Bizarre Thailand reviewed by The Age

Bruce Elder has just reviewed Bizarre Thailand in The Age, calling Jim’s book a “thoughtful book” and a ” a useful introduction to Thailand’s lesser-known history.”

Read on for the full review.

THE old adage about never judging a book by its cover certainly applies to this carefully researched and well-written account of some of Thailand’s more esoteric tourist attractions. If you judged the book by its cover — yellow and garish, featuring a psychedelic skull, two scorpions and the subtitle ‘‘Tales of crime, sex and black magic’’ — you could reasonably conclude it was a shameless pot boiler.

In fact, it is the thoughtful work of a Canadian journalist who has lived in Thailand for years and who is fascinated by some of the country’s more unusual ‘‘tourist attractions’’. There is, for example, the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum, with a section devoted to ‘‘organs infected with cancer, hearts deadened by strokes and livers pickled with alcohol’’.

And here’s another drawcard: ‘‘The squeamish and anally retentive will have an especially foul time in the Parasitology Museum. Every worst fear and phobia any traveller ever had about the intestinal horrors lurking in Asia has been graphically outlined and exhibited: roundworms, pinworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms.’’

Algie bypasses the usual tourist destinations of Phuket, the coastal islands and Bangkok. His list of Thailand’s tourist attractions includes the chance to join the army and spend time involved in full army training and the Corrections Museum, with displays that include ‘‘implements of torture once used in Siamese jails’’. One of these is a huge rattan ball, which was kicked around by an elephant with a prisoner inside.

He describes a shooting range on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh where, for $US100, tourists can kill a goat with a rocket-propelled grenade. And he describes a resort that replicates a WildWest town, with cowboys, horses and Indians.

Beyond these accounts of the bizarre, the book is also a useful introduction to Thailand’s
lesser-known history. There are sections on the European expatriates; the Burma-Thailand railway duringWorldWar II; the Siamese twins, Chang and Eng; and dozens of others.

Reviewed by Bruce Elder

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Bizarre Thailand in The Big Chilli — Excerpt on Chang and Eng, the original Siamese Twins

The Big Chilli recently ran an excerpt from Bizarre Thailand which traces the life story of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese Twins. You can download the article here. Big Chili excerpt

The magazine said “Covering everything from fish fights and fortune telling, to body collecting and ghost hunting, the book highlights Jim’s knack of making the bizarre accessible, and provides a fascinating portal into everything that’s weird and wonderful about this beguiling kingdom.”

There’s also a Q&A with Jim at the end where talks about his upcoming selection of short stories.

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BK Magazine reviews Bizarre Thailand

Cole Pennington at BK Magazine has just reviewed Bizarre Thailand, picking up on Jim’s ability to shed new light on the nooks and crannies of Thai culture that most people miss, be they old hands or first-in-town tourists and calls the book “lively and fascinating.”

Read the fill review here.

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Bizarre Thailand slideshow

A big thanks to Bill Hammerton at for putting this slide show together. It’s a great visual tour through some of the stories, characters and issues covered in Jim’s book.

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Bizarre Thailand garners deep insight into Thai culture, says

Ian at has just reviewed Bizarre Thailand having road tested Jim’s book in a hammock on Koh Mak.

Among the positive feedback he gave the book, Ian wrote:

The book opened my eyes a few times and so for anyone who hasn’t been living in Thailand for a while there is sure to be plenty of food for thought to digest as the make their way through the articles. At worst it is an entertaining read that is guaranteed to provide you with some interesting dinner table conversation topics. At best a few hours spent reading this book and you will garner far more of an insight into what makes Thailand tick than any amount of ploughing through the Culture section in your Lonely Planet will provide.

Read the rest of the review here.

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More Bizarre photos uploaded

For fans of the macabre and downright odd, swing past the Bizarre Images page to check out the latest uploads from Jim Algie’s collection of wierd and wonderful photos from Thailand.

Posted in Bizarre Thailand, Bizarre Thailand blog, Bizarre Thailand images, Creature Features, Crime Scenes, Misadventure Travels, The Sex Files, The Supernatural | 1 Comment

Coffee, Tea, or a Tranny?

That suitably tasteless title is a good indication of what low esteem the third gender is held in not only in Thailand but in many parts of the world. In a story about them in the book I look at a cross-section of gender-benders, from the champion kick-boxer Nong Toom to the grand dame of ladyboys in Bangkok and a young streetwalker in Bangkok who describes what her sex change was like as well as the side effects like not being able to achieve an orgasm.

Winner of the Miss Tiffany's Universe transgender beauty competition

For the transgendered there have been signs of progress, though, like getting separate bathrooms in some schools. Barred from the military draft for having a “permanent mental disorder” (which also kept them from finding gainful employment) the transgendered fought against that stigma and won. (The same battle was fought by the gay and lesbian community in the US back in the 60s. Consequently, in 1970, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.)

The 2,000-strong Transwomen Association of Thailand, led by its flamboyant spokesperson Yolada Komklong, is now campaigning to use the prefix Ms or Mrs, as well as receive state assistance for sex change operations.

Transgender air hostesses

In mid-March, 2011 the Huffington Post reported: “A recent ‘Thailand’s Got Talent’ contestant shocked audience by revealing herself as a male-to-female transgender when her beautiful soprano morphed seamlessly into a masculine tenor midway through her debut performance.”

(Check out the story and YouTube video here)

Yet more signs of mainstream change are in the air. Recently, PC Air recruited transgendered airhostesses. The airline’s president Peter Chan hired six transsexuals out of a total of 100 applicants, the most famous being Thanyarat “Film” Jiraphatpakorn (pictured after her victory and with the airline’s boss). She was the winner of Miss Tiffany 2007, the famous beauty pageant for transsexuals from all over the globe held every year in Pattaya.

Chan’s sincerity seems beyond reproach. He told the press: “I think these people can have many careers, not just in the entertainment business, and many of them have a dream to be an air hostess.”

At the same time, it’s been a windfall of publicity for the airline, though not quite in the same stratosphere as Avianova, the Russian low-cost carrier who made a series of ads showing flight attendants stripping down to their bikinis to suggestively wash and suds one of the company’s jets in 2010. Based on a porn-movie stereotype from the 70s – the libidinous Swedish airhostess offering “Coffee, tea, or me” – the TV ads were quickly grounded amidst international turbulence.

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Shooting Stars: Profile of legendary music photographer Martyn Goodacre

If I get around to doing Bizarre Thailand 2.0, profiling rock shooter and punk strummer Martyn Goodacre in the “Strange Celebrities” section would be a sound idea.

One of the big guns of British music photography, he framed an astounding array of rock and cinema stars, from Shane MacGowan and Liv Tyler to Beck and Michael Hutchence, over the course of a decadent decade (see the clip below from my feature in Untamed Travel magazine which you can download here).

Martyn’s most famous image, a black and white shot of Kurt Cobain, has been hijacked for T-shirts, posters, websites and the cover of NME. In this interview from a few years back, he explains how that shoot came about, plus his musician days in the punk band Fabulous, his early work for Loaded magazine, his drinking spree with Joey Ramone in New York, and why the late INXS frontman was the musician he mourned the most on his contact sheet of the dead.

Rumours continue to run rampant as to Martyn’s current projects, such as being the Phil Spector-like svengali behind a music label, breeding komodo dragons on Koh Samui, and writing the soundtrack for a new version of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Until we can ascertain the truth or fiction of these innuendoes, you can gawp at more of his retina-expanding pics on

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The Godfather of Gangsta vs the Cannibal of Chinatown

What do these two legendary figures have in common? More than you might think. Both Ice-T and See Uey lived lives of crime that have inspired legacies of shock and revulsion.

As one of the pioneers of gangsta rap, the rapper holds court in this exclusive interview about how he helped to create the genre during his criminal days (which inspired such influential albums as Rhyme Pays), what he thinks of hip-hop’s rise to the mainstream, the importance of travel and his role as a TV star on Law and Order, as well as his views on the infamous grudge match between Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino over the latter’s liberal use of the word “nigger”, and why he doesn’t think that lyrics like “he fucked the bitch with a flashlight” are sexist.

Easily the most daunting and knee-knocking interview I’ve ever done, it was originally supposed to go in the “Strange Celebs” section of Bizarre Thailand, but instead became an outtake (check the Outtakes and Extras page.

Another bonus for you lucky “dogs” and “homies” is the inclusion of a novella about Thailand’s most infamous serial slayer. Originally published in 2008 and long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award, this retooled version follows on from the story in the “Crime Scenes” section about the Songkran Niymosane Forensic Medicine Museum in Bangkok, where the killer’s preserved corpse is on public display.

Even though the novella is “based on a true crime story” so little is known about See Uey’s life and spree of slaughter that I had plenty of room to utilize my poetic license to thrill, kill and chill.

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Dastardly Crimes and Decent Deeds in Bipolar Pattaya (Part 1)

Walking Street in Pattaya

Instead of writing just one story about Pattaya in the book I could easily have devoted the entire “Crime Scenes” section to what happens in the country’s most extreme city. The crimes that either take place there, or are reported in the local press, do not happen anywhere else in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Even running down a few of the more spectacular incidents in the book – like a middle-aged Scandinavian man running amok in a local mall and throwing acid in the faces of Thai women because a bargirl had spurned him – was really just a paper cut in a true crime tome of Biblical (or should that be Satanic?) proportions.

Leafing through the pages, or surfing the websites, of local papers like the Pattaya Mail and the Pattaya Daily News yields a bumper crop of real pulp fiction. As often as not, the crimes are preposterous: a young Brit sticking a brand new golf club down his trousers and trying to leg it out of a sporting goods shop, or a tale of reefer madness that defies even the most basic canine intelligence.

Over Christmas the Pattaya Mail reported that a young Turkish man had smashed a Russian lady’s head into the pavement before running off with her handbag.

Fearing police heat, the robber ran into a local massage parlour, sweating it out in the herbal steam room. That’s where the cops busted him.

Will the young Turk finally come clean and confess to his dirty deed? On the Pattaya Mail’s website it will all come out in the wash.

As a pastime, fabricating sentences and headlines of processed cheese for the Pattaya dailies has become something of an innocuous vice for me.

In Bizarre Thailand I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this the most “bipolar city in Southeast Asia, maybe the whole world”. For Pattaya has an incredible number of philanthropists too. Just before Christmas, the Pattaya International Ladies Club teamed up with the Jesters Care for Kids Charity (the Jesters are a local motorcycle gang of foreigners whose ‘clubhouse’ is the Tahitian Queen go-go bar, which is the oldest such establishment in the town), to host another event called “Carols and Canapes”.

Do bikers in other places get together over Christmas to sing “Frosty the Snowman” for charity? Not too freakin’ likely.

Over the next few months, stay tuned for more posts of dunces, deviants, dementia and do-gooders in a city that is not really a part of Thailand, or Asia, or even the world as we know it: Pattaya is the party room in the Twilight Zone; it’s the Guns ‘n’ Poses song “Paradise City” come to life; it’s Philanthropy Central and Satan’s left testicle.

Check out Lang Reid’s review of Bizarre Thailand in the Pattaya Mail here.

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