Bangkok’s exotic allure has inspired writers for generations.
The city is often described as an ‘attack on the senses’.
Smells, colours, noise.
Visiting foreign writers have captured these primal reactions we have to the city since they first started visiting – back in the late 19th Century.
Of course, not all of them loved Bangkok — far from it — and complaints about smells, soi dogs and laziness are commonplace. Colonial attitudes at this point viewed the native Thais as ‘other’ and some of their comments by today’s standards would probably be considered racist.
Nevertheless, much positive has also been said about Bangkok over the years too.
Here are 13 of the most on-the-nose, witty and evocative quotes about brilliant Bangkok.
1. Ernest Young on Chinatown
The one truly native quarter is a long narrow bazaar known as Sampeng…
At night, the shops are closed, but the gambling houses, opium-dens, and brothers are thronged by the lowest of the low.
2. Todd Phillips
When discussing filming The Hangover II
Bangkok, like Las Vegas, sounds like a place where you make bad decisions.
3. Bernard Kalb
From The New York Times in 1961
Bangkok, though, is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.
4. Noël Coward
From the song Mad Dogs & Englishmen in 1929
In Bangkok at twelve o’clock they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
5. Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir
On the Chao Phraya River from A Week in Siam in 1867
Behind a bend of the Maenam, the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking. This Asiatic Venice…
6. Jean-Georges Vongerichten
From Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges in 2007
I landed in 1980 in Bangkok, and I stopped to eat ten times between the airport and the hotel. It was all lemongrass and ginger and chilies.
7. Captain GJ Younghusband
Speaking in 1888
There is no medium in Siam; it is either gorgeously gilded palaces and fantastically adorned temples, or filthy looking huts.
8. Joseph Conrad
From The Shadow Line in 1915
There it was, spread largely on both banks, the Oriental capital which had yet suffered no white conqueror…
9. The Otago Witness
A New Zealand newspaper which ran from 1851 to the early 20th Century. In 1894
It is pre-eminently a place for mosquitoes, smells, Chinese pawnshops, wild dogs…
10. William Burton
From The New York Times in 1937
Siam conforms to occidental notions of what the East should be. There is an attitude of lotus-eating languor, and any show of zeal in work that may be observed is by Chinese immigrants.
11. Eric Read
From Chequered Leaves in 1913
‘When you ain’t being slowly grilled at a thousand in the shade, you are sousing in floods, or the house is falling about your devoted ears in a thunderstorm …
‘There is a filthy old river, the colour of milk chocolate, flavoured with the juices of countless defunct and deeply lamented household pets, and one’s servants consider this liquid such sacred nectar that they will wash your socks in it, and then make your tea with the same…
‘Otherwise, of course, the place is all right.’
Featured image: Mike Behnken (CC BY-ND 2.0)