Thailand’s present prime minister, an ex- military general who took on the task of governing this complex country just over six months ago, has been quoted as saying he would like to see Bangkok become the “Dubai of the East”. Judging by the number of sky scrapers and shopping centers cropping up all over the city I am guessing he was serious about this ‘off the cuff’ remark. Then again perhaps it’s a fluke or a case of be careful what you wish for as it may come true. Whatever the reason, Bangkok is starting to look like a world class city.
Thailand is not an ideal place to be at the end of March or the month of April. Being so close to the equator in the midst of summer means temperatures in the high 30’s with extremely high humidity. I definitely wasn’t looking forward to returning after having at least a few ocean breezes and the beach in Koh Lanta. However, to my surprise, I was more comfortable here than I was on the island.
I know it doesn’t make sense so I feel I must come up with an explanation for such a ridiculous turn of events. Or perhaps you might have already guessed why this is so. Bangkok like all cosmopolitan cities in Asia is concerned about its popularity as a leading tourist destination so it’s crucial for them to keep the tourists coming this time of the year in spite of the heat. Their solution is to air condition the whole city especially the places where tourists are apt to go. We can leave the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel rooms for the air-conditioned sky train and subway which can take us quickly and cheaply to the numerous air-conditioned shopping malls conveniently located at strategic stops. Once you decide which of the many shopping centres you want to go to, you can easily spend the whole day there eating, doing your blog as I am doing in one of the many cafes, take in a movie, be lucky enough to come across some form of entertainment, skate, bowl or shop! Isn’t that what they are for, or should I say WERE for? Seems like most people are there for the same reason as me and that is to keep cool and at the same time enjoy the atmosphere, people watch, catch up on our E-mails, and eat. Shopping is secondary activity except for well-heeled Thai but certainly not for tourists like me on a budget.
I am staying once again at my old haunt – the Atlanta Hotel on Sukhumvit Road, the longest street in the city. I am smack dab in the midst of the exclusive, high-end shopping malls, such as the trio of Siams which draw hoards of people. There is Siam Paragon for serious shoppers and foodies. Here you can take in a movie or see a concert in the theatre. Andre Bocelli, that wonderful Italian opera singer is performing here this week. Siam Centre is the latest addition to this huge complex catering to the youmger set with trendy merchandise, cake/coffee shops galore, and packed with students. The third member of this group is Siam Discovery where Madame Tusseau’s wax museum is housed. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the Aquarium located in the Paragon which is another huge draw.
Then there is Central World, the largest shopping mall in SE Asia. If you follow the rather bizarre politics in Thailand, you may remember that this was the mall which was torched by the Red Shirts a few years ago. It’s been rebuilt and is now bigger and better than it ever was. It is not so upscale so draws more middle class shoppers looking for good buys. This one has a skating rink which the Thai kids really love. Just a few blocks from Central are a couple of smaller centers such as the very upscale Gaysom centre always beautifully decorated, never very busy but always fun to look at. I have yet to put my foot in any of them. This year I discovered yet another mall called Central Embassy just a short walk from my hotel. This one out classes all the others in its modern design and types of stores. It has a store that only sells champagne. It has little tables where you can sit and sip it by the glass. Business was rather slow when I walked by so I guess this hasn’t caught on yet.
My most exciting discovery was another huge centre which apparently has been around for awhile but is now becoming a favourite with Thai and tourists alike. Terminal 21 is located at the Asok sky train stop. As shoppers enter, they are immediately transported into an international airport with gates (in this case escalators) taking visitors to some of the world’s most exciting cities. I visited them all the day I spent there – Rome, Istanbul, Paris, London, and San Francisco. This was without a doubt one of the most creative malls I have ever seen. Each level represents one of the cities with tiny streets radiating outwards from a central court. My favourite was London. There was the British bobby, Carnaby Street, the red, double decker bus, and the telephone booths. The only piece missing was British food. This was true of all the cities on all the levels. Here the creativity was lost as all the food options were similar to what you would find in any Bangkok mall. How great if the mall planners had some how got restaurants to offer foods representative of the city they were in.
Spending three days checking out Bangkok’s exclusive shopping malls is not my preferred way of visiting this city but for this time of year it was the answer for me. I would have liked to have ventured down to the Chao Pra River and stayed there as I did in December. The Uma Residence was out of the question this time as they no longer were offering their promotion special putting it beyond my budget. I have stayed at the Atlanta every year so it has become almost a second home. It’s still within my budget, comfortable, and does have a swimming pool which also helped to keep me cool. However, the real plus was that it put me so close to the sky train and all the shopping centres which really helped me cope with the heat.
I took too many pictures of my days at these malls which I still can’t post with this article. However, I will be posting some on Facebook for anyone who uses it. Betty Wright on Facebook should do it.