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‘Bangkok is a beautiful mess.’

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Feature by Caroline Clements

When Thai designer and illustrator Pomme Chan returned home to Bangkok after 10 years in London, a lot had changed. Social media had taken off, the city was morphing, and a dynamic creative scene was emerging.

Inspired by the Thai capital's rising dynamism and bubbling creativity, Pomme launched Happy People Studio. This saw her lucid, color-pop drawings appear on billboards and magazine covers the world over for brands such as Nike, Marc Jacobs and UNIQLO. She then founded home decor line Swoon, further harnessing Bangkok’s inspiring energy and becoming part of the fabric of the city’s electric creative scene. We chat with Pomme about how big cities inspire her, the evolving creative precincts in the hectic but intoxicating capital and her Travel Playbook for Bangkok.

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On growing up in Bangkok

I was born in Bangkok in the first generation of Gen Y. I grew up seeing both of my parents working, which inspired me to be a working woman. My mom worked for Thai Airways, and she stayed at the same company for about 40 years. At the time I thought my mom was super cool. Whereas my dad is like a tiger, everything had to be scheduled. So my life was quite stressful when I was a kid. I read manga to escape, which then inspired me to draw.

On finding your way to London

I studied interior design in Thailand. My dad’s business is in property development so I thought that somehow it could relate. But after I finished the course, I knew I didn’t want to be an interior designer — it’s too serious for me. I started to move towards graphic design and illustration. We didn’t really have much internet or social media. Thailand was still a developing nation at the time. It was really hard to get noticed. But I had an internship at an interior design company in Thailand. When I was in my third year, I liked having a nap after lunch every day. I realized this work was not what I wanted to do. I spent a lot of time in bookshops and the books I picked up and bought were mostly graphic design and illustration from the UK. So, I decided to go to London.

On moving to London for 10 years

I went to London in 2002. The plan was to study and then after two years, I still felt there was a lot more in London that I wanted to explore. There were some tough times, but I ended up living in London for 10 years. I really started my career there.

After a decade living in the UK, Pomme returned home to join the emerging creative community in Bangkok. Harnessing her global mindset and knowledge of local artisans, Pomme founded design studio Happy People and home decor line Swoon. Pop into Swoon to pick up some of Pomme’s work. First photo of Bangkok skyline by Sua Truong, remaining images courtesy of Pomme Chan.

On moving home to Thailand

I love London — I got married there, I felt like a local. But I was missing my friends back home in Bangkok, and I wanted to have my own place. I hadn't thought about starting a studio until I moved back. There was a lot of commercial work coming in, so much that I needed an assistant. It started from having one assistant to two, then three, then four, and then we formed the studio.

‘Bangkok is a beautiful mess. But people who live here are happy. They find little ways for small happiness. Maybe it’s because we have great food, this helps a lot in uplifting everyone's mood.’

On how Bangkok had changed

It had changed quite a bit. Before I left, we didn’t really have social media at all, and our internet was still super slow. Thai people, they look to the culture in the UK, America or Tokyo. These places were the trendsetters in 2002. When I came back in 2014, everyone had Instagram and Facebook, and things were moving much quicker. There were trendy places that everyone knew about, and some secret places that everyone wanted to know about. And before Covid, events were the big game.

On finding happiness in Bangkok

Bangkok is a beautiful mess. Nothing works properly here — in terms of the government or the street signs on the road — nothing actually works as a system, or as it should. But people who live here are happy. It's weird. I think Thai people are quick to be happy. They find little ways for small happiness. Maybe it’s because we have great food, this helps a lot in uplifting everyone's mood. I think you can easily be happy here.

Bangkok has always been a vibrant source of creative inspiration for Pomme. It’s these notions of home that help inspire some of Pomme’s work and see her create pieces that transform city streets, buildings and galleries across the capital. All images courtesy of Pomme Chan.

On travel as inspiration for your work

When you go to places you've never been it's easier to get excited and keep your eyes wide open. But sometimes I like to go back to the same places, especially the big cities like Tokyo and New York. I love returning to them. New York gives me energy. Everyone talks to you, when you're in the elevator or in a taxi. Americans are very friendly. That energy makes you feel like anything could happen.

‘Thai people combat stress with humor. It's pretty hard to live without a sense of humor in Thailand.’

On the excitement of big cities

In a big city, I can just walk. In Bangkok we don’t really have pavement, and in our culture no one walks, everyone drives — that’s why it’s so polluted. But in most big cities I can walk. That is the way I am going to enjoy it, by walking and seeing things, seeing people and listening to the sounds of their city. I love going to India for that reason. The noise is incredible — cars beeping everywhere, incredible architecture, people dressing colorfully. That inspires me.

On a sense of humor in Thai culture

The gap between the poor and the rich in Thailand is big. There's a lot of stress and there's a lot of disappointment. Thai people combat this with humor. We turn those pains or things that are seriously wrong into something funny or sarcastic, even if it’s an important issue. It's pretty hard to live without a sense of humor in Thailand.

Creativity and artistry has long been part of the Thai culture, and the ongoing rise of contemporary creatives in the capital sees this historical nuance merge with modern flourish. One of the best times to visit the city and witness this creative energy, according to Pomme, is during Bangkok Design Week. First image on a speedboat crossing the Chao Phraya River and next two images of Talat Noi courtesy of Bangkok River, fourth and fifth image courtesy of Thailand Creative and Design Center, final image of Pomme’s home balcony courtesy of Pomme Chan.

On exploring the creativity of the Charoenkrung district

In the past five years Charoenkrung district has been developed quite a lot. It used to be an old area with old shops, a bit of this and that, some food stores on the street. But over the past five years, it's been developed by a group of creative people and they have turned it into a creative district. There are some small galleries and some new pop-up restaurants and cafés, and they have the Thailand Creative and Design Center. There’s a big library for young creatives to start sourcing out new materials, textiles and activities. If I have to compare, it is probably like the Lower East Side in New York, or in Brooklyn, where some small studios have moved from central Bangkok and started over there. It's a pretty new and exciting area, especially when they have Bangkok Design Week. Also, in the same area there is The Jam Factory that usually has some independent art exhibitions and bookstores alongside Warehouse 30 Art and Creative Space.

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‘Talat Noi is another changing area, still full of local people. Creatives are trying to make it better, make it more arty, so they’ve started doing wall paintings to communicate with the older residents.’

On the best street art and rooftop views

Talat Noi is really close to Charoenkrung. It’s another changing area, still full of local people. Creatives are trying to make it better, make it more arty, so they’ve started doing wall paintings to communicate with the older residents and people in the area. There’s some tea shops that I really like in those areas. It’s actually like a hidden gem for me, because every time I go I visit a rooftop bar. It’s one of the best spots in Bangkok to see the riverside and take a look over the whole city.

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On showing a friend around Bangkok

First I will go to my showroom in the morning, when the light is nice. Then I'd take them to lunch somewhere — I’d ask them if they want street food or glamorous food. I love street food, perhaps some dark noodles. Then I’d take them to the Old Town, which has now become like a creative area, especially around Talat Noi. There are lots of cool shops and galleries hiding in the streets. There’s a lot of culture in those areas. We’d visit a museum or gallery. Then I’d take my friend on a speedboat, like a taxi boat. You can cross the Chao Phraya River to the other side and go to the temple or head out for dinner. I'd probably take them for a view of the river from the rooftop of the Sala hotel at sunset.

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On a window or an aisle seat

Aisle seat. I prefer to have access to the walkway and not get too claustrophobic.

On Bangkok in one word

Beautiful mess. 


Two words. We don’t have good city planning, so it’s just a mess, but somehow people can live with this, and gradually it has become part of the city’s landscape. It just works.


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‘Bangkok just keeps getting better and better.’