So Why Does He Stay?

July 22nd, 2009

Given how much darkness is in my Bangkok novels, why would Poke want to live there?  Why would anyone want to live there?

How about because it’s the most cheerful big city in the world?


(The yellow bracelet contains a blessing for the King.)

With some of the planet’s most beautiful kids?



Where every male serves time as a monk?


Because it has one of the world’s most dazzling modern sklyines?


And one of the most exotic?


Because¬† it’s made up of magical neighborhoods?


Where faith is part of daily life?


Or because paradise is a couple of hours away?


Or just down the block?


Or is it just that Bangkok is the capital of the land of smiles?




Or is it just because it’s Bangkok, and there’s no other city like it?


18 Responses to “So Why Does He Stay?”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    S-I-G-H . . . . . .

    Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you, Tim.

  2. Sylvia Says:

    These are just beautiful.

    I’ve never been so tempted to head over on the next flight…

  3. Sean Bunzick Says:

    I think Tim nailed it regarding the appeal of Bangkok. When I’m in the kingdom, Chiang Mai is my home and Mae Hong Son is a close Numbah Two but there IS something about Bangkok that gets you no matter what. I’ve been going to Krung Thep since 1987 and it’s one of my favorite cities in the world.
    Sure, many of us men go for the girls in Bangkok and I still enjoy spending time in Soi Cowboy, Washington Square and the Thermae but there is so much MORE to be taken into consideration here. Yes, the prices are pure piracy compared to what we pay upcountry, the traffic is a form of motorized hell and the Bangkok Thai can be nearly as pushy as New Yorkers but the real beauty of this town, the real magic of the Big Mango, is that if you just wait a few minutes, you’ll see, hear, smell, taste, feel or simply just experience something that will make you smile, make you laugh, make you put on a “What The Hell Was That All About?” expression on your face. That’s when it gets to be pure sanuk but also a thinking man’s pleasure as well. And once you’ve learned some of the unwritten rules of Bangkok, you know how to deal with the wide variety of annoyances in the Siamese capital. Hell, besides all the sanuk I’ve had with the ‘ying, the booze, the food, the people I’ve met and taking the dirt-cheap Nonthaburi ferry up the Chao Phraya, the one thing I truly owe Bangkok is all the inspiration it has given me over the years as a writer.
    Likewise, as Tim pointed out, if you’ve had enough of the City of Questionable Angels, it doesn’t take long to get free of it; Chiang Mai is an hour’s flight north…

  4. Laren Bright Says:

    Well, heck. Now the question is, Why does Tim come back?

    Okay, I know the answer (has to do with rack of lamb & Munyin — not in that order). Nonetheless, wow.

  5. Phil Hanson Says:

    Stunning photos, Tim, that capture the essence of a vibrant city and reveal that city’s true human potential. Although it’s tragic that racketeering and corruption have defiled one of the world’s great and beautiful cities (well, okay, all of them), Bangkok’s people–with all their positivity–seem oblivious to it. How do they do that?

  6. Peter Says:

    Hmm, I have some vacation time coming up …
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks so much to all of you. Your responses make me think I should do more in the books to explain Poke’s love of Bangkok, but it’s something I’ve taken for granted for decades and I forget to focus on it.

    When thinking about Bangkok’s dark side, remember that this city has grown by almost seven million people in the last 5-6 years, and that those people are impoverished and completely unfamiliar with city life. In other words, they’re sitting ducks. And we also have to remember that there is a class of people in Thailand who are literally unaccountable for anything they do — they simply won’t be brought to justice or even exposed in the news. (These people play a large role in BREATHING WATER.) Put those two factors together, and you’ve got the dark side. And for all the attention the sex trade gets, it’s small potatoes compared to some of the other exploitation that takes place.

    I think Phil’s question is a good one — how, given all the problems they face, do the Thais remain so positive? (And they do — I could do a whole post just of Thai smiles, and they come from people at all levels of society, although the powerful seem to smile less often.) I think the answer is Theravada Buddhism, probably the world’s most beautiful and forgiving religion. I believe that you can measure the worth of a religion by how happy it makes the people who practice it, and on that scale, Theravada Buddhism wins in a walk.

    Anyone who wants to go to Bangkok should wait until I’m there. I’m a great guide, and I can say that in all immodesty.

    Thanks again for these enthusiastic reactions. There are dozens of other things I could have mentioned — for example, that Bangkok is the best restaurant city on earth at the moment — and I mean from top-of-the-line establishments all the way down to street food.

    Maybe I will do the smiles collection.

  8. Stefan Says:

    Tim, having spent time with you in that city on a few occasions, I can attest to your skill as a guide.

    I wish I could say “wish we were there now” but it wouldn’t be true. Bangkok has always been a mix of the light and the dark, which is part of what makes your recent novels so interesting. ALL the beauty is authentic, but so too are the “puuyai” who are unaccountable, the poorer classes who are invisible unless/until they explode individually or collectively, and visitors who seem recently released from prison.

    The pictures are beautiful and the people are wonderful. But they are ill-served by a power structure which seems to respond to the ongoing tourist-decline by operations like this:

    It’s the contrast of the sublime and the twisted that makes that city so unique. I’m glad I got a chance to live there. I don’t know if I would do so again.


  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Yeah, there are some real a**holes, especially among the cops and their partners in crime. And this is a relatively new development in a country that used to prize tourism so highly that a farang practically had to commit murder to get hassled.

    Still, it’s a very small number of people, given the millions who pass through Suvarnaphumi every year, and it seems easy enough to avoic: stay out of the duty free shops.

    By the way, one of the more amusing pieces of corruption around the airport (which was a huge open drain for public money) was that the people who run the place leased out 150% of the available retail space. That’s right — half again as much space as there actually was. See, those people belong to the unaccountable class.

  10. Philip Coggan Says:

    Very nice photos – perhaps some day a coffee-table book on Poke’s Bangkok?

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    “Coffee” would be the operative word, too, Philip, given Poke’s addiction to it, which is not at all, not even the tiniest bit, autobiographical. There’s a line somewhere in BREATHING WATER that’s something like, Rafferty swallows the day’s first coffee. An invisible film between him and the rest of the world begins to dissolve.”

    I’d love to do a coffee-table book on Poke’s Bangkok. It wouldn’t be like any of the others.

  12. Dana King Says:

    A co-worker just got back from three weeks in Thailand and Laos, with pictures. I’m not a tropical greenery guy, much preferring Rocky Mountain-type terrain, but I was struck 9stricken?) by the beauty of Thai vegetation. My friend was effusive over how well everyone treated him and how much he enjoyed himself.

    I never really wondered why Poke stayed. Rose and Miaow are Thailand to him, as much as the beautiful scenery and friendly people on one hand, and the corruption and poverty on the other. He could no more take them away from Thailand than he could grow orchids in Antarctica.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    That’s right on, Dana — and that’s one of the keys his to determination in BREATHING WATER, where one possible future is his being forced to leave the Kingdom, with no way to take them with him.

    It’s a beautiful country although the people are the most beautiful thing about it. For sheer scenic beauty, Vietnam is the regional winner.

  14. Stefan Says:

    Tim’s right about Vietnam, and anyone who’s read books by Tim Page, or DISPATCHES by Michael Herr knows that even those there in the midst of war were struck by the scenic beauty of that country. Just looking at a map…how could a country in that spot NOT be gorgeous?

    I’m going to go out on a politically incorrect limb and nominate Myanmar (aka Burma) for breath-impeding beauty, not only in terms of scenery but in terms of its people, both old and young, male and female. I was only there two weeks but wish I could have spent longer. It was never an easy country, and few are more internally rife with the stinking rot of corruption and contempt as the ruling military officials, but if you dial that rot down a bit…you’re not that far from the powerbrokers in any of the ASEAN countries (Singapore is the flyer here).

    Great people, great scenery…governance, err, ahem…


  15. Sarah Says:

    Meg Whitman is the antithesis of every face there. I would want to be there too. If she wins . . . oh gosh . . if Carly Fiorina wins – well got to go make some calls for the Democrats hopefully from Morgan Freeman’s office on 2nd street. Every extra penney to try and defeat Fiorina. Enough politics Sarah

  16. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    No kidding, Sarah. I wish I liked anybody running for any office in California. What a bunch of hacks.

  17. Lyn McGrath Says:

    I live in Japan part time and Buffalo, New York the rest of the time. I wanted to visit Bangkok after reading all your books which I just devoured. My husband introduced me to your books and has read all 9 of them. However, I read the U.S. state dept warnings, the virtual tourist web site as well as the above and I guess I will pass. I have Japanese friends here who loved Thailand but went with tours from Japan. Don’t know if those are better or not. Are they?

    Oh course, you can easily get shot and killed in Buffalo if you aren’t careful. So where are you really safe?

    Again, we LOVE your books. Thanks for writing them. We have suggested them to all our family and friends!

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Lyn —

    Just go. Bangkok is an enormous city and even at the height of the riots, 90 percent of the people who live there were unaffected. Bad things can happen anywhere at any time.

    I’d let the next 2-3 months go by because the government has postponed an election it’s sure to lose if the voting is straight (you read BREATHING WATER, so you know what all that’s about), but if things are cool by March, go on over. The Japanese are too careful by half.

    If you do go, PLEASE give yourself two extra days and fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia to spend at least one full day at Angkor. I’ve seen all the things (except Macchu Pichu) that are supposed to be the world’s most beautiful man-made achievement, and Angkor wins in a walk.

    Thanks for writing, and thanks for reading all the books. Got four more coming in the next 5 months – 2 more older Simeons, another Junior, and the first new Simeon in 15 years. And then, really late in the year, THE FEAR ARTIST, the fifth Poke.

    All best,


Leave a Reply