Soi 22

Why I Walk

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Boy Scouts walking down Sukhumvit Soi 22
Boy Scouts walking down Sukhumvit Soi 22

I walk a lot in Bangkok. Not as much as I did in Phoenix, where I walked at least 9.5 kilometers a day, when I was walking for exercise, but a lot. I think I probably walk five to eight kilometers a day here.

I’m a bit of a fanatic about it. When I’m going somewhere, I walk to the nearest Skytrain or subway station and I walk home from the train afterwards. When I get to the station nearest my destination, if my final destination is walkable, I walk to it. All of those strolls add up. When I go out to eat, I walk to where ever I’m going. Sometimes it’s just a block or two, sometimes it’s three or four kilometers.

The only problem is Bangkok is not an especially easy city to walk in. The sidewalks, when there are sidewalks, are frequently blocked by vendors’ carts or ripped up for construction. Some streets are too narrow to have sidewalks so you walk in the right of way while cars and motorcycles zip around you. On the main streets, where traffic is dreadful, motorcycles use the sidewalks endangering both pedestrians and motorcyclists. And then there’s the weather. It’s always hot and humid. Always. Miami and New Orleans get winter breaks, in Bangkok it’s a big deal when the daily high drops from 35C (95F) to 32C (90F). Bangkok in January is like New Orleans in August. Ugh.

Most of my friends think I’m nuts. Taxis are plentiful and cheap. It costs $10US to get across Bangkok in a taxi. They’re air conditioned and clean. Which is great. But I believe the only way you really see a city is to walk it.

I usually carry a full kit when I go out walkabout (I am here to make pictures after all) but even when I go shopping or out for dinner I carry my little Panasonic GX1 and a couple of lenses.

Alex Webb, perhaps one of the finest street photographers practicing the craft today, has a terrific quote about walking, “I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch…

Which brings me back to the Boy Scouts at the top of the page. I was walking to the subway to get across town for a news event. I saw the Boy Scouts coming toward me on the opposite side of the street. I ran out into the street and made three or four frames as they marched by. If I had been in a taxi or on a motorscooter I wouldn’t have made this photo. And that would have been a shame because it’s probably my favorite from the day.