Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Laure Siegel’s Hong Kong dossier at ARTE TV

Just spent a mad week in Hong Kong, following ARTE correspondent Laure Siegel conducting interviews  with ten residents on the imminent 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from the colonial Britishers to the Chinese, for ARTE TV.

Check out the Hong Kong Dossier here. My portraits are in the vignettes of Témoignages : les voix de Hong-Kong.

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia in The Nikkei Asian Review

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia – Creative training offers an alternative lifestyle for young performers

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — It is a stiflingly hot Friday evening in Siem Reap, western Cambodia. The big top is packed, and there is an air of excitement as 300 or so spectators squeeze onto narrow wooden benches. Backstage, the artists are getting ready.

The lights dim, and the audience falls silent. Traditional Khmer music emanates from the darkness. A blue light appears above the performance area as 12 actors kneel in a circle, ready to launch into “Eclipse,” a highly physical and beautifully performed reflection on Cambodian village life, rejection and the gods. Seconds later, bodies glide and fly through the air in gravity-defying stunts that are a mixture of spectacle and narrative.

As Cambodia continues to wrestle with its tragic history and current dysfunctional governance — mass bombing by the U.S. in the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge communist revolution and genocide in the 1970s, civil war in the 1980s and 1990s and subsequent political dominance by authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen — foreign acclaim for the impoverished Southeast Asian kingdom has been rare…

Ralf Tooten talks Bangkok Noir

German photographer Ralf Tooten talks to me about his best selling photo book Bangkok Noir at

Read the interview here.

Photograph by Laure Siegel.

Interview by Sonia Kilvington

I am interviewed this week by crime writer Sonia Kilvington on all things Crime Wave Press and my two Detective Maier mysteries, The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with the Golden Mind.

I first came to Cambodia in 1995, illegally on a speed boat from Trat to Koh Kong. Someone wrote that Cambodia is the most dangerous country in the world, first you fall in live with it and then it breaks your heart. Someone else had told me that a kilo of weed was one US$ in Cambodia. I wanted to find out whether either was true. And it was, and there was more…

Read the full interview here.


Bangkok’s Chinatown at heart of heritage battle in The Nikkei Asian Review

Activists take on government over plans to transform culturally-rich area.

My latest on the continued cultural impoverishment of Bangkok with Laure Siegel in The Nikkei Asian Review this week.

BANGKOK — It is Friday night and Soi Nana is ablaze with lights. Most of the shop houses that line this 400-meter-long road in Bangkok’s Chinatown have thrown their doors open. A photo exhibition about migrant workers is opening at Cho Why, a cultural center in a beautifully restored corner house. Further down the road, Victor Hierro and Sudaporn Sae-ia are serving cocktails at El Chiriguito, a popular Spanish tapas bar. “I badly wanted to live in Chinatown,” says Barcelona-born Hierro. “One day, a friend showed me all the empty houses on this street. The rent was cheap. The house we chose had not been inhabited for 20 years. Most Thai people don’t want to move into these houses because they are old and full of ghosts.”…

Read the full story here.

Interview by Fiona McVie

I’ve been interviewed by Fiona McVie about my life as a writer. And here’s me with my friend and fellow Crime Wave Press owner Hans Kemp.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

Just finished The Butterfly by James M Cain, about a man sleeping with his daughter. Not perhaps in the league as his other work, but still gripping. Also just read Hollywood by Charles Bukowski which I loved for its happy tone. America can be so great. And I just finished Because the Night by James Elroy which I disliked profoundly, because Elroy moves in a personal never-world of right wing vigilantism, anger towards minorities and loathing towards free thinkers that I don’t share. Yes, he writes well, but so do lots of other people who aren’t bigoted.

Read the full interview here.

Photo by Laure Siegel.

The Travels of Marco Yolo: Blazing Trails where Marco Polo Feared to Go


My friend Marco Ferrarese has published his latest and very very cool travel anthology, The Travels of Marco Yolo: Blazing Trails where Marco Polo Feared to Go.
It’s a great read that jumps all over Asia and the Middle East, including some pretty obscure and remote corners, proving that good travel writing survives among all the tepidly commercial literary terror out there.
Marco asked me to write the foreword, so here’s a short extract, conceived to aggrandize myself while riding the Ferrari crazy train…
“I first met Marco Ferrari in a flash Bangkok shopping centre, the type of soul-sucking consumerist hell we both detested. He’d emailed me asking to meet on his forthcoming jaunt to Thailand. Apparently he felt I was some kind of role model, being a German writer working in English who’d managed to scratch a living from my craft for the previous couple of decades. I took one look at his literary anarchist blog – Monkey Rock World – and thought, fuck, this guy likes all the things I like. That was a huge shock. I had to do something.
I told him that his career choice was awful, that freelance journalists were generally treated like shit and didn’t get paid properly and that fiction writing was a mug’s game for romantic losers. That was then of course. These days, things are much better. Journalists are now well respected and well funded. Writers are finally getting rich. Society now understands that without investigative, meaningful articles and great fiction, barbarism is never far away. I now employ sumo wrestlers to heat the gold plated pool on cool mornings and to cool it down on hot ones. They do that with their tongues, somehow…”

And the rather excellent cover is by Rizo Leong from the formidable Borneo based Pangrok Sulap art collective.

Crime Wave Press at Partners in Crime Radio – 1pm EST

The Death of Bangkok’s Amazing Streetfood in The Daily Telegraph

My thoughts on the imminent demise of Bangkok’s incredibly varied, often delicious and pretty cheap streetfood in today’s Daily Telegraph.

“Since the May 2014 military coup, Bangkok has been gradually changing from a chaotic, bustling happy-go-lucky south-east Asian capital with a hedonistic bent into an increasingly drab and orderly bargain basement version of Singapore,” said Tom Vater, our Bangkok expert.

“Street food lies at the heart of this development. The more than 20,000 street food vendors who currently face eviction have long been one of the city’s major attractions and Bangkok is regularly cited as one of the world’s street food capitals.

“Nonetheless, cleanliness issues, control and security concerns are the ruling military junta’s priority and so all street food must go. The vendors have not been offered adequate alternatives and the hundreds of thousands of poor who make the city run – from cleaners to taxi drivers – will no longer be able to afford to eat in downtown Bangkok.

“The tragedy is twofold – tourists will no longer enjoy delicious, cheap eats and Bangkok’s hardest working people will be pushed out of the city. What this will do to public and private services in the long run is anyone’s guess.”



Bangkok’s ‘motorcycle mamas’ roar into men’s world – in the Nikkei Asian Review

My latest article with Laure Siegel in the Nikkei Asian Review looks at how women enter the motorcycle taxi workforce in Bangkok, a traditionally male bastion. With fewer and fewer job opportunities for unskilled Thai women, riding a motorcycle taxi remains one profession that promises a degree of independence and freedom.

Read Bangkok’s ‘motorcycle mamas’ roar into men’s world here.