Thailand, Summer 2004

This is an account of my trip to Bangkok in July and August, 2005. I wrote it in five "chapters." Click one of the links to jump to an individual chapter or back to the photos page: 1 2 3 4 5 Photos Home


Chapter 3

Shopping in Bangkok is an adventure.  Prices can vary by several hundred percent depending on where you go and how hard you bargain.  With the exception to the larger retail stores, all prices are negotiable.  It’s not too bad if you make a game out of it and tease your bargaining opponent.  They seem to enjoy that too.  In the end, I'm not very good at the game but I figure I’m getting an incredibly cheap price and they think they are putting one over on me, maybe they are.  Still, it’s small money and everybody wins.

There are several large shopping malls here.  Some are very similar to their US counterparts.  The more interesting ones are quite different.  The MBK Center is four stops away on the Sky Train (about 50 cents).  You can actually get into the place directly from the Sky Train station.  MBK sits on a huge city block and is seven stories of department stores, specialty shops, movie theaters, booth and cart vendors of everything imaginable and some that aren’t.  In addition to numerous restaurants scattered around the center, the sixth floor is taken up mostly by the food court (oh no, not more about food!).  There are somewhere between 50 and 100 places to get something to eat.  About half are in the food court proper.  There are a couple of places where you can sit at a counter but most are like food courts in the US where you get your food in one place then go to the sitting areas to eat.  In the actual food court area, you cannot pay cash for anything.  Instead you buy coupons to be used as cash but only on the day you buy them.  If you have any left over, you get back the cash.  When I asked my friend about this system, he said it was to prevent or at least minimize theft.  For me, it makes it just a bit more like an amusement park atmosphere.

The food selections are quite varied, tasty, and inexpensive.  The other day, I got a big bowl of soup with vegetables, rice, and pork.  It was terrific.  I added a soda and the total was about $1.50.  For another quarter I got a selection of half a dozen bite-sized filled donuts:  vanilla cream, red bean paste, and chocolate (my choices).  In the US, we don’t usually think of red beans, or any beans for that matter, as a dessert.  In Asia (at least China, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand) red bean desserts are a favorite and I thought they were terrific.

Ok, enough about the food, it’s making me hungry again.

One can easily spend a day at MBK.  One whole floor is devoted to furniture and kitchen/bath products.  A couple of stores specializes in dining room sets, but not ordinary ones.  The tables were designer styles done in beautiful natural stone.  The prices were high ($2,000-$3,000 US) but probably not excessive for what you get.  In the US they would certainly be much more expensive.  Having just gone through the process of selecting cabinets, furnishings, and just about everything else in a new home, this floor was fascinating.  I spent several minutes in a kitchen cabinet store.  The quality looked good and there were some interesting uses of materials but the standard counter height is painfully low for someone of my size, several inches lower than the US standard 36 inches.

Cell phone vendors were everywhere, there had to be a couple hundred of them.  Fancy phones with blinking lights like I haven’t seen in the US (although I am not very familiar with what is available).  There were also many clothing and shoe stores.  I tried to find a pair of casual shoes but, big surprise, they don’t have my size.

My other favorite place to shop is Pantip Plaza.  It is a techie toy store.  Computers, cameras, components, TV’s Stereos, DVD movies, software, all things electronic; kind of like Fry’s electronics on steroids.  This one has only six floors and somewhat smaller in size with a food court on the third floor.  Movies, music, and software are, with a few notable exceptions, bootleg copies costing about $3.00 US per disk regardless of what is on it.  Pantip is crowded and alive.  Hawkers try to bring you into their booth or store.  Someone on a loud PA system is extolling the virtues of something (I can’t speak Thai, remember).

To purchase software, music, or DVD movies, you go to a booth and peruse notebooks showing the covers.  In some cases, these are folios with 50-100 CD covers in plastic covers bound together.  You can get just about anything current.  Anyway, each has a number and you indicate to a sales person which ones you want and they write it down.  You pay them and they give you a hand written slip showing the number you purchased and what you paid.  You then go do something else for 15 minutes while they phone somebody off-site (this is technically illegal, remember) who brings the order back to the store.  When you return, the order is usually ready and you exchange the slip for the disks.  They come in plastic sleeves with printed covers.  If you want regular CD/DVD cases, you buy them separately.  I was a little nervous about paying someone then having them disappear but they always returned with the merchandise.

I guess they are raided for copyright infringement every once in a while.  That's why there is no bootleg stock on the premises.  Someone gets arrested, a few "fines" are paid, then it's back to business as usual a few days later with the inspectors a little richer.

Speaking about buying things separately, I noticed that there is a vending machine outside the restroom here where you can purchase toilet paper on your way in.  Fortunately, I didn't need it this time.

I guess there is at least one dark side to everything.  In Bangkok, extreme poverty and filth are two that bother me.  I mentioned the beggars on the street in my first missive.  Far from being an uncommon sight, they are everywhere, at lease in areas where westerners hang out.  They hold out plastic cups and rattle them asking for coins.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.  I could give something to every one I see and end up making almost no difference.  I have also been told by sources both Thai and American that most of the beggars are working for someone else, perhaps organized crime.  Still, I cannot help but think that putting a few coins in their cup will improve their lives just a little.  I don’t get a feel-good, pat myself on the back feeling from doing this, it’s just that it feels wrong to not do it.

Some of these employed beggars are tiny children.  I saw a little girl, not more then 4 years old, taking care of an infant.  How can that not pull at you?

The other dark side I mentioned was the filth.  It is incredibly dirty here.  Trash and garbage are everywhere.  The buildings are dirty, the streets are dirty; I hate to touch just about everything.  Indoors things are not so bad and sometimes quite thoroughly scrubbed.

Have I mentioned how much I like the food?

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