Latest TODAY column: Bangkok rocks!
I JUST got back from holidaying in Bangkok, where I spent a few days with my wife and another couple. This was our first holiday together without our kids and, I tell you, it was not easy planning it.
There was much crying and bawling, and temper tantrums thrown due to separation anxiety. Oh, and our kids cried and bawled a lot too.
I have to say, after having been there, that in the regional shopping stakes, Bangkok will kick Singapore's ass (oh no, was that unparliamentary language?).
Not even KL or JB can compete, I feel, with Bangkok. They may have the Mega Malls, but not Bangkok's variety. JB may have petrol at $0.66 per litre, but how far can that competitive advantage take you?
I just got back from holidaying in Bangkok, where I spent a few days with my wife and another couple. This was our first holiday together without our kids, and I tell you, it was not easy to plan this.
There was much crying and bawling, and temper tantrums from the separation anxiety. Oh, and our kids cried and bawled a lot too.
I have to say, after being there, that in the regional shopping stakes, Bangkok will kick Singapore’s ass (Oh no, was that unparliamentary language?). Not even KL or JB can compete, I feel, with Bangkok. They may have the Mega Malls, but not Bangkok’s variety. JB may have petrol at $0.66 per litre, but how far can that competitive advantage take you?
Now bear in mind, that all this retail talk is just a hypothesis and more research needs to be done. An unnamed shopping and retail expert, a Shopologist, mentioned this hypothesis to me.
The other reason why I have such a conviction is because my wife and my friend’s wife spent more money shopping in Bangkok than they ever did in Singapore or KL. And if that doesn’t make you think hard about the retail scene in the region, I do not know what will.
For one, food in Bangkok is cheap. I’m talking 25 to 40 baht for a meal, in an aircon eatery. That’s $1.10 to $1.70 in Singapore terms. You try to get any bowl of noodles at these prices in a non-aircon hawker centre here.
We would have saved even more money had we eaten from the road side hawkers, but because we were kiasi Singaporeans with delicate digestive systems, we decided to stick to the aircon places.
My only complaint about Thai food was the amount of sugar they put into almost every dish (at least the ones I ate) and they even have a dispenser on the table should you wish to add some more sugar to your Phad Thai noodles.
Secondly, the service is excellent. They don’t call it The Land of Smiles for nothing. Almost everybody smiled, even the dodgy cab driver as he offers to take you to a shop “along the way” to your destination, for “five minutes only”, so that he can earn a “petrol coupon”. You almost feel bad telling that smiling cab driver to fly a kite, as you get out of the cab.
I had lunch at this place, where the young waitress stood patiently and waited for us to order our food. We were not deliberately keeping her waiting — we were just still deciding — it’s just that we did not notice her discreetly standing behind us waiting for our order. Not a single pip of displeasure from her. You try keeping a waitress waiting in Singapore and see what reactions that gets you.
Then I saw a drink item in the menu I never saw before, and asked her what the drink called Rochelle is, she told me “Wait” and dashed off… only to return with a glass containing a bit of red liquid in it. And then she offered me the rose syrup drink to try! First class service.
On hindsight, I should have asked what “champagne” is.
Another time, in another restaurant, my friend waved his arm in a moment of animated conversation, and the waiter came running over to see if he needed anything. We had to apologise and explain that he was just being physically expressive and not calling for service.
In Singapore, you can dance on your chair and sometimes even that will not get the attention of the waiter, let alone wave your arm.
Thirdly, the variety of merchandise in Bangkok is just staggering. The wives spent a few hours just skimming the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, and we would have stayed longer had the heat and crowds not wilted us. The whole place just buzzed with activity.
Granted, many of the goods do take copyright rather lightly, and we had to clutch our belongings to prevent pickpockets, and the market could use some basic ventilation devices like air, but we enjoyed the whole shopping, bargaining and buying experience tremendously.
Correction, the women enjoyed it tremendously. We hopeless-at-shopping husbands swore never to set foot in there again.
What we husbands were good for was for carrying their shopping bags, paying for stuff, and hanging around aircon coffee joints sipping lattes (priced cheaper than here). And maybe getting a occasional foot massage (also very cheap) while waiting for the wives to finish their rounds.
Shopping in Bangkok also brings out your Inner Auntie. You bargain with cab drivers, young designers in Siam Square, t-shirt peddlers along the street, and you find within yourself the Lost Art of Bargaining that fixed price shopping in Singapore has almost killed. The feeling of completing a sale after much bargaining, is strangely exhilarating, despite knowing that the shopkeeper just gave you a 50% discount on an item he marked up 200%. But at those low prices (come on, at $6 for a pair of “Bikenstock” sandals), who cares?
And you even learn to tip. Because you know the masseuse who just stomped on your back does not earn a lot and a little tip goes a long way.
I do not know how to make the shopping scene in Singapore buzz like Bangkok’s. This kind of thing, you have to ask the unnamed experts. I do know that my wife is not planning to shop as much here anymore, choosing to save her money for her next trip, so that she can get more bargains there in a few months time.
My knees are quivering in fear already.
mr brown is the accidental author of a popular website that has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997. He thinks women have a shopping gene that allows them to shop for 8 hours at one go without feeling fatigue or the pinch of their husband’s wallet.