I first visited Thailand in 1981 with my family. My father bought antiques and traditional folk art for our family business in England and to my great fortune, he liked to take his family on these trips. We flew from London in winter and landed in Bangkok’s Don Muang airport. At the time the immigration officers sat behind desks in the open air inside an aircraft hangar with open doors and I remember queuing, looking up at people standing on a thin walkway high up on the sides of the building and for the first time feeling the heat and smelling the rich, exotic, pungent air of Bangkok. I was 13 years old and fell in love at first sight and first smell.
My first trip to Thailand, 1981.
The drive into Bangkok in those days passed paddy fields that lined the road and there were mirrored, glistening temples that communicated a sense of anticipation about what we were to see and discover. Today giant elevated toll-ways rush one into the midst of Bangkok with more efficiency, less charm.
We stayed at the now long-demolished Amarin Hotel next door to the old Erawan Hotel, which seemed to me to be made from wood. In 1980 the Dusit Thani hotel was the tallest building in Bangkok and my brother and I looked at its spire with awe. It is no longer in the top 100 tallest buildings in Bangkok and much taller building rise up now almost every week.
Outside the hotel in Bangkok with the Ambassador Hotel visible in the distance on Sukhumvit Soi 11.
I could write a book about that first trip to Thailand. I was literally swept off my feet by the country and the people. The experience was totally beautiful and I can remember almost every detail almost as a part of my body. I remember particularly our brief time in Chiang Mai where I cycled a cycle rickshaw – my father and the cycle rickshaw driver sitting in the back laughing as I pedaled through the dark silent streets of Chiang Mai where today a mighty market stretches. I remember going to the antique shops buried in Bangkok’s Chinatown where I sat taking the notes for my Dad as he put together his purchases. For lunch we went to a dim sum restaurant where children in smart school uniforms came around with trays of bamboo baskets filled with dumplings. I often chose to accompany my Dad and his visits to shops and factories than go with my Mum and brother to the temples and tourist sites of Bangkok. To this day a trip to a market will always be top of my list wherever I am.
More than the actual sites and people I remember the atmosphere of Thailand. There were the last vestiges of old Bangkok that still had an air of faded, sleepy easiness about so many things. There was a slowness and warmth to every encounter and I felt under a spell as we walked the streets, ate at the restaurants full of new flavours and spices and heard the beautiful Thai language that I then learnt to a degree level in London University.
Siam Square, 1980's.
Over the past 35 years my relationship with Thailand has grown from a powerful and simple love to something more complex and weathered. Knowing a language and having long dealings with so many aspects of culture and life here makes this inevitable. Thailand retains however a gentleness and kindness in its nature that is obvious to all who come here and I feel privileged to have had this opportunity to immerse myself in a culture that remains in many ways foreign to me but has also become a part of me. I am now just one part of a big and wonderful team and the things we make exude this sense of 'between things;' a looking between cultures and experiences and a reaching back to the past to find elements that inspire our most contemporary impulses.