Bangkok – Thailand

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I have been Bangkok for one week and am heading to Chiang Mai tomorrow. The sounds below are from the adventures I have had with my fellow travellers and amazing hosts.

Here is my Sound Journal entry for Bangkok, where I give a brief spoken summary of my experiences.

At the weekend market, a busking musical group plays hammered string instruments and has some hand-drum accompaniment for this not-so-Thai-authentic song. Canadians should get a kick out of this.

Walking down Khaosan Road, the watering hole for all things dreadlocked and hippie, there were vendors selling t-shirts with inappropriate slogans, fake dreadlocks, pirated CDs, tailor made suits, sunglasses, purses, accessories, jewelry, all kinds of food (including the insect vendor selling scorpions, silk worms, etc). There were also women from the hill tribes dressed in traditional gear walking around peddling jewelry and wooden frogs (you can hear them!).

At a special tree in the Temple of the dawn, flower buds sat closed and waiting for the right person to clap their hands hands over them; then they would bloom. None of the people I saw clapping were the right people, I suppose.

These bells are rung and they say that your reputation will spread with the sound.

In the temple of the Emerald Buddha, there is the jade statue of Buddha taken by Thailand from Laos; it is now considered the heart of the Thai people. (the Emerald Buddha is not the photo above) While I was in the temple, the half dozen grandfather clocks in the room struck 12 noon, kind of an odd sound in a Buddist Temple. The temple was very quiet and full of people praying. their was, thankfully, no photography or footware allowed inside the temple.

Outside the Emerald Buddha temple, metal bells were strung all along the underside of the roof, and chimed in the wind.

We hit a really big gong at the Temple of the Dawn.

At a sacred park, we brought a huge bag of fish pellets and fed the sacred fish in the pond. They were like catfish, but had wide sucker-mouths. They did a feeding frenzy, and would push away the slow turtles that came to get their share of the pellets. Feeding sacred fish is a very soothing experiences, sonically as well as spiritually.

In Ayutthaya Wat we wandered around the ruins of old temples destroyed by invaders. There were headless buddha statues, brick rubble walls, foundations, and some drooping ancient structures. It felt old the way the Canadian Shield feels old. The soundscape there was quiet and peaceful for the most part: birds singing, people walking quietly taking pictures or listening to a tour guide. One interesting addition was a toy sold by vendors outside the temples to groups of school children. The toy was a stick, a sounding tube, a string tied between them, and some kind of resin under the string. When it was spun in a circle, the string vibrated against the resin and the tube amplified it to sound like insects. (See clip below)

This is a clip from inside the ruins of one of the wats (temples). The voice you hear is the audio guide I am listening to explaining the history of the place.

My most memorable sound in Bangkok – the dropping of small coin tokens into bowls along the back of the massive Reclining Buddha, and reverberating in the huge room, tiled and painted and gilded. Even the sound is golden. We paid 20 Baht for our small bowl of tokens, and if you put one in each large bowl, it means you have good fortune (if I remember correctly).

Near the place we are staying for part of our time in Bangkok, we are close to a school where we heard children practicing traditional Thai music on traditional instruments made of bamboo, a type of angklung where each child holds one note of a scale in each hand, and shakes the bamboo to sound the note at the right time.

Another day at the school, an ensemble was practicing for an upcoming performance. This instrumental group included small xylophones, a string instrument like an erhu, and recorder/flute instruments. The teachers were keeping time with two sticks, and also with finger cymbals. Observation: children tend to rush music all over the world.

The Bangkok soundscape changes a lot depending on the time of day. It is a sprawling, concrete city that is moving constantly, but the vegitation growth in the city is also unstoppable thanks to the climate.  This also means there is a high level of small, vocal animal life. Birds dominate the daytime soundscape when they can be heard above the traffic, and they sing in such variety as I have never heard before. Here are some birdcalls as I heard them from my bedroom window.

In the evenings, the insects take over: crickets are the only ones I recognize. Mosquitos are quiet here, and as fast as fish. I would hazard that the cold in Canada makes our mozzies slower and more stupid (hence louder). Below is an evening soundscape.

During the night, frogs and toads join the choir. The toads were my favorite night sound. Below is a closeup of a toad croaking.

We arrived at the Floating Market in the early morning, which is highly recommended. By the time we left at 9am, the place had filled with noisy tourists trucked in on gaudy buses. The first track below is of what we heard when we first started out on our rented canoe, powered by a paddling lady. The second track is when we pulled up to a vendor along the canal and suddenly found ourselves buying several clacketing wooden wind chimes – Thais can be very pursuasive, and we were horrible bargainers. The third track is what the market sounded like when the busloads of tourists filled the canals.

At the Crocodile and Elephant show, we saw animals being kept for entertainment, and in zoo settings. The elephants gave rides to people, and the crocodiles put on a show by being prodded and hauled around by handlers. I saw the crocodile show. The stunts were impressive – handlers putting their heads inside the crocodiles mouths, etc. However, I intensely dislike zoos of any kind, and this was no exception. The sonic experience was, as well, not enjoyable. Hear the clip below where you hear a croc SNAP its mouth shut right at the beginning, then he is being hauled around by the tail and hisses from his nose or mouth several times. The bad, overly-loud music was grating, and I can’t speak for the announcer since he was speaking Thai.

And this clip below was an animal in the zoo. It only called like this a few times while I was there, but it sounded quite haunting. I think it was a monkey.