Jim Algie is one of Thailand’s last remaining originals. Arriving before the boom of tourism and the Skyscrapers, Jim was able to capture the beautiful, unique and bizarre of Thailand, before it was smoothed over. We are proud to offer activities with Jim on our BANGKOK CONTEMPORARY TOUR. Our interview with the writer is below.
What originally brought you to Bangkok, and what keeps you there as a writer?
I was in search of fresh material, more colorful characters, magical experiences, wild nature, spiritualism and more original settings. Thailand continues to supply all of the above in spades and hearts. Because it’s got such an ancient history and sits at a crossroads of cultures, exploring and writing about the place is a never-ending archaeological dig that unearths new discoveries all the time.
- What inspired you to write Bizarre Thailand? What are you working on now?
In many travel stories or guidebooks you can only present thumbnails to the reader instead of panoramic images. I wanted to delve more deeply into the five thematic areas of the book – Crime, Love and Sex, Travel, Wildlife and the Supernatural – and to push the boundary lines of these subjects into some darker and sexier frontiers. Very soon the first paperback edition of my new book, “On the Night Joey Ramone Died: Tales of Rock and Punk from Bangkok, New York, Cambodia and Norway,” will be released. Some of the book’s main riffs sound off about Thailand’s music culture and world of popular entertainment, as well as Bangkok rock history.
- With its economic development and increase in luxury lifestyle, is Bangkok/Thailand still bizarre?
Yes, because behind the glimmering facades of the office towers, condos and malls, looms a culture that is thousands of years old: the muay Thai boxers still pay homage to the spirits of the boxing ring before every match, the “Rocket Festivals” of the Northeast are still held every year to propitiate the rain-making fertility gods, the young college women still come to shrines in Bangkok to pray for love, and nearly every taxi driver has Buddha images hanging from their rearview mirror to ward off accidents and bring good fortune.
- What problems (if any) do you see from tourists who rely on guidebooks when they come to visit Thailand? What misconceptions would you like to clear up?
Many guidebooks and websites, like tourism boards, present a very sanitized portrait of the country that’s been retouched. Like everywhere, Thailand has a dark side and many eccentricities, some ugly, some beautiful. That’s what my books, such as “Bizarre Thailand” and its fictional follow up, “The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand,” aim to illuminate.
- Lastly, what value does Thailand have to travelers beyond what we see in advertisements such as beaches, hotels temples? What is under the surface that’s worth exploring?
All the aspects I’ve just mentioned are worth checking out, but now there’s a lot more community-based tourism where you can stay with local families, learn more about being a rice farmer or fishermen, and experience village life. But in the two biggest cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, there are new and very creative art, design and fashion scenes developing, which is an underserved niche market that I’m hoping to help Asia Art Tours fill.
- Anything else you’d like to add?
The city’s allure for many expats and repeat visitors is that Bangkok is always in flux and there are always new experiences to be had. Recently I celebrated my birthday at the city‘s first North Korean restaurant, Pyongyang Okryu, a fine and friendly place with a song-and-dance show every night at 8pm. The waitresses/performers serenaded me with “Happy Birthday” as we danced together and they paraded me across the stage, to the great amusement of my friends. It was quite possibly the most surreal birthday of my life.
At Asia Art Tours, where we make Creative Travel for Creative People, we can’t wait to introduce you to writers like Jim Algie, painters like Amy Diener, and galleries like Nova Contemporary on our Thai Contemporary Art Tour. For questions or inquiries, please contact Matthew Dagher-Margosian at: Matt@Asia Art Tours.com