Bizarre Thailand: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic features 24 chapters in six main sections:
- CRIME SCENES
- MISADVENTURE TRAVELS
- THE SEX FILES
- STRANGE CELEBRITIES
- CREATURE FEATURES
- THE SUPERNATURAL
- DIRECTORY OF THE BIZARRE
- MISADVENTURE TRAVELS
1. Behind the Bars of the Bangkok Hiltons
Through interviews with inmates, the prison director, foreign philanthropists and the former executioner, as well as an examination of torture instruments in a Bangkok museum, a century’s worth of crime and capital punishment in ancient Siam and modern-day Thailand goes on trial.
2. Pattaya: The Vegas of Vice?
Thailand’s most bipolar city attracts a motley crew of international criminals and sleazy degenerates, but it’s also been the scene of the biggest gathering of protestors lobbying to protect women against violence and it’s home to a gang of foreign bikers who ride for a children’s charity.
3. Museum of the Macabre: See Uey the Chinese Cannibal
The preserved corpse of Thailand’s most notorious serial slayer is on display at the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum in Bangkok. His wretched life and unspeakable crimes are autopsied in this true crime tale.
4. A Night in the Lives of the Corpse Collectors
This chapter documents a hair-raising night I spent travelling around with the charity foundation, investigating murder scenes and accidents, while listening to their stories of horror, gallows humour and bravery in the line of duty.
1. From Ayuthaya to Bangkok: A Bizarre Expat Odyssey
Ever since the days of Ayuthaya, when the Siamese city surrounded by a natural moat of three rivers outshone Paris and London, earning the nickname the “Venice of the Far East,” the kingdom has pulled into its orbit adventurers, merchants, authors like Graham Greene and mass murderers like Charles Sobhraj (aka the “Bikini Killer”.)
2. Weekend Warriors: Military Training for Tourists
The protests of 2010 and the military reprisals that led to a body count of 90 calibrated the love and loathing Thais have always had for the army. The story leapfrogs from the protests to the famous war movies shot in Thailand like The Deer Hunter to the military training programmes for travellers, where you can shoot an M-16, learn how to ward off cobra attacks and jump from a parachute tower with the Royal Thai Airborne.
3. Double Lives: In Search of the Siamese Twins
Dubbed by PT Barnum as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” Siam’s most famous citizens performed astonishing acrobatics for packed houses around the world, siring 21 children with a pair of American sisters and inspiring novels, plays and widespread repulsion. This is a bio-sketch and travel tale of their incredible lives.
3. Country & Eastern: Home on the Dude Ranch
At Asia’s only cowboys and Indians theme resort, guests stay in rooms decorated with Wild West motifs, housed in buildings that look like a jail, a saloon and a blacksmith’s shop. The main drags in the resort are based on a real 19th-century ghost town in Nevada.
1. The Black Sex Magician of the Body Politic
Where else in the world would a black magician get arrested for grilling a stillborn fetus in order to produce a powerful baby ghost, and then become a talk-show celebrity, political advisor and lady-killer who slept with hundreds of women so they could improve their powers of seduction through sex magic?
2. Empowering Sex Workers
Located in the middle of Bangkok’s tenderloin for tourists, EMPOWER is one of the few NGOs in Asia which advocates that sex work is a genuine form of employment for women. They have started community radio stations, set up a go-go bar at an international AIDS conference and, in Chiang Mai, started what could be the world’s only bar run by and for sex workers.
3. A Cross-Section of the Third Gender
Thailand’s third sex has come out of the closet in recent years, thanks to the first transgendered pop group and the famous kick-boxer whose remarkable life and career became the basis of the biopic Beautiful Boxer. You can also meet the grand dame of Bangkok’s transgendered underworld and a young streetwalker who suffered an agonizing sex change operation.
4. Erecting a Tribute to a Fertility Goddess
Thai vendors put them at the bottom of their plastic, money baskets to reap a greater cash harvest; some men wear belts strung with them under their trousers as a kind of supernatural Viagra; magazines devoted to amulets advertise miniature ones carved from ivory; monks will bless them for you; and tucked away behind the Nai Lert Park Swissotel in Bangkok is a shrine studded with them. As far as personal encounters with the supernatural go, this is as strange as it’s ever gotten.
1.The Art of Bizarre Architecture
How does an architect design a building according to the principles of Picasso’s Cubist artworks and base a 20-storey edifice on his son’s toy robot? And how does a child hiding out in a bunker first become inspired to paint military equipment while Bangkok was being bombed by Allied forces during World War II? Meet Dr. Sumet Jumsai, a globally renowned Renaissance man, caustic social critic and a personal friend of renegade filmmaker Roman Polanski.
2. The Angel and She-Devil of Bang Kwang Central Prison
For the last 30 years, Susan Aldous has been a a guardian angel to many: refugees and pimps, battered women, disabled children and the foreign inmates of the biggest maximum-security jail in Thailand.
3. The Scorpion Queen and Centipede King
The country’s most infamous freak-show performers since the original Siamese twins are Guinness Record-holders, who still perform twice-daily shows at the Snake Farm on the island of Koh Samui.
4. Thailand’s First Lady of Forensics
This profile gets down to the bare bones of Dr. Pornthip’s grisliest work in the backwash of the Asian tsunami when the doctor and her team had to identity some 5,000 victims in a makeshift morgue laid out on the grounds of a Buddhist temple and the most controversial killings during the protests of 2010. It also examines the “forensic phenomenon” of shows like CSI and the mega-selling author and crime-fighter Kathy Reichs whom was interviewed in Bangkok.
1. Going Ape in Simian City
In Lopburi, the city’s 1,000-plus population of macaques is seen as both miscreants and mascots. The world’s first Monkey Hospital, located in the city’s zoo, provides first aid and re-training for rogue primates while sex offenders are castrated. The hospital is also pioneering the first programme of its kind for macaques to help the blind.
2. In the Glass Ring with Fighting Fish
Interviews with gamblers, breeders, fanciers and a Thai exporter of Siamese fighting fish who once served as the “scientific advisor” for a Discovery Channel programme on them, give readers a ringside seat at the millennium-old fish fights, an ancient blood sport played all over Southeast Asia.
3. The Water Buffalo’s Tombstone
On the outskirts of Bangkok an abbot at Buffalo Head Temple is constructing a pagoda out of 10,000 buffalo skulls to honour these beasts of burden that once served as the mounts for Siamese soldiers to ride into battle. Also featured is the first bovine cinema celebrity who starred in the period piece Oliver Stone presented and American critics praised as “the Saving Private Ryan of ancient Siam”.
4. Reptilian Ménage à Trois
Only in the country’s northeast are you likely to find towns where locals breed snakes, and tortoises deemed sacred mate in the streets and are treated like house pets. Khon Kaen is also a dinosaur’s graveyard with excavation pits in a national park, where some monstrous species were first discovered in Thailand.
1. Modern Primitives and Ancient Shamans
Arguably the most macabre event in all of Southeast Asia, this nine-day vegetarian festival on Phuket features possessed spirit mediums piercing their faces with everything from swordfish to BMX bicycles, for a large contingent of pierced and tattooed backpackers and members of the fetish community from the “Modern Primitives” movement. Separated by centuries, two subcultures meet and mate at Asia’s grisliest celebration of Taoist Lent.
2. Oral Hexes and Shock Airwaves
Quite possibly the only radio show in the world devoted to tales of the supernatural, Bangkok’s Shock FM has built up an audience of 100,000 listeners per night since its first broadcast in 1992. You can also visit the host’s Shock Pub and Restaurant in Bangkok to sample some of its specialties like fried snakehead fish served in a tiny black coffin and see the Shock Gallery where viewers gape at photos of supposed spectres sent in by listeners.
3. Nang Nak: The Ghost of Thailand’s Past
Nak’s legend has been brought to the big screen more than twenty times – including the latest version by a British writer and director – winning her comparisons to Dracula. She’s both dark and sexy. Every day, hundreds of devotees visit her shrine behind a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Why do so many people come to worship a multiple murderess?
4. Funeral Rites: The Thai Way of Death
Through three very different funerals – one in the countryside and two of friends and fellow writers in Bangkok – the most taboo of topics, and its many bizarre rituals, is unburied.
A useful rundown of addresses, visiting hours and websites for all of the different attractions and festivals listed in the book to smooth out the speed bumps for travellers on the road in Thailand or when they’re planning a trip.