and Err explained the essentials of Thai curry paste, while Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne, authors of ‘The Burma Cookbook’, demonstrated piquant recipes from Myanmar.

Burma Cookbook

Morrison Polkinghorne and Robert Carmack of Globetrotting Gourmet food tours demonstrated recipes from ‘The Burma Cookbook’

In between talks and workshops, festival-goers could mill around the site and grab lunch, drinks or snacks from the many food trucks and vendor carts set up along Maharat Road and in the MuseumSiam grounds. There were also stalls selling books, clothing, design items and ecological products in the vein of Bangkok’s pop-up market phenomenon.

A “chill pass” (B500 for the weekend) gave access to relax in the riverside grounds and beer garden of Chakrabongse Palace, with tours to the house being a hot ticket. To mark the fact that Saturday was Valentines Day, a live chat session on the music stage covered stories about how couples met, hosted by Hana Tassanawalai, wife of Hugo Chakrabongse.

The organisers had expected a few thousand visitors, figuring it was an untested concept, located in the old town, and would appeal to niche groups. The response was astonishing. The first day 17,000 people turned up, plus 12,000 on the Sunday. Evidently Bangkok relished having such an event.

“I just love that there’s a festival specially about my own city,” said Somporn, 27, who attended sessions on gentrification and about the river. Many gave feedback that they were especially pleased to have a festival about their city, where they could hear independent experts talk about issues that matter to them, and have the chance to question the speakers.

This runaway success encouraged the organisers to plan BangkokEdge2 on 4-5 February 2017. It will be held at the same venues, and with even more attractions planned for the weekend. Like its logo bridging Bangkok’s old and new skylines, the festival straddled the tensions between traditional and contemporary. Now with its own dedicated annual festival, Bangkok has another way to keep its edge.

This article was first posted in Bangkok 101 magazine’s website.


Posted in: Blog, Events,

Tags: #Bangkok #culture #e-magazine #events #exhibitions #music #popularculture 

April 2, 2016

Liquid Bangkok

Very Thai author joins up with Smiling Albino to research a Very Thai-style river adventure with boutique travel agency Smiling Albino called Liquid Bangkok.

Posted in: Blog, Media,

Tags: #Bangkok #talks #Thailand #tourism #video 

February 4, 2016

Pop Culture talk at Bangkok Edge Festival

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Thailand’s first ‘Ideas Festival’, Bangkok Edge, will feature talks, workshops, music, film, tours and an exhibition, along with food and other entertainment on Feb 13-14, 2016.

On Feb 14 at 1-2pm, Very Thai author Philip Cornwel-Smith will host one of the panel discussions, ‘Where is Bangkok’s Leading Edge‘, with three Thai figures who are moving the culture forward. the talk will be at the Rachini School venue in the Tha Tien festival enclave.

Philip will look at how Thai trends emerge, become hip and then get accepted into the mainstream.

Pongsuang ‘Note’ Kunprasop the founder of Dudesweet nightlife theme party phenomenon will discuss changing fashion in the context of music.

Kongdej Jaturanrassmee, the film director of Tang Wong and Snap, among other acclaimed films, will look at the situation of art film in Thailand.

Alex Face, one of Thailand’s most prominent graffiti artists, gives his take on creating artistic space in public view.




Posted in: Blog, Events,

Tags: #academic #art #Bangkok #culture #events #fashion #film #graffiti #music #nightlife #talks 

February 1, 2016

Bangkok Edge festival schedule

Here is the full schedule of Bangkok Edge, Thailand’s first Ideas Festival.

Among all the talks and events, look out for Very Thai author Philip Cornwel-Smith, who will head a panel on the ‘leading edge’ of Bangkok’s popular culture on Sunday Feb 14 at 1-pm.

Leaflet1 music eng sat-eng sun-eng

For details see:




Posted in: Blog, Events,

Tags: #academic #Bangkok #culture #events #festivals #international #music #talks #Thailand 

November 26, 2015

Exhibiting the Overlooked


Embracing Thai Popular Culture as Heritage

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National Museum Volunteers Lecture series talk by Philip Cornwel-Smith about how popular culture artefacts have eventually come to be displayed, exhibited and treated as a serious aspect of Thai culture.

At the National Museum on Thursday morning of Nov 26, 2016, following a talk by Steve Van Beek on Thailand’s water culture.

Posted in: Blog, Events,

Tags: #academic #culture #events #musuems #popularculture #talks #Thailand 

July 15, 2015

Podcast about Very Thai by TalkTravelAsia


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‘Very Thai’ continues to spark media coverage. The latest is a podcast on TalkTravelAsia. The podcast is an interview with author Philip Cornwel-Smith by journalist Trevor Ranges and Scott Coates, who was co-founder of the bespoke travel agency Smiling Albino.

The podcast is available through the following channels:

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/talktravelasia/talk-travel-asia-episode-28-very-thai-with-philip-cornwel-smith

iTunes: https://soundcloud.com/talktravelasia/talk-travel-asia-episode-28-very-thai-with-philip-cornwel-smith

TalkTravelAsia website: http://talktravelasia.com/2015/07/15/episode-28-very-thailand-with-philip-cornwel-smith/

Twitter: @TalkTravelAsia

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Posted in: about the book, Blog, Events, Media,

Tags: #Bangkok #culture #interviews #podcast #Thailand #website 

March 20, 2015

TCDC: Very Thai Cultural Filters

How Hybrids Preserve and Project a Sense of Thainess

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My talk on the cultural filters involved in Thai design is now viewable online at You Tube:


As part of the TCDC exhibition ‘hello World’, Philip Cornwel-Smith gives a talk today at TCDC on 8 March 2014. Called ’Very Thai Cultural Filters: How Hybrids preserve and project a sense of Thainess’, the talk goes into the ways that Thais are selective about what they import and adapt into hybrids.

Various Thai values, tastes and taboos act as filters to let in only part of the import while screening out aspects that don’t suit. This leads the talk to consider what cultural filters are needed in order to create designs, products and services that can appeal to the outside world while projecting a sense of Thainess. This means looking at what aspects of Thainess appeal (or not) to outsiders and how Thais might go about the tricky task of filtering their own cultural traits so that everyone benefits.



Posted in: Blog, Media,

Tags: #culture #design #events #tcdc #Thailand #video