News From Thailand for the Week of January 3rd, 2009

Some of the bodies that were pulled from the Santika fire in Bangkok

Dear Reader,

Sawatdee kha from Bangkok, Thailand and a very Happy New Year.

I’ve been writing ‘Letters from Thailand’ for a year now. Last year had some very interesting events in Thailand due to our shaky political situation. This year, though, looks like it may continue with more of the same, unfortunately.

The New Year began badly in Bangkok with almost 60 people being killed in a pub fire in Bangkok. Minutes after the New Year was rung in, the pub went up in flames after pyrotechnics were set off inside the pub setting the ceiling and the sound insulation material on fire.

Due to only having one exit, people couldn’t get out and were either trampled on or died of smoke inhalation or flames. Very sad for everyone involved and also sad for Thailand. We keep thinking things are going to get better for us, and then something else happens.

Pubs and nightclubs in Bangkok though are notorious for having only one way out and, because of the corruption that still exists in much of Thai life, this situation is likely to continue. However, although some people are making terrible comments about Thailand on various internet websites, this type of nightclub fire has happened in countries all over the world, including the US in 2003, where 100 people were killed.

During the New Year holiday though, more than 275 people have been killed on Thailand’s roads, most of them due to drunk driving accidents. Around all national holiday times, Thailand always has high mortality figures due to drinking while driving. There are always massive government campaigns addressing this problem near every national holiday, but most people ignore them.

The worst time of year is over Songkran, the Thai New Year, where mortality rates have been as high as more than 600 people killed.

In other news, it’s been wonderful in Bangkok for the last week as, over New Year, most Thais leave town to go visit family. There’s no pollution (due to far less traffic), no traffic jams (my normal trip to the grocery store in a taxi took me 5 minutes yesterday as oppose to my normal 25 minutes), and the weather has been gorgeous. Blue skies, around 85 degrees, and a lovely breeze. I wish Bangkok was like this all year round!

Yesterday, I went to a coffee shop on Sukhumvit Soi 51 called Agalico. Just a lovely place with a gorgeous English garden, wrought iron furniture, a beautiful indoor caf© and nice lattes and cakes. It’s set to be one of my new favorite places in Bangkok.

Well, I’m off to meet a friend who is in Bangkok on business. We’re going to have breakfast and then head off with one of my Thai friends to Chatuchak Market, the local weekend market that has more than 15,000 stalls. I think she will be a little amazed at the size, the prices and the variety of items Chatuchak has to offer.

Again, a Happy New Year to you and yours in 2009.

Sawatdee kha.

Tasty Thailand