'Bangkok 8' author John Burdett talks to bar girls ... and everyone else in town
John Burdett has made a living off Bangkok's notoriously twisted underbelly. The British-born author has written three popular thrillers based in the capital -- "Bangkok 8," "Bangkok Tattoo" and "Bangkok Haunts." Each follows Thai police detective Sonchai Jitplecheep as he sets out to solve various murders in some of Bangkok's scuzziest corners. The latest book in the series, "The Godfather of Kathmandu," will be published in January, 2010.
The books have earned critical acclaim for their realistic portrayals of Bangkok's dark side -- as well as their thorough examination of Thai culture. We spoke with Burdett about Buddhism, bar girls and the unique qualities that make Bangkok such a rich environment for fiction.
CNNGo: What do you love most about Bangkok?
I have been visiting Bangkok for more than 20 years. I first started coming here in 1984 on R & R from Hong Kong and loved it immediately. It was a different city then, far more laid-back and exotic.
CNNGo: How is Bangkok different from other Asian cities?
It's really Hong Kong that is different. The only place similar to Hong Kong is Singapore and for the same reason: the British empire. Bangkok has evolved without too much help from the Raj.
CNNGo: How should outsiders who want to better understand Bangkok get to know the city?
CNNGo: Describe your ideal day in Bangkok
In the afternoon and early evening I often visit old friends who have provided me with most of the stories for my books -- of course I am talking about Soi Cowboy and Nana. Later I will often have a meal with a close friend, go home to my girlfriend and watch TV until we go to bed.
An ideal day is also a typical day for me. I'm a very lucky man.
CNNGo: Why is Bangkok often associated with its red light districts when there's so much more to the city?
Ninety percent of Thais are Buddhist, but that is not the same as saying that many Westerners are Christian. Most Thais leave school at age 15 or 16, at best; many in effect stop going to school after age 10. The result is that Buddhism is the only overview they have, the only means of interpreting the world. To them everything is to do with karma, patience, tolerance and freedom from mental slavery.
To understand what you are seeing in Bangkok, you have to bear this huge cultural difference in mind. That way the whole city opens up, whether red light districts or temples or whatever.
CNNGo:What are some of your favorite Bangkok hangouts?
CNNGo: Does Bangkok still inspire you?