how the city wakes up — Bangkok

I was inspired by Jan Chipchase, who makes marvelous studies of how cities wake up, to do “How Bangkok wakes up”:

5 AM: you can hear the traffic noises begin. At 5:45, the cicadas start chirping. The sun is rising. It’s about 25 degrees out, cool for Bangkok.

sunrise on bangkok from my room

5:45 AM: A stray dog sleeps on the sidewalk, bathed in the light of a passing car. The morning light is still soft and grey. You can cross the street easily, and the air is clean.

dog sleeping on the sidewalk

5:45 AM: I buy my breakfast: Chinese donuts dipped in a bag of sweet soy milk, from a vendor at the corner of my street. Her husband cuts the dough into pieces and fries them, while she serves them up to customers on the way to work.

woman selling chinese donuts

6 AM: A Monk collects alms. The Buddhist faithful gives alms to monks as a way of making merit for the next life. Small morning markets spring up around this ritual, selling pre-made baskets of medecines, plates of food and flowers.

The guy carrying the pink bucket is his helper, he carries all the alms received in his bucket.

monk collecting alms

6 AM: Most people up at this hour as working class people: fruit vendors starting out their day, food vendors making breakfast, taxi drivers washing their cars, construction workers piled into the back of a pick-up truck, motorcycle drives waiting for customers. Not too much traffic yet.

fruit seller

6 AM: Although it’s never too early to start riding your motorcycle on the sidewalk:

woman riding motorcycle on the sidewalk

A street vendor arrives at the morning market with her mannequins and clothing to sell. Taxis won’t take unwieldy items like plastic mannequins and giant baskets of durians, so you have to unload this stuff from a tuktuk:

vendor taking merchandise to the market

7 AM: The second wave of morning labor is office workers making their way to work in suits and dresses. A lot of these people have cars, and there is now a full-blown Bangkok traffic jam. The air is already bad. Breakfast is in full swing: sate, fried bananas, Thai coffee, rice porridge.


8 AM: : This guy was drinking a beer at 8 am in front of a 7-11 and a bank machine. “I live in Thailand!”, he told me.

crazy farang

Unlike Jan Chipchase, I didn’t get on a motorbike with a translator and a photographer to go all over town, I basically just walked around my neighborhood, so I think my series didn’t turn out quite as cool as his. But I think I will try to do more another day, and maybe visit some interesting spots in Bangkok. Click on any of the pictures if you want to see the whole series — they are also descriptions of each picture and moment on my flickr site.

How does your city wake up?

5 Responses to “how the city wakes up — Bangkok”

  1. 1 Sikachu! April 9, 2008 at 10:11 am

    I also live in Bangkok, and I have to wake up at 9 to get to work at 10.30. At that time, there’s still lots of traffic. Traffic jam!

    So most of the time, I didn’t have a time to look around in the morning so much. I have to rush, get into the car, and drive to work with lots of traffic. It just .. I sometime wants to go and live upcountry instead.

    Thanks for sharing your story πŸ˜€

  2. 2 julielavoie April 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Hi Sikachu! Good to see your face again! πŸ™‚

    Thank you about your comment. Normally I don’t see the city wake up either, but this day I couldn’t sleep so I decided to take advantage of it!

    Bangkok is a very interesting city! πŸ™‚ But one with too many traffic jams! πŸ˜›

  3. 3 sajal April 10, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Awesome narration!
    Guess now I fully understand the importance of describing the photos to put it into context.

    The earliest I would leave my home would be 9am (that too very very occasionally) and the only thing I remember would be getting stuck in traffic :p

    Few months ago, for a couple of weeks i went for a run everyday at abt 5:30 am. It used to be interesting to see the same people daily. eg same person opening a shop, same sweeper sweeping the same spot, etc.

  4. 4 B.c. June 4, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Ah, that brings back some fond memories. I lived for 2.5 years in Bangkok in the late 90’s, and I loved the mornings. The sounds of sweeping seem to dominate my recollection of early mornings, but I could almost smell the hot oil and taste those doughnuts. Ahhh…

    Thanks for the brief sojourn backwards. Enjoy your stay!

  5. 5 andrew June 26, 2008 at 6:19 am

    I like the dog bathing in the sunlight one.


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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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