Bangkok - SEA's Hottest Tourism Destination?

Bangkok's Chinatown bustles with nightlife!

Bangkok has changed quite significantly in recent years. The city has positioned itself as one of Asia's most happening shopping and dining destination, cleaned up its act, and become increasingly sophisticated, modern and cosmopolitan. In fact, if you look at the cityscape at night, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference from Singapore, Hong Kong or KL.

In our recent trip there (amidst the NYE bomb scare and other toddler catastrophes), I have observed several points which we may wish to note here in Singapore.

First let me share the plus points of Bangkok as an experience rich destination:

1) Staggering Retail Variety. The sheer variety of merchandise amazes me! This is especially prevalent in the world famous Chatuchak market, Suan Lum night market and Ma Boon Krong discount shopping mall. The upmarket shopping malls at Central World Plaza and Siam Paragon (which are huge) carried some of the most luxurious brands on the planet.

Bangkok offered a huge array of different shops offering all kinds of merchandise for sale, at different price levels. You can buy practically anything and everything that you want, often at value for money prices. What's more, they don't just offer the same of everything, unlike Singapore's numerous "copycat" malls with identical chain stores.

2) Vibrant Night Life. This is a city that never sleeps and I am not talking about the seedier aspects. In fact, I find that the sleaze which Bangkok used to be associated with is practically non-existent.

At the Suan Lum Night Market for example, there was a bustling beer garden with a very decent band playing the hottest Thai Rock (a band called Ice?) where people chilled out amidst all the shopping and dining. The crowd was very cosmopolitan and made up of tourists and very sophisticated Thais who were dressed to the nines. Very cool indeed.

3) Warm Hospitality. The Thai people are generally gracious and this can be seen in the way they speak to you. What we were pleasantly surprised too was that when we rode on the skytrain with a toddler, they would automatically get up and vacate their seats for us, often a few at once. There was no hesitation whatsoever.

4) Food Glorious Food. If you think eating in Singapore was great, wait till you visit Thailand's Chinatown area. The "cze char" there was simply delicious and the portions of meat and vegetables that come with "hor fun" are generous. You can also indulge in bird's nest at the street hawkers or shark's fin soup with thick slabs of fin. All at a price that would make you weep when you get back here and think about it!

5) Entrepreneurial Energy. This was something that I encounter everywhere we go - from the narrow and crowded alleys of Chatuchak to the sprawled area of their Safari World. People will set up make shift stalls everywhere and eagerly peddle all manner of goods for your consumption, from snack foods, drinks, clothes, toys, watches, accessories, and more.

6) Accessible Transport System. While their card reading system isn't quite as sophisticated as our MRT system's EZ Link, I must say that the Skytrain makes it a lot more convenient to get from point to point in Bangkok. Many of the stations stop right outside major tourist hubs.

So what are the minuses? Not that many actually.

1) Taxis and Tuk Tuk Touts. What irritated us quite a bit was how many taxi drivers "pretend" to switch off their meters so that they can charge us an arm and a leg. These touts would drive from potential customer to potential customer, choosing where they would go and only if the price was right.

2) Reckless Driving. Taxi drivers also drive like there is no tomorrow, speeding away at speeds in excess of 120 km/h on the expressways and leaving us green in the face and muttering prayers under our breath. Peak hour traffic can also be quite terrible, although I must say that we luckily didn't have to face the brunt of it during our recent trip.

Having been to both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City in recent months, I can now see why STB is so worried that Singapore is in real danger of losing its competitive edge. Our neighbours are fast catching up with us, and what they lack in technology can be more than made up in terms of nimbleness, flexibility and pure entrepreneurial fervour. If we don't buck up and transform ourselves, we may find that we are deader than a Dodo give or take a couple of years. Perhaps this is why we do need an IR or two to up our desirability quotient?

Any views to share?

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