As we hurtle towards December 1, there’s one word on every retailer and restaurateur’s lips: Christmas.
Of course – like everything in Thailand – a Bangkok Christmas comes with its own little idiosyncrasies and unique #ThailandOnly aspects that manage to overshadow all memories of Western Christmases past.
First things first; it’s better.
Just like a roast dinner, or an English breakfast, Thailand has taken the best of the west, jazzed it up four notches, and completely surpassed the original.
Sukhumvit, in particular, looks effortlessly glorious dressed to the nines in ten thousand Christmas lights.
The major shopping malls have each been tarted up, partnered with lavish trees; while inside are seas of tinsel, fairy lights and that familiar hum of hopelessly crap Mariah covers on repeat.
For a predominantly Buddhist city, you’ve got to hand it to Bangkok.
You’d never know that December 25th is just another working day.
This is the second Christmas I’ve experienced in Bangkok.
Here are my takeaways so far…
The Heat Juxtaposition
In the UK, if I were to do something really stupid — like venture outside wearing only shorts and a t-shirt in December — I would expect to suffer from immediately frozen bollocks.
Not so in Bangkok.
It looks like Christmas, but it doesn’t feel like Christmas.
Indeed, the strangest part of Christmas Day is not just the fact that Bangkok is working as usual.
It’s the sun.
The complete lack of coats.
The sheer shock of sweating out a turkey.
Many Bangkokians have never seen snow in their lifetimes.
Last week I spoke to a Thai friend who had romanticised the idea of Christmas shopping on London’s Oxford Street to a point where I had to pinch myself.
“You want to be frozen, surrounded by puce-faced husbands, circled by Japanese tourists, and barged out of the way by the sheer tsunami of a***holes in London… all for a few snowflakes?”
His answer? A smile and a yes.
No thanks. I’ll stick to my flip flops.
The Christmas Buffets to End All Buffets
You cannot say that Bangkok is ever lacking for good food.
Christmas, however, is when the local cuisine reaches downright criminal heights of Tasty.
Practically every hotel worth its salt has a cracking buffet where you can eat your way to nirvana.
I hear the complaints about these buffets:
- “They’re expensive.”
- “You can eat cheaper locally.”
- “No ‘real Thai’ eats breakfast at the Marriott.”
Yeah, yeah. Whatever.
Sometimes, I don’t want the best deal in town.
I want gluttonous luxury.
Four plates of it, one after the other, only ever stopping for a new fork.
It doesn’t get any more disgustingly gluttonous than a Christmas buffet in downtown Sukhumvit.
This year I will be returning to the Huntsman at The Landmark for my Christmas dinner.
Pity the fool who hasn’t been before.
My inevitable 20 lb weight gain over the course of the Christmas season – a practically mandatory phenomenon in the West – only serves to highlight the sheer inferiority of the farang metabolism compared to that of the Thai people.
There are many things that confuse me about Thailand, but none more so than how a people can eat so much — 26 teaspoons of sugar per day! — and stay so slender.
The Invasion of Out-of-Place Jingles
For most of the year, you’ll find me quivering to Au Bon Pain’s jazz mix on repeat. The perfect ambience for a breakfast bagel.
Unfortunately, Christmas marks the simultaneous hijacking of every public playlist in Bangkok — and its replacement with utter chaff.
Even some of the national radio stations are at it.
My highlight of the season so far has to be cruising along the highway to that famously quaint Christmas carol, Silent Night:
Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sweet calming lyrics that could lull a baby to sleep.
Unless you’re in a Bangkok taxi, pummelling down the highway to Suvarnabhumi at 90mph without a seat belt, clinging to that flap in the ceiling lest you spend the night in heavenly pieces.
The Bloat of Christmas vs. The Annihilation of Songkran
While we in the West spend at least a month building up to Christmas and the New Year, the Thais are surprisingly efficient at bringing in their favourite holiday.
They have Songkran, the famous water festival.
It’s a special time for Thais who will spend three days marauding the streets with super soakers and buckets of salt, literally, gunning down anything that moves. Especially tourists.
Then they’ll go back to work.
If you’re going to celebrate a festival, that’s the way to do it.
Hard and fast.
It puts in perspective the bloat of Christmas.
All that build-up: the mad search for gifts, the rampant consumerism; the inescapable stress.
Can’t we just have a massive water fight and call it quits?
The Fancy Dress and Tourist Traps
As I sit here now, I see various nonplussed Thais going about their work in the EmQuartier food hall.
They are wearing an assortment of December uniforms: santa hats, mistletoe tiaras, the full works.
If I could describe their expression, ‘jolly’ wouldn’t quite cut it.
I would probably go for… bemused.
It gets me thinking…
What do native Bangkokians make of this ‘Christmas thing’ sweeping through their city?
We westerners are rational creatures who love stonewalling the novel parts of other cultures; often decrying their national holidays as ‘time spent slacking off or taking the p*ss’.
“A bank holiday for what? The National Day of Ploughing? You what, mate?”
But then November comes, and all bets are off.
Fuelled by the dystopian idea that we wish it could be Christmas every day, we disappear up our own arses in a crusade of face-stuffing, excessive drinking, and hammering the plastic in our wallets.
All because… why not? It’s Christmas.
As I sit here eyeballing some poor waitress in reindeer antlers, I think to myself…
“Do you hate us for this?”
And then I realise; no – of course you bloody don’t.
I just handed you 450 baht for a Turkey sandwich.
While our bloated Christmas fantasies are being pandered to with fancy lights, excessive buffets and reindeer waitresses, Bangkok is quietly sat counting the incoming baht.
Featured image is by drburtoni and used under a Creative Commons licence