6 March 2021
Bangkok can seem confusing, but beneath the chaos, it has a surprising internal logic. Understanding its inner character is the aim of Very Bangkok, which is the most up-to-date and comprehensive book on the Thai capital.
Written by longtime resident Philip Cornwel-Smith, Very Bangkok: In the City of the Senses is not arranged by area or era, but through themes that explain this city of surprise. Vividly photographed by the author, the book starts and finishes on the river, from the city’s origins as a trading post and sacred island to today’s riverside creative resurgence. In between, we get to explore its many contradictions, whether chic or street, elite or pop, ancient or futuristic.
Half of the book explores Bangkok’s impact on our senses, whether the love of boisterous noise or the aromatic herbal and floral arts. It turns out that Bangkok food has its own flavour profile, thanks to multi-ethnic influences. We also probe the supernatural sixth sense that shapes many decisions, plus the semi-taboo scene of shamanic trance. In all, it covers 20 senses, including the distinctive Thai senses of direction, time or colour. You’ll never think of Bangkok the same way again.
The heart of the book is about Bangkokians themselves, whether hi-so elites, folk communities or middle-class mall-goers. We encounter vivid subcultures, such as the informal markets, youth tribes and ethnic identities, from Muslims and Mons to the majority Thai-Chinese. The conclusion reflects on the gulfs between Bangkok’s self-image, its wilder noir reputation, and a new wave of realistic portrayals in the arts. Behind the myths of Thainess, we discover the essence of Bangkokness.
The author has become an expert on his adopted city since 1994, as founding editor of its first listings magazine Metro, editor of the Time Out Bangkok city guide, and author of the influential bestseller, Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture.