It was nice knowing you.

 

The year in PLASTIC


Too little too late or a bold step in the right direction? Bangkok made its first in-roads at curbing plastic waste on Dec 10 when shoppers everywhere were presented with the prospect of taking that pack of Dentyne Chew home without a bag. That’s right, our first ever plastic bag-free day came at the end of a year that saw a tide of bad publicity pointed in plastic’s direction. Jonathan Head was on the BBC, telling us our moo ping doesn’t need two bags for the meat and an extra one for the sauce. A whale washed up on an Andaman beach with a stomach lined in low-density polyethylene. And restaurants everywhere (well, from Phrom Phong to Thonglor, at least) said no to plastic straws and served us everything from morning glory to bamboo instead. We even took to the streets to ask Bangkokians their thoughts on this political hot potato. You can watch it above.

 

The year in SEX


Thailand: destination no. 1 for would-be sex tourists planning their next break, according to Gambia. Don’t remember that one? It happened back in February, when the African nation’s minister for tourism told a local talk show that any tourists looking for a som’ som’ should go to Thailand, not Gambia. A diplomatic row brewed and formal complaints were lodged—all in the exact same week that a group of Russians were arrested in Pattaya for running tips-and-tricks courses for prostitutes. (This one we’re sure you do remember.) The group in question, headed by an Alexander Kirilov, 38, then spent their time in jail claiming they had evidence that proved all the worst stuff Robert Mueller’s been looking for against Donald Trump. If you think all this sounds like the plot to a bad lakorn you’re wrong—no lakorn writer has this level of creativity. And now we come to BK’s favorite sex scandal of 2018. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the case of the Thai fighter pilot arrested in New York for picking up a hooker but released thanks to his diplomatic immunity. Group Captain Rawin Thanomsingha—nickname “Hollywood”—found himself splashed across the New York Post on April 15, but it was all a misunderstanding, according to an Air Force spokesperson. He was just outside having a cigarette.
 

The year in THAI FINE DINING


Too bad if you haven’t booked a table at Sorn yet. It will now take you until at least April before you can snag a seat at that most buzzed-about arrival of 2018. But we do have other good news for you. The past 12 months have been ablaze with modern, inventive Thai restaurants who are putting the spotlight on local ingredients and using them to elevate Thai cuisine to a level on par with the fanciest European places. Saawaan saw the young kitchen partnership of Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn (formerly at Sra Bua) and  Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul (also of Issaya patisserie and Top Tables Best Pastry Chef 2018) break out a tasting menu that’s at once distinctly Thai yet remarkably reinventive. Then there was R. Haan, which like its contemporaries also picked up a Michelin star thanks to the menus of Iron Chef poster-guy Chumphol Jangprai, as well as the sky-high locavore tastes of Taan. Props also go to Pim Techamuanvivit, the new head chef at Nahm who’s taken over Sir D.T.’s shoes and proved she can do just as well on her own terms. Meanwhile, at the newly opened Waldorf Astoria, they debuted the talents of chef Rungthiwa “Fay” Chummongkhon, who with over a decade in Denmark’s new Nordic kitchens behind her is producing some seriously winning Southeast-Asia-meets-Scandinavia tasting menus at The Front Room. Trust us, it works.

 

 

The year in WOBBLY SOUFFLE PANCAKES


A long, long time ago, in a year called 2015, there was a dessert named the cremeux, and it swept through Bangkok cafes like wildfire. Now though, there’s a new dessert-fad. It too has a French adjective for a name; and it too has never been made, eaten or even heard of in France. We’re talking of course about Croquant Chou—long cream puffs covered in crunchy almonds that arrived from Japan and took over Siam Center. That was of course until Gram pancakes announced its opening in Siam Paragon. Not long after and the mall had its latest instance of queue-mania. And you know how the old saying goes: you wait years for a jiggly souffle pancakes specialist from Japan to open near you, and then two come along at once—cue the opening of Belle-Ville. But all was not pancakes and chou pastry from Japan. The British also released their post-Brexit export strategy in the shape of Ben’s soft-bake cookies, which were rivaled only by local brand David’s in their gooey awesomeness.
 

Mahakan Fort

 

The year in LOST CULTURE


What the BMA gives with one hand, they take with the other. So the merging of Chatuchak and Suan Rod Fai is going to create one super-park (TBF, we kinda thought of it like that already), but it also means we’re losing JJ Green night market. Major suck! Ditto in the Old Town, where the community that once lived at Mahakan Fort lost their almost 60-year dispute with the BMA. In July they were evicted in order to make way for a new public lawn that, well, no one really ever wanted. But who cares that when bureaucracy’s in motion? 2018 was also the year when the long-beleaguered Lido cinema finally bought the farm after 50 years entertaining Siam Square. (At least Scala remains safe, for now.) And not all was right across the road at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre, either. As the city readied itself for the start of Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, it emerged that the event’s foremost exhibition space, the BACC, was so heavily underfunded that they could barely pay the utility bills. The BMA called it the government’s fault, and the government didn’t have anything to say on the matter. Rumors now abound that it could even be turned into—the horror!—a co-working space. Stay tuned for 2019.
 

 

The year in STREET FOOD


Of all the backpedaling and mixed messages that went around during the April 2017 “ban on street food,” chief BMA spokesperson Vallop Suwandee’s claims about Khaosan Road were among the biggest. First it was under threat, then it was being saved, and now, one year on, it looks like a shadow of its pad-Thai-and-spring-roll-festooned former self. The move followed a City Hall inspection in July 2018 that caused deputy governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul to declare the area overrun with vendors. It also contradicted earlier claims from BMA officials that Khaosan would be spared from citywide efforts to clear Bangkok’s streets of temporary vendors. Despite upset among dreadlocked tourists, some of the street’s business owners actually welcomed the move. “Khaosan Road became worse when they allowed unlicensed cocktail sellers to operate around 10 years ago,” one vendor explained to us. “I’ve been here all my life and I’m 50 years old. The tourists are quite different here now, they’re worse than before, they are trouble.” Take that!
 

The year in OLD PEOPLE


From an unboxing Youtube granny to an octogenarian indie group to the oldest Ikea employee in the world, Bangkok went old-person crazy in 2018. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Then you’re obviously not one of the 262,000 people who watched nonagenarian walking stick tester Pranee as she put products through their paces on Facebook. Or the one million people who watched gray-haired musos Bennetty jam their dreamy indie brand of rock. Or the many many Ikea shoppers who’ve had their returns taken by Sornchai Upparamai, who at age 71 began a new career working on the shop floor. All this had us asking: what’s next for the gray trend? Prune kakigori? EDM x Tai Chi in Lumphini Park? We can’t wait.
 

The year in RAP BATTLES


Instead of watching that “My Country’s Got” clip, Thai netizens should be looking at “commerce-related things.” That’s the verdict of Generalissimo, who predictably wasn’t buying into the hype for the rap track slamming four years of military rule. The video (45 million Youtube views and still rising) went viral when the artists, and their families, received threats of prosecution. The police have since backtracked and confirmed, nope, the video doesn’t break any rules. But Rap Against Dictatorship weren’t the only local hip-hop act to gain mad traction, yo. A teenager from Khlong Toey going by the rap name Elevenfinger (yup, he does have eleven fingers) broke the internet with his track “Klongtoey My City.” 

 

The year in MALLS


We love Charoen Nakhon, we do. We also love the prospect of shopping at Apple and JD Sports by the river at IconSiam. But we also can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, the infrastructure promised for 2020 should have come first, the mall second. The luxury development expects to welcome 150,000 shoppers a day, and given the queues that have amassed at its free boat shuttle we’d say they’ve well achieved it. (Couldn’t someone maybe think about the infrastructure a little earlier next time?).
 

The year in HOT ‘HOODS


Yen Akat’s newly opened rooftop bar, Cactus, takes its style cues from those sweeping, mid-century desert villas that L.A.’s rich and famous like to call home. That means succulents, rich woods and dusty firepits—no subway tiles or Edison bulbs. It’s also the perfect spot to take in what is without doubt the break-out neighborhood of 2018. As we watch the crowning touches get put on a big new community mall at the corner of Yen Akat and Nanglinchee, we can’t help but feel slightly smug at having last year called it one of Bangkok’s most up-and-coming ‘hoods. We’ll wipe the smile away when the traffic’s as bad as Thonglor and girls dressed in Milin are puking in front of our apartment building.  
 

The year in DOUBLE STANDARDS


This year’s Chula-Thammasat game had something way more exciting to watch than the 1-1 draw that went down on the pitch. Thammasat once more proved which school has the political conscience with a float that took a not-so-veiled swipe at Deputy PM and army hotshot Gen Prawit for his bitchin’ Richard Mille tourbillons and Rolex chronographs. Estimates put his entire collection of photographed wristwear at a cool US$1.2 million in potentially undeclared assets—so it was lucky for him he was just borrowing the watches from a dead friend. Meanwhile in Kanchanaburi, property tycoon Premchai Karnasuta was caught in the forest with the carcass of an endangered black leopard boiling in a nearby pot. No word yet on whether a successful conviction will come out of the ongoing court case, but the incident gave Bangkok its latest case of guerilla street art when black leopards started appearing on walls. Crossing the Indian Ocean, our plutocratic overlord’s offspring were also up to their tricks in London, with the son of a National Legislative Assembly member caught taking upshot phone snaps in Topshop.

 

The year in GENDER DIVERSITY


In 2015, Thammasat University blazed a trail for equality by employing transgender academic Kath Khangpiboon as a lecturer. Yay Thammasat! Yay progress! Actually, no. They fired her not long after for posting to Instagram a photo of a lipstick shaped like a penis. Kath took them to court, and discovered this year (on Mar 8) that she’d won. And that wasn’t Bangkok’s only win for gender diversity. Kantana production house launching Thailand’s very own version of Drag Race, thus launching longtime BK drag favorite Pan Pan aka Pangina Heals to national stardom. SunSilk shampoo brand even released a commercial that treated transgender people as something better than the punchline to a bad joke. But only the beautiful ones who win contests like Drag Race. We guess it’s a step in the right direction when you have places like MT Rollin Club still opening. Here, communication between the ladies-only Victorian-era tea room and the Italian Art Deco-style gentlemen’s club is allowed strictly by letter only—oh, the good old days. Next we’ll be represented by a 95-percent male parliament and be banning women from our top police aca… oh, wait.
 

The year in JUNK FOOD


Did you spend two hours waiting in line back in March for the In-N-Out pop-up? We’re right with you. But, who doesn’t love a good fast-food franchise from abroad? (Chipotle! Won’t someone bring us Chipotle?!). News of In-N-Out’s pop-up diner came to light just 24 hours beforehand, and even then only due to a Facebook post by a little-known Sukhumvit Soi 10 bistro and wine bar called CY Cabin. We’ll have a bit more notice for Taco Bell Thailand, whose arrival is so close now we can almost taste the late-night regret. A recent advert for job applications inadvertently revealed the Tex-Mex giant’s first location to be MercuryVille, right off BTS Chidlom. Rumor has it that it will open either at the end of this year or very early next.

 

The year in BIENNALES


By now we’ve just about worked out that the Bangkok Biennial is something completely different from the Bangkok Art Biennale, both of which have nothing to do with the Thailand Biennale that’s currently happening in, of all places, Krabi. While the first of the three, the anonymously-organized Bangkok Biennial, took the underground approach with 69 pavilions scattered across town and beyond, the corporate-backed Bangkok Art Biennale bagged itself a proper headline artist, by which we mean one who’s done a Louis Vuitton handbag collaboration. Those giant inflatable pumpkins hanging from the ceiling of CentralWorld are the brilliantly creative polkadot visions of Yayoi Kusama. She’s been joined, not only within the air-con confines of our malls, by pedigreed names like Abramovic, Elmgreen and Dragset, Basquiat—oh, and some local names too. Did someone say, “Venice of the East?”

 

Credit: https://vimeo.com/241361785/fc2a7b63f9

 

The year in PISSED OFF ARCHITECTS


First, SA Group wins the bid to build Suvarnabhumi’s much-anticipated second terminal. Then, SA gets disqualified and the project goes to celebrated architect and wavy-haired god of slowlife culture Duangrit Bunnag. Next, architectural bloggers everywhere call “copycat” on his building. Then, the Engineering Institute of Thailand comes out saying the whole thing could go up in flames. And that’s not the end of the saga for Terminal 2. Our architect hero has since come out punching, telling the EIT he’s going to sue over their allegations. Someone bring the popcorn.

 

The year in BNK48


After the 48-member super-girl-group’s first ever live concert overshadowed the concurrent arrest of pro-democracy protestors back in March, they’ve been venturing ever deeper into the art of political distraction. Who needs an election when we’ve had the “BNK48 least-favorite member” vote to focus on? Come to think of it, since the senate race pulled in less than a quarter of the expected applications, couldn’t BNK just make up the numbers? The group’s leader, Cherprang Areekul, has already been summoned by Prayuth this year in a thinly veiled attempt to garner youth support and boost ratings for Returning Happiness to the People. Despite protestors labeling her a “detergent for dictatorship,” the numbers show that her relentlessly loyal otaku fan base might just follow the junta poster girl wherever she may go. Indeed, the General could do with some support against those pesky social media trolls, and if he ever gets in a fix like, say, someone insulting his work or doctoring a dildo into his picture, her fans are just the ones to have on side. Back in February, they rallied behind BNK48 after The Matter writer Siripoj Laomanacharoen dared to write that their music video was “kinda crap,” resulting in an epic take down that dredged up his girlfriend-beating past. At least January’s Senbatsu General Election should tide us over until the real thing, when we’ll find out whether these popular figures with their pretty faces really can save our junta leader’s reputation.
 

The year in POPULISTS


Maybe, there will come a time when Bangkok doesn’t need a) generals, b) aristocrats, or c) billionaires to be its political saviors—but not yet. 2018’s breakthrough new politician was Thanathorn “Aek” Juangroongruangkit, the son of the president and COO of manufacturing giant Thai Summit Group, of which he was a vice president until becoming leader of the new Future Forward Party. Aek’s agenda includes dismantling the junta-approved constitution, so needless to say he’s not made many friends in green uniforms. In fact, he’s already up against a computer crimes charge. Also running onto the political playing field of 2018 was Abhisit’s nephew, Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu, who at the age of 25 wants to push the Democrats down a progressive new path—as directed by an Oxford graduate from an established political dynasty. But perhaps the year’s most unlikely politician was Chumpol “Jung” Krootkaew, a former IT consultant for the NACC, whose Klang (moderate) party plans on using tech and data to form all his policies.