From temples and ancient ruins to street vendors with decrepit carts and old trucks pumping out fumes darker than burning coal, at times, certainly in rural Thailand, the Land of Smiles still feels like something out of the middle of the last century – until you see a Big C or student with an iPhone, that is.
Humour aside, Thailand has changed drastically in the last 20 years, let alone the last 100. Deforestation, urbanisation and, of course, the ever-expanding tourism industry have erased many of the memories that most of us are sadly too young to remember anyway.
But while time travel has yet to be invented, a magical portal called YouTube has given us the opportunity to enjoy the next best thing. So join me as we travel back through the decades and take a look at old Thailand through the lens of 10 amazing videos.
1. Bangkok in the 70s
If it weren’t for the 1970s styled vehicles, one might never guess that this video of Bangkok was taken nearly 40 years ago. From 1977 to 2016, Bangkok doesn’t seem to have changed much and, except for bigger traffic jams, more shopping malls and more expats , one might say, as the Thais do, that the city is, “same same, but different.”
You will still find the beautiful Wat Arun (currently under construction) overlooking the canals, and Wat Phra Kaew (Grand Palace) looking as beautiful as ever.
2. Phuket in the 80s
Though the music is slightly horrific, any of you who have ever been to Patong Beach or Bangla Road know how much things have changed since in the 28 years since this home video.
Now seeping with tourists and expats, this area of Phuket used to be nothing more than a quiet beach town, whereas now there is rarely a spot to move on the foreigner-infested beach. And Bangla Road is … well, it’s different. This video will make you wish you could travel back to the eighties to enjoy it in its prime.
3. Thai High-Society in 1919
This time capsule delivers a glimpse into the social interactions of Thai high society back in 1919. This fascinating black and white video shows a number of staple cultural courtesies that still exist today, including taking shoes off before entering homes, and wai’ing one another in greeting, out of respect and when making an exit.
4. Chiang Mai in 1984
Chiang Mai is one of the most refreshing cities in Thailand. It is less touristy than Bangkok, mountainous and temperatures can drop to single digits from December to February.
This video begins in a more rural part of Chiang Mai, typically filled with laughing children, stray dogs and roosters. It then sets off to show a much younger Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, one of Chiang Mai’s most visited temples, along with others that scatter the mountainous countryside.
5. Koh Samui in 1987
Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui has changed a hell of a lot since this home video was taken in 1987. This less commercialised version of the popular island may be lacking tourists, but it is certainly not lacking scenery.
While hotels right down to the sand is definitely convenient, it is hard not to appreciate what Chaweng Beach was like 28 years ago. I can, however, appreciate newly paved roads as opposed to dirt ones, especially when exploring on my moped.
6. Siam in the 1940s
Thailand was given its name on July 20th, 1948, but before that it was known as Siam. In this video we get a glimpse of Siam during the rule of Field Marshall Plaek Pibunsongkram.
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew make yet another appearance in this video dated back to the 1940s, and also Victory Monument, which today is one of the most popular transportation hubs in Bangkok.
7. A Pattaya Slideshow: 1960-1990
The Playboy Disco Club and Bunny Club seen in this photo slideshow are probably gone (perhaps someone can enlighten me); at the very least the flashing neon signs and dancers have moved on.
The photos, however, still have all of the present day “Pattaya qualities” that make this city one of the biggest tourist destinations in Thailand, including the epic facial hair on the men drinking beer at an outdoor bar.
8. Pattaya Slide Show 2
For those trying to avoid fellow foreigners in Pattaya, one must travel almost 60 years back in time. You’ll be hard pushed to see a hooker on Beach Road in this video, or an elephant being pulled down a sidewalk to entertain tourists for cash.
Sleaze and animal exploitation aside, one of this video’s most recognisable features is of Khao Pattaya View Point on Pratumnak Hill, and the lack of selfie snappers certainly makes for a better view.
9. North Eastern Thailand (Isaan) 1977
This educational video offers a really interesting glimpse at life in North Eastern Thailand in the 70s.
While much of the region has undergone massive regeneration in the last 36 years, including the arrival of Tescos, big cinemas, retail parks and decent roads, outside of the major cities there are still people living in fairly similar circumstances today, though with more clothes on and a smartphone in hand.
10. Bangkok Sidewalks in 1965
We finish up our time travel on the streets of Bangkok, and it’s clear not all things get more beautiful with age. This video shot in 1965 shows just how less crowded, both on the sidewalks and streets, Bangkok was just a mere 50 years ago.
Love them or hate them, those strange, three-legged taxis, otherwise known at tuk-tuks, still race around the city; “20 Baht, go anywhere you want”!