Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Black, white and red all over - in the Kingdom of Smiles

 Thursday 13 May 2010If you’re going to arrive late at night by plane in a city it may as well be Bangkok, at least it’s open. The travellers’ advice centre in the terminal advised me that staying in my chosen area down by the river was inadvisable as the police would soon start clearing out the Red Shirt demonstrators. After giving it momentary consideration, I decided to go anyway.The lady at the airport taxi stand issued me a docket stating the taxi fare was by the meter plus toll charges and there was an additional fee of 50 baht. Once in our bright pink taxi the driver said he’d rather not use the meter and that for a flat fee of 500 baht, he’d pay the toll charges.Along the route from Bangkok’s new airport we passed two silver London Hackney cabs parked up under an over pass, looking distinctly out of place, a long way from home. During the military-dominated era in Thailand from 1963-82, national development plans devised with American expertise dramatically altered traditional Thai ways of life. Strategic roads initially led northeast to US military bases on the Thai border. These highways also encouraged an influx of poor peasants who gravitated to the capital, many ending up in sprawling slums. Thereafter, development from the 1960s comprised a rapid, unplanned and unimpeded expansion. Arguably, the most negative long-term impact of American involvement in Bangkok, and certainly one of the more obvious, was the unfortunate project to transform it into