Sony Tsai (BFA’18) is the co-founder and creative director of Buddy Up Co. Ltd., a creative events agency, who has lived in Bangkok for more than 20 years.
What three words best describe Bangkok?
Dynamic. Busy. Unrestrained.
How did you come to live in Bangkok?
My family immigrated to Thailand from Taiwan before I was born. So I was raised in the beautiful city of Bangkok for most of my life up until I moved to Vancouver and, for a short while, Shanghai. Although my time in these other cities was magical, I have since moved back to Bangkok to be with my family. I have been back a little over three years now and still find myself (re)discovering new things about my hometown every day.
What do you like most about living there?
If, like me, you suffer from constant body aches, one of the top things I’d recommend is getting a relaxing traditional Thai massage! With this style of massage, you remain fully dressed and lie on a hard mat, and the masseuse uses their hands, elbows, and feet to stretch you out. Compared to other places I have lived, the massages in Bangkok are more affordable and easily accessible (massage shops are as common here as your local convenience stores). To choose the right place for a traditional Thai massage (and not end up in other types of “massage parlors,” which exist here as well), first look at their staff, who will typically be stationed at the front of the shop — usually the older they are, the better they will be at the craft.
Describe your favourite neighbourhood.
Bangkok’s Old Town is one of my favourite neighbourhoods. It is breathtakingly gorgeous, particularly The Grand Palace, where the royal family’s residences and administrative offices used to be located. In the morning year round, the sun reflects off of the palace architecture and highlights the golden details of its temples, and at night, the spacious streets are lit with spotlights and the lights from nearby restaurants, giving the area a whole new look! If you love taking photos, Old Town is worth a full day trip.
If you could change one thing about Bangkok, what would it be?
Traffic. I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have wasted inside a car. On a good day, driving a mere five kilometres would take between an hour to two hours. On a bad day? I’d rather not think about it! If you have to travel during rush hour, try the metro (train) or motorbike service instead — and don’t forget to use the restroom before your trip!
What might surprise a visitor about Bangkok?
One of the wackiest things about Bangkok has to do with our taxi services. Unlike other cities where passengers can casually enter the cab and state where they want to go, in Bangkok, it’s important to agree on both the location and cost for your trip before getting into the cab. Otherwise, the fare you’ll be charged is entirely at the mercy of your cab driver. Non-locals who enter a cab without negotiating a price beforehand are often charged quite a bit extra (i.e. double the standard fare, or even more!). This is a common occurrence not only in Bangkok, but in other Thailand cities as well.
What are your favourite hidden gems or activities that only locals know about?
Café culture is popular among Thai people. As a result, over the years there has been a gradual rise in the number of thematic coffee shops around Bangkok. In particular, you can find them in less known neighbourhoods like Talad Noi (which I also recently discovered) and Charoen Nakorn. With its Chinese influence and numerous older streets, Talad Noi feels a bit like wandering through a historic Chinatown whereas Charoen Nakorn is an up-and-coming neighbourhood, popular with younger generations.
What’s the most over-rated tourist hotspot?
I would have to say Siam. This strip of land consists of multiple large malls, each containing many of the same stores, that stretch many train stations long and is also considered a part of Bangkok’s central business district. Besides mall hopping and shopping, this area hosts many of Bangkok’s high-end hotels.
How easy is it to meet new people?
Bangkok is a multicultural city. If you’re looking to meet new people, Bangkok offers endless opportunities to do so!
What issues are particularly important to the people of Bangkok?
Politics in Thailand has long been a tricky subject and is a major focus of conversation for Thai residents. Younger generations are also stepping out more these days to voice their political opinions publicly.
What is one local custom that every visitor should know about?
In general, Thai people are not fond of physical touch. Therefore, it is safer to greet others by using the wai (prayer hands by your chest) followed by saying, “Sawasdee khap/ka” (hello) as a sign of respect — and remember to smile! (In Thai tradition, “khap” and “ka” are added to many words and phrases for maximum politeness, and reflect the gender that the speaker wishes to be associated with. In general, speakers who identify as men add “khap” to their speech, while those who identify as women add “ka.”)
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