Everyone presumes Bangkok is cheap for shopping, and sure, if you keep to the markets, it is. But once you step inside the major shopping malls, you'll find that things are far more expensive than back home.
It isn't just imports either. Today, I visited Emporium shopping mall in Bangkok. Only 5-minutes in and I spotted an incense set identical to one I had seen in the market priced at 295 Baht. It was 75 Baht on the stall and probably 50 Baht under negotiation.
As I wandered around, I remembered I needed some new bed sheets, and when I saw 50% discount on bed linen in the home accessories section of a department store I got excited – that is 50% of 6,500 Baht (£130), making the set still over £60 for a sheet, 2 pillows and a duvet cover…no thanks, I will pass by Tesco on the way home, I mumbled under my breath to the overly camp sales assistant.
You see the middle class in Thailand are far richer than the average well-off westerner. I was bought up in a comfortable family, but was taught to always compare prices and not to pay over the odds. It seems many people here feel good about shopping in places where they are able to show they can afford to pay more.
At times the economic divide here is somewhat uncomfortable. In fact, the sales guy in the bed linen section probably doesn't earn much more each month than the cost of one bed set. As I walked past the Chanel shop I pondered on how the girls feel when a customer pays almost their yearly salary for a handbag – sickened I'm sure.
I did pick up a bargain though, 50 Baht for a lovely new glass reduced from 200 Baht. The packaging and the extravagant bag dwarfed my purchase and allowed me to walk around as if I had made a substantial purchase. I was hi-so for a moment there. Sarcasm aside, these elitist shops depress me. A Mont Blanc pen was next to catch my eye at a whopping 238,000 Baht (nearly £5,000)! but it was gold lined and a tribute edition to Queen Elizabeth 1. A little out of my range, so I opted for the 87,000 Baht in the next window. Not. Imagine lending that pen to someone and never getting it back!
As I watched bored housewives entertain kids with expensive ice creams and spend indiscriminately on unnecessary household items, I recalled my childhood. Brent Cross sprung to mind…John Lewis the setting, my brother and I running around like lunatics jumping on the beds and furniture trying to ward of the boredom of my mum looking at curtains and vases. I could see my Dad doing the mental maths as he wished he hadn't mentioned that bonus. Of course the items weren't as expensive as this place and my mum was a seasoned bargain hunter, meaning all shopping trips took far too long for us kids.
But for all my loathing of people who spend money unnecessarily to fill a void , there is something about department stores that warms me and brings back find memories of the UK.
So I hooked myself up with a Peri Peri chicken lunch and watched the world go by. As I stared down the deep well of stairs and impressive structure of the grand building, I saw a rather odd looking scene at the bottom. Cameras were snapping profusely and kids were dragging mums by the hand left, right and centre.
The Garden of Eden peered back at me, echoing my childhood thoughts and the times spent at garden centres on Sunday afternoons. On one memorable occasion I got in deep trouble for stealing chocolate while my parents looked at plants. It was too easy, I took at least seven bars on separate trips and shared them with my brother – I wasn't caught by the store, but considering I had no money and chocolate all round my mouth, my parents soon clocked on.
One thing I love about Bangkok is that something interesting is always going on at a shopping centre, on a sidewalk or inside a train station. This cool indoor garden featured a mermaid – bless her she sat their for hours having pictures taken with everyone and never lost her enthusiastic smile – a butterfly garden, fish, snakes, an outdoor waterfall, free plants, herbal drink testing and a number of other garden/outdoor related themes.
So that was me for the next two hours, wondering around among excited kids and families enjoying simulated and real nature inside Bangkok's most overpriced shopping centre. I even bought a cactus said to relieve the reflection of the computer screen on my eyes, not quite sure how that works – great sales pitch though.
It's funny isn't it, kids couldn't give a monkey's about Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Armani, Dior, Tag, Rolex, Mont Blanc etc etc…They would rather see a fish, some beetles or butterflies. So it got me thinking; at what point in life do we start appreciating designer labels more than the great outdoors?. What triggers our brains to desire spending silly money on bits of material with logos that superficially elevate our status and temporarily satisfy the ego? Ridiculous, eh?
Anyway, check out these shots of a few beetles I saw, these things are far more menacing than the British Stag Beetle. There is also a picture of two Stick insects, although they are a little too good at being stick insects and hard to make out. Enjoy.