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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thai Shopping Malls, the aspiration lifestyle of choice

Siam Paragon Shopping Mall Bangkok
Siam Paragon Shopping Mall Bangkok next to Siam Square MBS skytrain.

Thai Shopping Malls

Shopping Malls in Thailand have an incredible pull on Thai society. Large sections of Thai society aspire to spend loads of time in smart, clean, air conditioned mega buildings. The modern shopping Mall is packed with the latest fun things to buy, eat, and look at and enjoy. It can often have cinema complexes, bowling alleys, Thai Massage and even attractions like Aquariums, which along with gardens, sculptures and displays, make it the go to entertainment center. Normally there is no bargaining for a deal in the main shops but quiet calm persistence can get some movement of the price if your smile is genuine enough.

SFX Cinema complex in side the Mall
SFX Cinema complex in side the Mall

It has also acquired the prestige of a cool (as in hip) place to meet up with friends and hang out. It really is an amazing phenomenon. Most places will have wi fi and internet connection down the mobile is great so you can hang out and be connected.

Not only that, Malls are often have large parking lots and so, for those who have a car, the symbol that shows the world that you have made it in the world, you can arrive in style. Having said that many people arrive on motor bikes, subway, bus, songtail tuk tuk, or simply walk, anything to be apart of the Mall lifestyle.

I think one of the most obvious draws for Thai people is comfort. The Mall removes you from the glaring sun, the heat and the humidity of the Thai seasons. It also provides a level a comparable comfort outside the home, if wealthy, but even a higher level of comfort, if less affluent. You could argue that any smart restaurant with air conditioning has the comfort, but because The Mall is similar to an enclosed village and allows you to walk around like you are in a smart shopping street, able to browse, compare, experience, shop, eat and just past the time of day. In addition it allows you to show how sophisticated you are and how you stand in the world.




The shopping Malls also plays heavily on Thai's love of food. It is rare to visit a country that is so engaged with food. From the simple local food to elegant Thai Royal cuisine, sophisticated tastes to rare and mainstream food franchises, the Shopping Mall is a place to come and meet friends and eat. The convenience of it cannot be stressed. The huge number of people on the roads, the stress of any day to day living can be wiped clean with a walk around the Mall, a chat with friends and a bite to eat.

One of my favourite eating experiences are the Shopping Mall food courts. Surrounding many many tables you have small food outlets with local food. Here you can enjoy all the local street food without the heat of the street, all the local desserts and specialties and often at great value. Normally you buy a swipe card from the kiosk for 100-200 THB, buy any dishes you like, and then return the card, getting any unused credit back in change.



Busy food court in the Mall
Busy food court in the Mall

(While I'm thinking of it) It's not strictly a Mall but does have multiple food outlet like a Mall. One little gem that is worth knowing is the food court at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). It's down stairs near to the Suvarnabhumi skytrain station entrance. This a great place to taste that authentic taste before a flight but also before passport control on departure.

Those who cannot afford the time and money to go to the Mall aspire to this lifestyle. Thai society is quite hierarchical so there is big face if you can go and be at ease with your surroundings. A way to show you are at ease is to walk around with many bags of shopping, ideally with the most expensive brands on show. Huge section of the Thai society love to shop and feel great comfort in buying into well known brands. Marketing people have worked this all out so now their are an entire range of Shopping Mall's that focus in on branding by income and demographic.

Quieter times food court,
Quieter times food court,

Different shopping Mall franchises.
General Malls like Big C or MBK off Siam Square aim at those with a lower income and tweak their business model for exactly the profile of people who can afford the entry level products. The Central Shopping Mall aims at the aspiring middle class and this franchise can be found all over Thailand. High end Malls like The Emporium off Sukhumvit in Bangkok cater to the super wealthy and you can feel that affluence by the watches worn, bags, designer labels of all the customers. So by going to the Mall it  has become a status symbol which measures where you are in society.

MBK Bangkok- Shopping Mall
MBK Bangkok- Shopping Mall
MBK Shopping Mall
MBK Shopping Mall

In 2014 the Worlds most used Instagram hashtag for a while was #paragon (siamparagon.co.th) a seven storey mega Mall in Bangkok with all the top clothing (Chanel) brands, high end jewelers (Cartier) and a whole section devoted to selling Porshe, Ferrari, & Lambourgini. This was an aspiration movement hashtag and with over 7 million hits showed that being part of the Mall lifestyle has a profound meaning inside Thailand.

Central Festival Phuket
Central Festival Phuket

The Meaning of the Materialism
From a western perspective the Thai Shopping Mall might come over as highly materialistic which, at one level, it is. But there again I think there is more to it. There is massive social cohesion in Thai society and being part of the group represents good. From an early age, children are taught at school to believe that the Thai way is the best way and doing what other Thais do is a good thing. Buying into known brands at popular shopping Malls, eating with other like minder people reaches a deep comfort level that reinforces the belief system.

Another aspect of the success of the Shopping Mall is it's modernity. Modern, not old and backward, is the hallmark of progress. Thai people sees themselves as modern and from a modernizing society, a developing country looking forward optimistically to a brighter future. So in this sense the Mall gives Thai people a sense they are part of the future.

It is important to understand that this isn't a western sense of optimism, it is purely a Thai one based on strong foundations of shared Thai Values, a strong school system to teach them and a profound love of being Thai. So although the Mall looks like something you might see in London, Paris or New York it most definately has a strong Thai twist and theme and very unique social interaction.

What this love of the shopping mall culture tells me about Thai people is that they are very confident about the future and confident on who they are. They are happy to spend and spend as nothing in the future will stop the progress of their country.









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