A First Look at the Art in Thailand
Last Sunday afternoon found me wandering the Chatuchak market in Bangkok, weaving my way through crowded stalls brimming with wares: everything from vintage sneakers to baskets of mangoes, cheap sunglasses and old porcelain dishware. Amid the hubbub, a narrow corridor led deeper into the covered market area, and I soon realized that an entire community of artists and small galleries flourished in the tiny and often hidden corners of the market.
There, nestled between large vendors selling purses of all shapes and sizes and bustling restaurants, lay an entire network of small stalls showcasing art pieces and handmade jewelry, portraiture, and modern art.
When one envisions Bangkok, artwork – street art, galleries, and the like – is not generally what first comes to mind. But as I continue to learn more about this multi-faceted culture and country, Thailand offers one of the richest and most diverse art scenes around the world.
In addition to the stunning temples that adorn the cityscape of Bangkok, contemporary galleries and eclectic art spaces open regularly around the city, creating a mosaic-like art scene that honors traditional Buddhist art and handmade craftsmanship.
Rounding the corner of one stall, I caught a glimpse of a vastly intricate painted scroll depicting a battle at sea. It was done in ancient art form, the boats replete with dragon-heads and sailors fighting with spears, and as I looked a little closer, the plaque in the corner read the artist’s name and then the date: February 2017. It had been painted just the week before.
So this is Thailand then too: a blend of contemporary and traditional, a study of contrasts, and always, always surprising.
Street Art and So Much More in Hua Hin
I have found this to be the case in Hua Hin as well, where I am currently living for the next few months. There is a different flavor to the art in this city. A former fishing town that sits right along the beach, Hua Hin offers a significantly more laid-back atmosphere than in Bangkok, and as a popular tourist destination, the art scene is catered perhaps more directly towards this crowd.
Golden Buddha statue at the Khao Takiab Temple, Hua Hin
In Hua Hin, there is the Baan Sillapin Artists Village and 3D museum. The original arts center in Hua Hin, the village holds large galleries of arts and antiques and offers walk-throughs of artist studios. In the winter months, the village hosts an Art & Jazz collective, bringing musicians in from around the world to perform at the center. The village a slight trek away from the city center of Hua Hin, around 5 km on the road to Pala-U, but transportation is easy here – you can rent a taxi or a tuk-tuk for a fairly reasonable price to bring you there and back.
But I have found art in so many unexpected places too: on the corner where I run every morning, there is a little monster painted on the wall of a restaurant with the word “Gallery” colorfully inscribed above. I love it. I look for it every day.
There is art to be found everywhere, and in all cliché form, sometimes you just have to look for it in the unexpected places. I find that through art, you can discover so much about a culture and a country, trace its history and values, its path through conflict and harmony.
As you begin your adventure traveling to Southeast Asia to teach or volunteer, be sure to keep your eye out for the unexpected artwork all around you.
I’m curious to know: what kind of art are you interested in? Do you love street art, contemporary art, or historical pieces? What amazing artwork have you found in your travels? When you think of art in Thailand, what images came to mind?