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Merry Christmas and Bangkok observations

(written by Dave)

Merry Christmas from Bangkok and season’s greetings to everyone – thanks to everyone who has sent us a message.  We’ve been running everywhere but do promise proper responses in the coming days….

Some readers may be wondering about all the flooding news from Thailand and especially from Bangkok.  I am happy to report that we’ve seen very little “extra” water but still a few signs that it wasn’t that long ago.  When we arrived at our hotel the first day, there was a short 1 metre high brick wall around most of the building.  The next day, it was torn down.  They had built the wall in case their street flooded.  When we asked, they said that they had no flooding and like every Thai we’ve asked they also specifically stated that ALL the flooding is done and everything is normal.  Everyone is keen to put it behind them and more important I suspect to specifically tell every possible foreigner (with great enthusiasm) that the coast is clear.  Still, we’ve seen quite a few used sand bags as we walk around the city and even some very clever pipe and water bottle “boats” in an alley visible from our hotel room.  Thailand depends so much on tourism that getting tourist back is a big priority – so, for those planning a trip here, it’s official, “the coast is clear”.

We’ve been doing some shopping the last couple days looking for cheap resupply items before we head off to Europe.  We went to the famous weekend market on Sunday and today hit a a shopping mall.  The market was fun.  I “lost” two negotiation sessions – having to walk away from the stalls with no purchase.  I found this odd because I asked for very small discounts in my view.  What was even more curious was that later in the market we found both items for 50% less than the previous stall owner’s price, and well below what I had offered the previous stall owner.  I thought I had some idea how this negotiation thing worked and really expected the first stall owners to chase us down as we exited, as my offers were probably over value anyway.  I think I need to work on my pitch.

The mall prices didn’t seem all that great.  In fact, we spotted a couple items we liked at the North Face store but thought the prices were a little high.  I used our iPhone to look at what they would cost in the US and the Thailand price was 25% higher.  Here again I was surprised.  The folks here in Thailand don’t make that much money, to pay more than someone in the US was a real surprise.  But Bangkok is a big city and much of Asia has completely skipped the GFC.  Things are slower here but growth rates in Asia are still more than 5% annually in most countries (except for Japan).

We went to a bike shop today called Bike Zone.  Rather than just give us bike boxes, they are breaking down our bikes and boxing them for travel for less than $10 each.  So, in that sense, Thailand is still very affordable.  The owner of the shop Fausto and I got to chatting (he is a great guy).  The shop primarily sells Cervelo and a custom Japanese brand.  These are very high-end bikes and they are not cheap.  I asked him how his business was and how he sold such expensive bikes in Bangkok.  His answer was simple, “have you seen the average Thai mobile phone?”.  The point being, there is an emerging upper middle class here that has lots of money (by Thai standards) and a fancy or fancy phone is as much a status symbol as it is anything.  They don’t really ride Cervelo bikes in Bangkok, but that doesn’t mean that folks with money don’t want to own them.  Fausto openly admitted making almost no money of touring cyclist but also noted he likes to help them out – we were very happy to have met him and visited his shop.

While we were at the bike shop we ran into Evrim Yigit, a cyclist from Turkey and his sister Elif.  We met Evrim in late September in Chumpon Thailand as he and Elif were heading south and we were heading north.  They have since ridden through Malaysia and Indonesia and are now in Bangkok for a few days rest before heading up to Northern Thailand.  Quite a coincidence to run into them again and we had a quick chat before we all headed off to take care of other chores.  We have their contact details so hopefully may be able to catch up with them when we head to Turkey after a couple of months in France.

You may be wondering about our Christmas celebration.  Well, there originally wasn’t much as noted above we went to a market and shopped a bit.  Since that was not very special, we decided to use some of our Christmas money and go out to dinner.  We booked in at the Marriott for their special Christmas dinner and headed there for a 6:30 seating.  I will openly admit that here I made the first major navigational error of the entire trip (ok, maybe not the first, but I’m sticking with that line).  Anyway, we had taken the train to the Marriott, but ended up being at the Marriott Courtyard, not the JW Marriott where the dinner was.  We were at least 30 minutes in Bangkok traffic from where we needed to be so I improvised and we walked across the street to the Intercontinental and with my luck holding they had immediate openings in their Christmas dinner.  And what a dinner it was.  It cost quite a bit more than the Marriott but the food was amazing.  They had every kind of seafood that you could imagine, a full sushi bar, all the normal American Xmas foods (turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc) and not one but two dessert tables.  The only thing missing was the pumpkin pie but we we did not starve.  We spent close to 3 hours eating, drinking and people watching.  We were some of the few people in the restaurant that participated fully with the Christmas crackers, popping them with glee to find our fortunes and our prizes (I got a little flashlight and Nancy got a whistle) and wearing our paper crowns, as you should. Navigational error not withstanding, the night turned out fantastic.

When we eventually made our way outside we found more people out celebrating than we could have imagined.  The traffic on the roads was pretty busy, the traffic on the sidewalks was even busier.  It took us 30 minutes to get back on a train, after only taking a few minutes to cover the same distance before dinner.  We are hoping for the sake of locals that this was a Christmas phenomenon as crowds being that busy every Sunday night would make you not want to got out very often.  Perhaps another sign that the economy here is doing OK – folks must have some level of disposable income.

I’ve also noted in previous posts a couple time about the lack of Christmas decorations or trappings.  Well, the area around the Intercontinental and two train stations either side was very dressed up.  There were lots of trees, lights, some carollers and a more than one Santa.  There was an article in the paper today about the significant growth in Christmas tree sales over the past few years here in Thailand.  The article specifically noted that the Christmas tree was originally part of  pagan festival before it was a Christian festival and that they did not expect that Buddhist were suddenly celebrating Christian events.  For me it is more about globalisation.  I am typing this post sitting in Starbucks with an Aussie Quicksilver surf shop, Hagen Daz and Addidas shops across the aisle.  I can see at least 4 iPads and several Louis Vitton bags from where I sit.  So what the heck, why not add Santa and a few Christmas trees as well?

So, we are off to find some dinner in this mega-mall – probably won’t be as good as the BBQ chicken rice from the road stalls that we have seen along this trip but there will be a chair and maybe even some napkins….

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6 responses to “Merry Christmas and Bangkok observations

  1. Great talking to you last night. We had a great dinner and it was a lot of work for Becki. Happy New Year!

  2. Sounds like a great Christmas day. Ours was good too! Where will you be for New Years Eve? Enjoy your last few days of 2011!!!!

  3. And a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS/HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU BOTH!! It’s pretty quiet here so I guess everyone is out shopping, just like there! Your celebration hats were cute!

  4. I love the photo of you both with your crowns and David wearing the scarf-like thing. I’d like that one on my fridge or in my classroom at some point. Maybe you can send an attachment in an e-mail and I’ll print it. Happy End of 2011 in Thailand! So glad you found a great place to help you with the bikes… and ran into your “old” friends from Turkey!

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