Sam Thompson

Back from Laos

An impromptu tour of Bangkok's biggest shopping malls

The last week has been quite busy! Ever since I got back from Laos, it's been nonstop business. I arrived back in Bangkok from Savannakhet early Saturday morning, as I said in the previous blog. I went home, caught a nap until around noon, and ventured out in the hopes of finally opening a Thai bank account.

Naturally, it took a solid hour and a half to get from my apartment to Siam Paragon, the mall that my agency said I must open a bank account with.

According to Google Maps, it's right at 14 kilometers, but with traffic, as I've said time and time again, plan on making a day of it anytime you want to go... anywhere.

I finally arrived, and funny enough, it took me another 30 minutes just walking around the mall trying to find the bank. This isn't just a little mall... it's got its own zones. I get lost every time I go in there. Even funnier is that right next door, there's Central World, a mall that's at LEAST twice as big as Paragon.

Siam Paragon almost always has some kind of event going on either in the large fountained courtyard outside it or inside at one of the large atriums. This particular day, there was some kind of awards ceremony going on for jewelry. They had some large production that looked like a fairytale or Swan Lake, complete with flying actresses and ballet moves. The music could be heard, most likely, in neighboring countries.

There's another side-note, if I haven't mentioned it already: if you're a person who values quiet, I'd recommend checking out another country. Thailand is loud... everywhere. Inside, outside, at school... everywhere, all the time. It's perfect for me; I'm a person who can't stand silence, and lucky for me, I can't say that I can yet recall a time where it has BEEN silent since moving to Thailand.

Anyway, I finally found the bank, and was told I had to have a different visa and/or a work permit than what I have. They wanted a non-immigrant B visa (I still don't really know what that is...), and I now have a tourist visa... as of the day before. Go figure.

So, dejected, I tried calling my agency for advice. Rather than have an answering service or voicemail, apparently my agency just cuts off their phones on the weekend... the call wouldn't even go through. I'm not surprised.

I left my apartment at noon, and it's now after 4:00 p.m., just to give you an idea of how long it takes to get places in the city. I spent the time I had looking around Paragon a bit more... checking out the gizmos in the plethora of electronics stores in the mall and browsing through some expensive books. Thailand's largest English bookstore is in this mall, but you can expect to pay a pretty penny for most of the books. The average paperback in there costs around 400 baht, or just under $15.

For whatever reason, I was in the mood to spend a bunch of money on something I didn't need. Luckily, I eventually talked myself out of doing so, but not before I spent a good two hours browsing through one of the biggest gizmo stores I've ever been in at Central World, just next door to Paragon.

Just to put the size of Central World into scope, it has an electronics store called Power Buy that's the size of a large Best Buy in the United States, but this particular store in this particular mall is one of the smaller department-sized stores. The anchor store, Zen, must be at least the size of the mega-Macy's in New York City. It's a full seven stories, if not more, and it's not the only large department store in the mall.

There's also a 15-or-so screen movie theater in the top of Central World, just as there is a movie theater of some kind on the upper floors of all of the major malls in Bangkok. I'm currently sitting in a little eatery in another mall called Terminal 21 near the Asok BTS station, another commercial hub in the city, on the 8th or 9th floor, and above me is a 12-screen movie theater. Thais like their movies.

While wondering around Central World, I found another bank branch (Kasikorn is the one I'd been told to open an account with... the "green" branded bank) and figured it was worth giving it a go there. What's the worst that could happen... they turn me down again?

Well, as it happens, they didn't. I'm not sure what the actual policy is, and I'm not even really sure what kind of account I opened... even at this gigantic international mall, finding an English speaking employee is like finding a needle in a haystack. A very large haystack, I may add. All I know is that I now have a new debit card. I'll add it to the pile...

Banks here give you an ATM card when you open the account, on the spot, which is good being that I still don't know what my address is. They didn't even ask for it, really... I just gave them a paper written in Thai that I got from my agency. I'm assuming they used that address.

You also get some sort of "Passbook," which appears just to be a ledger of some kind. I think it's more important than that, though, because at most banks you'll find an ATM, a cash deposit machine, and a "Passbook Update Machine," whatever that is. I guess it prints your balance in the little book... although I'm not sure why, being that the ATMs will show you your balance and print a receipt of it.

Note here that there are three separate banking machines for all of these large banks, and these large banks are everywhere. Unlike Bank of America and Wells Fargo, there isn't a "one machine does all" deal going on. Everything is specialized. It seems to me that having three machines everywhere would be expensive... but obviously I'm wrong.

One other thing I learned thanks to the advice of a colleague at my school is that, if you are in the Central World Plaza that I've previously called the Times Square of Bangkok, you can catch a van (number 96) that takes you straight from there to where I live near Sripitum University. The best part is? It's only 25 baht.

Keep in mind that you may end up sitting in traffic for a solid hour, but still... it's nice to know that if you want, you can take a van rather than a bus, the MRT underground, AND the BTS Skytrain plus a good deal of walking... to get to the same place. I rather enjoy taking the public transportation, but at 25 baht, the van is less than half the price of the total fare of bus+MRT+BTS and a lot less thinking.

The only thing I really need to do is figure out how to say "stop, please." The van driver stops when asked, but I have yet to pick up on what it is the Thai people say to ask him.

These vans appear to run anywhere and everywhere, but if my colleague hadn't told me about it, I have absolutely no idea how to find out which van goes where. Most of the vans have signs on them, but it's all in Thai, so unless you happen to read Thai (which I don't), best of luck.

The next day (Sunday), I had an interview with language school. I received a call responding to an application I turned in from to an academy near the Asok BTS station while I was having lunch during my second day in Laos (last Friday), and I was asked to come in for an interview Sunday.

Not too bad, eh? A 60 hour trip to and from Laos, opened a bank account on the day I got back (Saturday), and went to an interview (Sunday)... all within a matter of days. I'd call that productivity at its finest.

The interview went well, and I was offered a position to start next week (which is today, actually). I did get a bit lost finding the building, but that's not a surprise.

One thing of note: I needed to print out a recent resume for the interview, but it's tricky to find anything similar to an internet café before 9:00 a.m. (my interview was at 10, and to get there on time I had to leave before 7:30). I therefore waltzed into the extraordinarily exquisite Sheraton (which I happen to be looking at right now), and headed to their business center.

I feel a bit bad, really... I was prepared to pay to print my documents, no problem. But apparently they don't take cash and each guest room gets five free pages printed per day. So some random room, who hopefully never used the business center, got two print-outs of a resume from someone they've never met. They won't have to pay anything for it, but... oops.

After the interview, I discovered two things. First, the Terminal 21 shopping mall right off of the Asok BTS station, where I'm sitting now. This mall isn't nearly as big as those in the Siam Square shopping district, but it's neat in that it's themed for a different international city on every floor. There's a London, Istanbul, Paris, and San Francisco floor among others.

The best thing, though, is the food court on the top level called "Pier 21." For being in such a high-end international mall, it is ridiculously cheap. Most dishes aren't more than 40 baht each (many are less), and the portions are quite good. Plus, the view from the top of Terminal 21 is great: you can see all of downtown Bangkok!

It's set up where you pay for a meal card up front, and whatever money you don't use is refunded to you when you leave. I like that; pay as much as you want, and still get whatever you don't spend back. I got two full meals while there (I was extra hungry), and still didn't break 80 baht. That is cheap, especially considering the air conditioning and the view you get with it. Last night, for example, I had a small-portioned dinner at one of the traditional Thai outdoor market restaurants, and I spent more than what I spent at Terminal 21 for less food.

Go figure... you'd guess that a high end mall would have more expensive food than an outdoor market with a few plastic chairs and fans. But, while the restaurants in the mall are expensive, the food court is certainly worth the while.

The second thing I discovered this day: for whatever reason, it's cheaper to take the MRT from the Sukhumvit Station (which interchanges with the BTS Asok station) to Phohon Yothin, my stop to go home, than it is to take the BTS roughly the same distance... about 34 baht versus 40 baht. Granted, it's not much of a savings, but I'll take everything I can get! Plus, the MRT typically isn't QUITE as packed as the BTS is. Sure, it's usually crowded, but not to the point of being a sardine cannery.

I also explored a smaller mall called Emporium. There's not much to it, but there was a live yoga training show going on for whatever reason. It was similar to what I see on the weekends in large courtyards such as those around Tesco Lotus supermarkets. They seem to randomly set-up speakers with someone leading vigorous aerobics classes. Not sure what that's all about, but they look like they're having a good time. I can't be bothered to exercise that much, though.

The reason I looked around Emporium was to find a secondhand book store that someone I work with told me about. I did find several secondhand book stores in the area around Emporium, but they were all Japanese books. That area is highly Japanese... it's like Chinatown, except with Japan.

Finally, one completely unrelated thing I'm quite proud of myself for is figuring out is how to use the "virtual network" feature of Windows 8 to use my laptop as a wireless hotspot. This helps me being that my apartment complex has internet set up per registered computer/user, meaning I'd have to pay again to get my phone registered on the network. I'd rather not use the expensive pre-paid data I have with True Move, my SIM card company, so figuring out how to use my laptop as an intermediary is great!

It requires using some DOS (or Command Prompt, as it's now called) commands, as well as the correct hardware (which I have), but after playing around for a bit, I got it work perfectly!

Nerds of the world unite.


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