The coolest, most cutting-edge—and sometimes weirdest—people, businesses, ideas and trends shaping the future of Thailand.
This March marks 19 years since BK put out its first magazine. Since the halcyon days of 2001, we’ve seen a lot of stars rise and fall (oh, hi there, Sorayuth). We’ve also witnessed the city evolve into the fast-paced melting pot it is today. Now, we’re celebrating the trend-setting, rule-breaking, trailblazing, society-shifting and downright awesome people, campaigns and businesses transforming Thailand at the dawn of a new decade.
Band of the year: Khana Bierbood
It may have taken the better part of a decade for the Bangsaen-born group, erstwhile known as Strange Brew, to finally release an LP, but the wait was worth it. The seven tracks on Khana Bierbood’s debut Strangers from the Far East recall the fuzzy warmth of 1960s California surf rock, but with a raw, trebly, almost haunting Thai influence. The result is a 23-minute, psychedelia-drenched romp across Thailand’s lapping shores that turn a familiar genre into something strangely, and excitingly, new.
IT’S A RAP
Song of the year: “Western Union” by Drain Gang
Thai-born, Sweden-raised Thaiboy Digital dabbles in cloudwave, a micro-genre so thick in haze you can almost feel it coating your brain. In “Western Union” by Drain Gang—the emerging collective the 25-year-old artist frequently collaborates with, including on his recent LP Legendary Member—you get a sense for the dreamlike droning that marks Thaiboy Digital’s delivery. Whatever your thoughts on cloudwave or any other offshoot of hip-hop, this song is magic, the sound of an artist on the cusp of something big.
Best film: “Hope Frozen”
Thai-American journalist and filmmaker Pailin Wedel’s first feature-length documentary follows the Naovaratpong family, who had their two-year-old daughter cryogenically preserved in Arizona in the hopes of bringing her back to life in the future. More than a meditation on grief, the film—beautifully shot, edited and soundtracked—reflects on love, karma, science and technology, leaving space for viewers to grapple with life’s difficult questions. It’s little wonder this documentary has already won awards at film festivals in Canada, South America and Asia.
ALL THE DRAMA
Best TV series: “My Ambulance”
Starring two of Thailand’s favorite Eurasians, Sunny Suwanmethanont and Davika “Mai’’ Hoorne, and the young heartthrob Wongravee “Sky” Nateetorn, “My Ambulance” is about a love triangle between two doctors and a girl who uses her magical powers to call for help. Despite its slightly irritating (but saleable) theme song, this not-your-typical rom-com/fantasy drama has pulled the heartstrings of many (younger) Thais nationwide.
Worst trend of the year: Raw roti challenge
In the age of viral videos, bad ideas spread across the planet like wildfire—especially if they involve an eating challenge. From cinnamon to Tide Pods, we thought we’d seen it all, until the raw roti challenge crashed onto the scene. It all started when a TikTok user named “lookketfortune” posted a video of her eating raw roti dough, remarking that it tasted sweet and buttery with a Japanese mochi-like consistency. Fortunately, this trend didn’t last long, thanks to the Ministry of Public Health.
Students who attended Chula or Thammasat between the years 2004-14 know that Fallabella’s “Italian restaurant” guise was simply a cover for the city’s best-loved underage drinking den, complete with a secret Monkey Bar room. Now, the infamous party spot has been reborn on Thonglor in all its neon-purple and ceiling-draped glory. You may not be able to smoke indoors anymore but you can still go wild on the dance floor to live bands while reliving your naughties heyday.
FOR THE LOLS
Anucha “Cha” Saengchart never fails to amaze us and his 4.7 million Facebook followers with his eccentric yet brilliant cosplaying. Dressing up as everything from anime characters to current pop icon Billie Eilish, he makes use of cheap, everyday objects to hilarious—and, honestly, amazing—effect. If you’re having a shitty day at work, have a peep at his Facebook page for a minute or two (just don’t get caught by your boss!).
Moment of the year: (Fake) Election
In 2019, we finally welcomed back our long-lost democracy. Just kidding. After a five year hiatus, the Thai general election returned as a puppet theater. First, the committee’s transparency was questioned to no avail, then things got weirder when ballots mysteriously started to reproduce inside the box—not to mention the fact that a deceased grandma evidently rose from the dead to cast her vote. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the part where the NCPO handpicked 250 pro-junta senators right before the election, then acted like nothing happened. Smooth, real smooth.
Buriram-born 24-year-old Loma Lookboonmee made history last October, when she not only became the first Thai mixed martial artist to fight professionally in the UFC, but also won her debut match. The winner of nine regional muay Thai titles, Asian Games gold medalist, Thai national team representative and fast-rising MMA star fell in love with fighting after seeing her father elbow his opponent in the face during a muay Thai match when she was a child. We sure wouldn’t mess with her.
This 34-year-old artist is, quite literally, going places. She has held residencies in Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka—she was even the recipient of the highly respected DAAD artist-in-residence in Berlin. Last year, the globe-trotting artist and former assistant curator for the BACC brought her people-oriented work back home with “Counting,” her first solo exhibition in Bangkok. Held at Bangkok CityCity Gallery, the installation turned everyday conversations with people she met in Berlin and Bangkok into physical manifestations, blocks of concrete containing sketches and stories.
With a bachelor of science in environmental policy from The London School of Economics, Dominic is a full-time environmental activist who runs the Bangkok branch of Precious Plastic, a community-based recycling initiative that originated in the Netherlands. Using simple-to-build machines to turn plastic waste into new products, the initiative’s goal is to try and change society’s attitudes towards plastic pollution and to help people view plastic as a valuable resource. Last year, Dominic launched a plastic drop-off network across Bangkok then upcycled the donations into a whole range of different lifestyle products, like colorful bowls, lampshades and plant pots.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Entrepreneur of the year: Chanya “O” Thongthai
Since returning to Bangkok from London, this young gun jewelry designer has been revolutionizing Thai gemstones. Her pieces have been commissioned by celebs spanning Lourde, The Weeknd, M.I.A., Swae Lee, A$AP Rocky and, most recently, Pharrell Williams. Her best piece of business advice? “Sometimes you’ll feel like a failure, but you haven’t really failed unless you’ve given up.”
Best new writer: Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut novel “Bangkok Wakes to Rain,” named a notable book of the year by The New York Times and The Washington Post, deals with ghosts: the ghosts of violence, the ghosts of memory, the ghosts of disaster, despair and distance. In a style that draws to mind David Mitchell’s time-bending “Cloud Atlas,” the Thailand-born, Brooklyn-based author beautifully weaves together vignettes told across different centuries, treating time like a fluid construct.
ON THE ROAD
The urban planner we need: Sittan “Aung” Chalongtham
The BMA can blame street vendors for Bangkok’s sprained ankle epidemic all they like, but that’s not going to fix the sorry state of the city’s sidewalks. Through his Facebook page, “The Sidewalk: Lok Kwang Kang Tang Tao” (Better Sidewalk, Better World), this activist is returning power to the pedestrians by creating a space for his 63,980 followers to share their photos, videos and experiences of Bangkok’s sidewalks. In the long run, he hopes to pressure authorities into reevaluating their prioritization of cars over people. For now, he’s satisfied with creating awareness among drivers and sparking debate.
Phichai lives a dual life as a full-time motorbike taxi driver and a part-time photographer. He started pursuing his passion at the age of 43, capturing urban beauty in a minimalist, abstract style. He exhibited his work in Bangkok last year under the title “Accidentally Professional,” and his ability to frame seemingly unremarkable buildings as artwork has garnered a 74k-strong Instagram following. His advice for finding your passion? “Don’t think, just feel.”
With far more concrete than canals these days, Bangkok is sinking 2cm per year and by 2030 could be below sea level. Lucky for us Harvard-educated TED fellow Kotchakorn Voraakhom is working to keep us above water. The founder of landscape architecture firm Landprocess and designer of the Centenary Park at Chulalongkorn University unveiled a 91-rai park at Rangsit’s Thammasat University in 2019. The 7,000-sq-meter Puay Park not only stores excess rainwater—it also features Asia’s largest urban rooftop farm and is totally solar-powered. More, please.
YOU MOVE ME
Maybe you’ve noticed: public transportation in Bangkok can, at times, be inconvenient. MuvMi, a startup under Chula University’s “Chula Smart City” campaign provides both convenience and clean energy with their all-electric tuk-tuks. Running predominantly around Chula, MuvMi solves the headache of not being able to reach the BTS and the MRT from multiple smaller sois around the area. Plus, you can use their app to book either shared rides or rides on demand.
A Thai skincare brand that finally embraces natural tanned skin? We’ll drink to that! While the country’s skincare market is practically screaming “lighter skin = more beautiful,” Athit celebrates natural beauty with products that help minimize blemishes, while elevating your skin’s natural glow. We love the Sunbeam Radiating Tanning Booster Serum (B950) with aloe vera and hyaluronic acid—just add a few drops to your moisturiser or face oil and you’ll be showing off radiant, sun-kissed skin in under 10 hours.
Started in March 2019, Thailand’s first plastic-free toothpaste brand is on a mission to see Thais go tube-free. The company is run by a team of five, including two pharmacists. Packaged in ‘grammable recyclable glass containers, these tablets contain natural sweeteners (sorbitol and mannitol), which can be found in root vegetables and berries; mint essential oils, which have antibacterial properties; salt, to help soothe your gums; and a foaming agent extracted from coconuts.
All-powerful bug spray Chaindrite took Thailand’s ridiculous ad game to a whole new level with its recent longform commercial. Portraying the untimely demise of a cheeky, overconfident family of termites (played by humans in costume, of course), the hilariously dark two-and-a-half-minute rollercoaster follows the smug antagonist—who is apparently immune to the spray—as he returns to his den, unwittingly spreading the poison to his other brothers, who all die. Perhaps it’s a little close to the bone in the current climate, but this is classic Thai humor at its best—so brilliant, in fact, that it went viral on 9gag and has 2.9 million views on YouTube.
Seriously, are you really that surprised? Since the end of last year, PM2.5 levels in Bangkok have continued to escalate to hazardous levels, shrouding the city with thick grey smog so bad we thought we’re living in Silent Hill. On Jan 8 this year, Bangkok recorded the world’s third worst air quality on AirVisual, a popular air monitoring app that provides real-time air pollution levels wherever you are.
Since the single-use plastic bag ban came into effect on Jan 1, the whole nation has quickly adapted by bringing tote bags and other less mainstream receptacles to the supermarkets. Surely, the reason for the campaign’s success lies in the shrewd decision to blur plastic bags on TV—with censorship’s proven track record of eliminating alcohol and cigarette use in Thailand, it was a no brainer. Denying that it was a government call, the environment minister explained that the censorship of plastic bags by TV stations was “well-intentioned.”
Best mascot: Dr. Ganja
With the advent of legal medical marajuana in Thailand, this cute critter was born to promote a new government cannabis clinic. Like a little green Jesus, he’s here to spread the gospel of weed—a cure-all that can save you from insomnia, Parkinson’s disease and cancer, to name a few—while blessing us with iconic images of the PM clutching his plushie form on stage. With his cute smile and tiny lab coat, we can almost forget the fact that the “Dr.Ganja in TTM” app that he accompanies originally required Mon and Karen users to register as “immigrant fugitives,” among other racist blips.