City of Bangkok: Social Unrest, Poverty, Dazzling Nightlife

Can we ignore violence and forgive urban vice in the name of the cool factor?

Bangkok is one hell of a place. On any given day you'll find street riots (which occasionally result in scary violence), crushing poverty, side-road critters for dinner, high-end hotels, chic restaurants, a thriving film and arts community and last, but not least, a progressive design scene. But it's still rather surprising that readers of Travel + Leisure named Bangkok the top city in this year’s poll, given that the city was just on the brink of civil war. The selection makes us wonder: what criteria do we use to evaluate our own modern cities and urban lives? If Bangkok can win the international competition, can economically-depressed Detroit or hurricane-ravaged New Orleans also top the American cities list?

Despite its deep pockets of poverty and strife, Bangkok offers well-designed neighborhoods and attractions that blind vistors to the darker realities of the city. Here are a few of them.

Playground!
Playground! is both a niche mall for the design-partial and penthouse store atop the mall that displays progressive industrial designs from Thailand’s best firms. Think of it as a Thai version of Design Within Reach. Along with some of the city’s best food and clothing shops, the mall has a distinctive theme of play, as made clear by the colorful bean bag chairs on every floor.

J Avenue
J Avenue is a dedicated design and arts district, with tenants ranging from the Apple Store to the KPN Music Academy. This is also where the city’s artsy folk come to mingle with one another and their supermodel friends. A neighborhood like this is one of the first steps toward becoming a "top city."

Endless Socialite Options
From restaurants to clubs to shops and malls, Bangkok takes the edginess of Berlin, the fanciness of Tokyo, and the culinary and fashion genius of Paris, rumbles it all together and spits out this colorful, playful, mesmerizing ball of progressive design goodness that, yeah, might make you say it’s a top city. Specifically, Bangkok’s take on the BED Club from Miami, housed in a spaceship, definitely leaves an impression, as does the city’s host of restaurants ranging from leopard-spotted Dream Bangkok to the pristine Greyhound.

Transportation
The SkyTrain is yet another feat for the modern Asian metropolis, conveniently stretched throughout the city’s main jaunts and lifted off the ground to free up some of the congestion. Definitely a perk for the design-sensitive.

When we evaluate modern city life and the urban landscapes in which we enmesh ourselves, it is important to remember that a shared space, a city, is what we make of it. Hippies have made Portland their paradise. Others, because of the rain, may say "Screw Portland!" And Boston? Well, let’s not go there. But you get the picture. I guess Bangkok makes sense, because we at Fast Company love design (obviously), but it’s just interesting to note that the city has enough going for itself that readers somehow overlooked the safety and security threats — and some other notable social challenges, ahem, trafficking and prostitution — to call it a top city. Says a lot about the modern urban dweller.

So with the above, I’d say that Bangkok merits a "top city" credential, but like I said: rampant poverty? Civil war threats? Well if you look at our own Fast Cities, which we think are pretty dandy, each one is a winner for a different category. I mean, Oakland? Yeah, it’s had some problems lately. And riots, too! And in the U.S., despite being a developed country, every city has its distraught neighborhoods, homeless communities, and other less-than-ideal conditions.

[Photographs by Jenara Nerenberg (top image, J Avenue, BED); flickr/kwankwan (Playground!); flickr/Ian Fuller (SkyTrain)]

Add New Comment

1 Comments

  • Wally Cox

    Sure, Bangkok is a "cool" place but you do your readers a disservice not bringing up the fact that the Thai government has put Bangkok in a "State of Emergency". There are grenades being set off there injuring people. Bangkok is a tinder box waiting to ignite (pardon my Central World pun). Forget the political or humanitarian reasons not to go there think about the safety issue. I'd stay away until the political situation stabilizes which unfortunatelycould be years.