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Rock Around Asia, the story of a motorbike trip

7 months riding Southeast Asian dirty roads as a first motorbike experience

On 25 March 2010, while I was flying from Paris to Hanoi, Vietnam, with the delightful prospect of taking a tour of Asia with a backpack and a camera, I couldn’t imagine that I was going to buy a motorcycle seven days after arriving and without ever having ridden a motorcycle before. I also couldn’t imagine that, ten months after my departure, I would settle in Bangkok, Thailand, to develop a cultural concept there. What an adventure, what a turnaround; this is what makes like so exciting.

Rock Around Asia is thus at the beginning of this trip taken in motorcycle through Vietnam, then Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia and, later, Myanmar. The fact of having bought this motorcycle at the beginning of my journey would alter all my plans. By going off the beaten path, I encountered many artists and artisans, each one more gifted than the other, who gave me the idea of Rock Around Asia.

Thanks to these beautiful and decisive meetings, I chose to settle in Bangkok, Thailand seven months later to tell the story of this journey through an art gallery. Rock Around Asia opened its doors in October 2011, on the eve of the historical floods that threatened the capital and caused countless damages throughout the entire country.

Describing Bangkok isn’t easy since there’s an abrupt border that separates the ancient city that contains the entire history of the Thai capital all by itself from the modern city symbolized by its buildings, its ostentatious wealth and its ubiquitous slums, its deviances and its excesses. Beyond all these paradoxes and contrasts, whether fortunate or not, Bangkok is a mirror city where light shines without pity, compassion or concession over all the dark areas of the human race.

Bangkok? Love it or hate it! As you get away from Sukhumvit and Silom to approach the Chaophraya river, in the old town in this case, the heartbeat of Bangkok becomes faster and you start to feel the entire richness of the more than two centuries of a turbulent and spiritual history. The whole genius of Thais is to have been able to preserve this historical hamlet from modern threats (or almost).

Walking in Bangkok is equivalent to forging a path between angels and demons, between virgins and whores, between old and sometimes picturesque culinary traditions and Western fast-food restaurants, between slums and the luxury of modern buildings, between reptiles and streptococci, staphylococci and other Koch bacilli. Nothing is more natural in Bangkok.

Bangkok: a grotesque metropolis with an immutable binary cycle: twelve hours of daytime and twelve hours of nighttime, in nearly permanent and sometimes stifling heat; nothing ever stops and yet everything starts again all the time. In Bangkok, watches melt away and time melts away with them.

Bewitched by this megalopolis and its past, I wanted to tell the story of Bangkok’s rise through its two centuries of history (or a bit more), by going against the routes that are constantly being offered and against myths, legends and other handed-down ideas.

I dreamed of a chic shock, an urban adventure, a vibrating tribute to this country that has always managed to stay free thanks to the skill of its Kings and the courage and kindness of its people. I wanted to demonstrate that the average stay in Bangkok (2 to 3 days) is deceiving and that Bangkok and Thais deserve better than all this shallowness.

Following a long reflection, we identified six major themes that, taken together, give Bangkok all its consistency. From these six themes, which are the Urban Jungle, the Water and Origins, Chinatown, National Heritage, Arts and Culture and, finally, Spirituality, we derived a six-day journey through hand-picked educational routes.

But a hedonistic component to this cultural journey was necessary; some sort of everyday reward that would relieve heavily mobilized intellect. This resulted in the idea of staying six nights in these six marvelous boutique hotels, the history of each being related to the theme of the day’s visit. This completed the circle.

From Rock Around Asia to Rock Around Bangkok there’s only been one step that we took decisively, like Rama I, the first Thai king of the Chakkri Dynasty, who decided to transfer the capital located in Thonburi, on the right bank of the Chaophraya, to the east, on the other side, in 1782. At the same time as the Burmese threat was leaving to never return, Bangkok was reborn from the ashes of Ayutthaya.

Eric Monteil