What’s in a name?
“The Pride of Bangkok” “The Glorious Phenomenon” These were just some of the humble titles given to Siam Paragon, a new world-class shopping and entertainment giant located on Siam Square.
Opening ceremony was held on the 9th, and I was lucky enough to visit Bangkok right around that time, so I can give you a personal impression. The theme of the mall can be concluded in three words: bigger, fancier, most expensive.
As soon as you step through one of the many shiny glass doors, you’ll immediately feel dwarfed by the size of the place. It’s humongous. Emporium, MBK, Siam Center, or their Chiang Mai equivalents don’t even come close.
However, the owners are pretty much the same (50% owned by the Mall Group), and this shows too. Its size aside, Siam Paragon feels much like the aforementioned places. Floors filled with hi-so boutiques bearing tongue-twister names brandish the weirdest fashion, both inside and outside the store displays.
On any given ordinary day, this mall is no different than any others you’ve been to. Unless you are a fashion junkie or brand-name collector, this place has little new to offer. However, this was opening day, with all the bang and hoopla that money can buy, so that’s what this blog is gonna be about – followed by my personal opinion on it.
Curves on wheels, rags on riches
How would you spend 200 million Bt to create an opening ceremony that must please as many Bangkokians as possible, enticing them to come back for more? Organizers decided to give everyone what they want: Guys were lured in by the fanciest motorshow: an Enzo Ferrari (85 million), two Gallardo Spiders by Lamborghini (24 million), a Porsche and a Bentley were on display throughout the complex, with the sports cars accompanied by slender Thai beauties.
Female customers were not left out either: there was a fashion show where top models paraded around in the weirdest looking compositions. (Looking at some of them, it was hard to tell whether they are men or women.) Samples of international beauty products were offered on every corner. Singers, musicians and divas gave performances on every floor. There is also a huge, 20m-high crystal Christmas tree, worth a mere 10million.
All the above costed only half of the 200 million budget. The rest was spent on radio, TV and print ads (90 million), and PR activities (10 million).
The crown on the cake
If all that is not enough to make all Thais satisfied, visitors at the opening ceremony could get a glimpse of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who presided over the event. I didn’t even know someone from the royal family is coming, until security guards stopped me from going to the toilet. Restricted zones, you know.
My favorite things
My personal favorite store was remotely tucked away from the noisy extravaganza. Although the top floor was still under construction, the floor below featured a couple antique stores. One of them was especially beautiful, with all the objects displayed with special care and attention, as if it was a museum. The quiet environment, the tasteful composition of fine arts felt like a refuge from the manic frenzy below. I talked with the owner of the shop. She’s been collecting Thai antiques for ten years, specializing on early Rattanakosin and Ayutthaya-era artifacts. She said she was frustrated with the way others reproduce contemporary versions of these antiques; they don’t pay enough attention, just look for the easy money. This is what inspired her to start making quality reproductions in her own factory. I could see what she meant. Her attention to detail was astonishing.
A belgian sweetshop is also worth mentioning. At first, I noticed it because of the Farang behind the counter. It turned out that he is from Belgium and makes the sweets himself! The price shows this though. A little mignon the size of my fingernail costs as much as two full lunches back here at CMU. Thanks, but no thanks.
How much does Siam Paragon reflect Thailand? And does Thailand really need this? Click below to see my thoughts on it.
Farang spot in Thailand, the Shame of Bangkok
So, how much does Siam Paragon reflect Thailand? American display systems over 20million Bt; imported Canadian dancing fountains, Siam Ocean World from Australia, pricey fashion shops from all over the world – hard to find anything really Thai here.
When I headed back home, I saw little girls and boys standing in the middle of the red-light traffic selling flower garlands. How many of these children could have been helped out of their misery on the price of that Bt 10 million crystal Christmas tree alone? And how many of Thailand’s poor could have been alleviated from poverty, giving them food and quality affordable education, using the 16 billion baht that now gave Thailand yet another shopping mall?
Some say that Siam Paragon is an investment that stimulates local economy and strenghtens the confidence of foreign investors. This may be true. However, it also widens the gap between Thailand’s rich and poor, and further promotes excessive materialism in Thai culture, something that already corrupted much of the West. In my opinion, improving the quality of life for those who really need it would have been a much better investment for Thailand’s long-term future.