Physical graffiti: Photos from Bangkok’s khlongs

Two young volleyball players pose in front of a graffiti mural beside the canal
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand

Another photo project from my time in Thailand (following Ghost Tower). Bangkok used to be known as the ‘Venice of the East’ with canals – or khlongs – providing the main routes through the city. In the Nineteenth Century, wealthy citizens built houses fronting on to the canals, a few of which like Jim Thompson’s House are still there. Times have changed and many of the canals have since been filled in. A few remain and narrow khlong boats provide a faster alternative to congested streets. The only problem is that the khlongs now weave their way through slum districts with poor sanitation, and the waterways double as rubbish dumps and sewers. The smell was unpleasant, to put it mildly. I used to sometimes take the canal boat on my way home from work but I always had to have a scarf handy in case a boat came the other way and I got splashed with a faceful of fetid water.

Nonetheless, the khlongboats provided a fascinating journey. Along the way, I would get a view of canalside life. Makeshift houses were piled up almost to the edge of the water. People hung their washing out to dry from windows, along with birdcages and even the occasional fish tank, lashed securely to a railing. Old men who had got used to the smell sat out on stools on the small path alongside the canal, chatting. Teenagers and youths played takraw (kick volleyball) in occasional open spaces, where a derelict building had been knocked down, while others took bets on the outcome or spray painted walls with graffiti. I was fascinated by the takraw games in particular, and started bringing my camera with me. On my way home, I would stop off and spend half an hour before sunset taking photos of the game. During breaks, I would persuade the players to pose for photos in front of the graffiti. Here are some of my favourite photos from these visits:

A tackraw, or kick volleyball, player sits in front of a graffiti face during a break in play
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A volleyball player watches the approaching ball…
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
…and kicks it back over the net.
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A takraw player decked out in full Barcelona football gear
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A khlong boat stopping opposite the pitch. There are some very low bridges over the canals and ticket collectors wear hard hats in case of collision, as well as life vests in case they fall in.
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A local resident drives a motorbike down the narrow canal side path.
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A local trader selling betel nut paste, or maak, for chewing. Maak is a mild narcotic that some Thais believe prolongs life.
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A tattooed takraw player…
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
…and a spectator with a back tattoo. Many Thai gangsters have these kind of Buddhist tattoos, in the belief that it protects them from their enemies.
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A volleyball player knocks a ball over the net…
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
….while another practices his keepy uppy skills
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
Takraw players pose for a photo during a break in the game
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
Two simultaneous matches, seen from the canal side path
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A takraw player lines up a shot…
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
…and watches as the ball sails over the net
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
A more official version of the canal side volleyball pitch, which had been cleaned up and turned into a public park
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
Graffiti on the wall of a semi-derelict building backing onto the pitch
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
My work friend and fellow amateur photographer Lema, blending into the background
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
Another work friend, Pelle, climbing on a ruined building beside the takraw pitch
© Andrew Brown/2015/Thailand
Me enjoying the view from a broken staircase at the end of a successful photo walk
© Lema Zekrya/2015/Thailand

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