In Southeast Asia, Bangkok at times seems like shining paradox, where the traditional has been somewhat downgraded in the ascension of its exultant modern architecture that impresses the eye but ramblingly distorts the feeling of being at home with itself. This is never more keenly felt when the eye is drawn to its ramshackle shop houses intermingling with ancient temples and palaces, blinding neon signs and the titanic concrete pylons that hold up the Skytrain.
Except for the Japanese invasion, which occurred in December 1941, and despite fierce fighting that only lasted a few hours before ending in a ceasefire, unlike most other Southeast Asian countries Thailand was never colonised by the Europeans. And it is this sense of endurance and continuity with its past that has kept the city alive.
Through the military dictatorship of Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who had a preference for the dictatorial rule of Europe and Japan, he allowed Japanese forces to establish the country as a base from which to launch their invasions into Burma, Malaya and Singapore and declared war on Britain and the United States. Instead of profoundly damaging the country, the end of the war ushered in an alliance with the United States that still carries weight today and brought about a profitable peace. While Burma, Cambodia and Laos yielded to civil war and genocide, Bangkok, reinforced by a large American war chest, developed into a modern economy.
Thailand’s electoral democracy has always been a shaky subject and has created social conflicts in the years that followed Thaksin Shinawatra’s time in office when he was pushed out in the 2006 military coup. Since 2008 he has been living in exile following a conviction by the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, which sentenced him to two years in jail for abusing his power when he helped his wife to buy public land at an auction.
Ever since there have been protests and riots by both sides of the political divide. The worst to date was when downtown Bangkok barely survived the riots when Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters poured into the city in 2010 and turned parts of the financial district into a war zone. The violence left many buildings, including one of Southeast Asia’s largest shopping malls, CentralWorld, in ruins.
To a lesser extent, this happened again in the latter part of 2013 when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, attempted to bring him back to Thailand with a controversial political amnesty bill and sparked street protests. A number of visitors to the country have been put off by these internecine struggles but for those of us that actually live here there have hardly been any disruptions to our daily lives or businesses. Despite the seeming instability of Bangkok’s political life, there have never been any serious disruptions to our movements around the city unless, of course, you happen to have picked a property to live in near to the rally sites.
Bangkok is Southeast Asia’s most vibrant cities and has an intense energy that rarely ebbs. It is Thailand’s cultural, political and financial centre one of Asia’s busiest, home to a diverse range of Thais, Asians and expats from Europe, Australia and America. The housing market in Bangkok is stable and relatively cheap when compared with other countries in the region, such as Singapore or Hong Kong. If you are looking to live here and discover the attraction of Bangkok, it is probably wise to find a condo to rent or buy near to a Skytrain station.