Bangkok: hustle, bustle and unexpected secrets

IMG_6065I was recently in Bangkok for a meeting of the Montreal Protocol (governing substances that deplete the ozone layer) held at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) campus. The weeklong event meant my exposure to this city of 7 million was limited to the areas between the UN campus and our hotel. Still, daily walks to and from the UN campus preserved my sanity and focus in order to listen to lengthy discussions on complex chemicals, sitting in windowless air-IMG_6056conditioned conference rooms. The intensive week left little time for tourism, but this was expected; I was in Bangkok to cover the meeting for IISD Reporting Services.

Nevertheless, I was happy to be back in Thailand. In 2002 I was as an exchange student in the Northeastern city of Khon Kaen: studying the impacts of development on people, culture and the environment. My time in Thailand was unlike the average vacationer. We worked in rice fields, stayed in protest camps and city slums, volunteered in HIV-AIDS clinics, lived with villagers, snuck onto the private property of a multinational paper factory to expose their negligent release of toxic effluents into nearby fields (while denying any wrongdoing), and scavenged in landfills. We studied the language and the role of Buddhism in Thai society, staying in forest temples and with the barefoot Asoke Buddhists. It was extremely impacting, influencing my later studies and career. As one can imagine, I was eager to be re-exposed to the language, the food, the culture, the chaos – all which are fully present in Bangkok.

IMG_6037In Bangkok, the traffic never stops; everyone is in a hurry and distances are great. I am a city girl, but honestly megacities overwhelm me. Still, all cities have their quiet corners that reveal their secrets. I won’t write about Bangkok as a whole: not its touristic destinations, nor its urbanism trends. I don’t know enough about them. I will write about its backstreets, street markets and hidden corners. By exploring these places on foot, this overwhelming city became a bit more tangible, a bit IMG_6118more real.

I love maps; but if I have the time, I prefer to walk, sometimes knowing where I’m going, sometimes getting lost. With this attitude in mind, I tucked a map in my back pocket (as a precautionary measure) and left my hotel at 6.30 AM. At first, I stayed on the dirty, noisy main streets. As my confidence grew, so did my exposure. I escaped to the quieter yet livelier backstreets. I stumbled upon temples (not on the map) and saw monks IMG_6050leaving for their morning alms walks. I strolled alongside canals and passed food markets. The smells of street food tempted this recently reformed vegetarian, but (thankfully) I left my money in the hotel…

Bangkok’s charm is not found on its grander avenues, but in its narrow alleys where people live: washing, cooking, eating, getting ready for school or work, worshipping, playing. In those morning hours, I witnessed children peddling by on bicycles, elders lighting incents.

IMG_6107The highlight of my Bangkok walk was a narrow canalside pathway, barely wide enough for two persons, but somehow large enough for a motorbike. Water taxis charged in both directions below; on the path above people went about their daily lives. I was exposed to a different city, a different way of life. While not far from Bangkok’s hustle and bustle, I walked by people’s homes – their cooking stoves openly exposed and smelling delicious. Papaya trees, tomato plants and flower branches IMG_6121hung over the water, ripening in the sun. It’s a public walkway, but at the doorstep of people’s homes and I startled a few locals. (It’s not a common tourist destination.)

In those morning hours, I was re-acquainted to Bangkok’s charms: its chaotic madness and quiet laughter, its car-invested main streets, and its narrow walkways where chickens and children roam free. Bangkok is massive; but in these hidden places, it is also livable.


IMG_6206 IMG_6204 IMG_6190 IMG_6186 IMG_6160 IMG_6192 IMG_6191 IMG_6123 IMG_6122 IMG_6135 IMG_6074 IMG_6040 IMG_6059

Hanoi: synergy in chaos


This gallery contains 31 photos.

In March I submitted my PhD, entitled, “Urban Climate Governance: The Role of Local Authorities” marking the start of the finish of my academic studies. (The start, because the next stages include a public defense in July.) To celebrate, I … Continue reading

Green Lifestyles and Cities: Lessons from Scandinavia


This gallery contains 4 photos.

Lund University’s International Institute of Industrial and Environmental Economics (or IIIEE, my alma mater in Sweden) was involved in the design and delivery of a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) entitled, “Greening the Economy: Lessons from Scandinavia.” (See also … Continue reading

Fossil free divestment: coming to a city near you


This gallery contains 20 photos.

On 13 and 14 February, representatives from 450 cities in 60 countries marched, sang, danced, cycled and otherwise celebrated Global Divestment Day, making a public statement to encourage or proclaim to divest from fossil fuels. Amsterdam was one of those … Continue reading

London Underground Repurposed: Hello Tube Cycle


This gallery contains 2 photos.

In London (population circa 8.5 million) its residents are always be on the go, taking off to the next destination on one of its double-decker buses, in its beeping taxis, in private cars or swerving through the city on its … Continue reading

Get cool. Ride the bus.


This gallery contains 1 photo.

How cool is it to be a passenger on the bus? Cool enough to date Ms. Uruguay apparently and have loads of fans anticipating your every move. Leave it to the Danish bus company, Midtraffik, to prove not just how … Continue reading