Fashion Writer Nicole Broad Reports on Thai Travels and Trends
I had never been on a long haul flight before the 27th December 2011, and on the three hour journey to Heathrow I started to wonder what I’d let myself in for. The excitement was there, but it hadn’t come to the surface yet, and instead I was nervous and apprehensive. I started to find things to worry about which most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at, the food on the plane, the heat when i got there, how I’d cope with jet lag… The list went on.
Eleven hours and a few rubbish films later, we had arrived. The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the airport. I had been warned that Bangkok was dirty, sweaty and smelly. From these observations I had conjured up an image in my head that consisted of a run down city, and my image of the airport was similar. However when arriving into Thailand the architecture of the airport was breathtaking, and definitely put Heathrow, which I’d previously considered as up to date and impressive, to shame. After an intimidating pass through immigration, the excitement had risen and I realised that I was actually in Thailand, the place which my aunty and uncle had been longing for me to visit for years.
Bangkok was quite possibly the strangest and most inspiring place I have ever been to. We stayed in the Shangri La hotel, a breathtakingly beautiful hotel overlooking the Chao Phraya River. Bangkok is known by many as “the Venice of the East”, as before becoming such a modern city the river was it’s main source of transportation and trading. It is still used by many, and water taxis and cruises are a popular way of getting to all the major attractions that this bustling city has to offer.
The water taxis are well worth the bumpy ride, with views that are only available from the river. Something that amazed me was the contrast of this city, and when cruising down the river you’d see what I mean. Beautiful traditional buildings and temples, next to modernised city living complexes, next to the poorest living conditions – literally shacks. It is obvious that the Thais are incredibly religious, but I found it shocking that although the majority of people are living in squalor they are more than prepared to spend every last penny on temples and other religious iconography. This is obvious when watching the horrific footage of the aftermath of the Tsunami in 2004, the buildings that survived were the temples, with people’s homes, families and businesses washed away.
Whilst in Bangkok I thought it would be rude not to sample the different types of shopping available in the city. First stop was Khao San Road, a market well-known for its backpacking visitors. The buzz of the area was fantastic, if you can overlook the pushy salesmen on each stall trying to grab your attention. Thailand markets are legendary, and are definitely a slice of the real country. Everywhere we went in the country there was some form of market, be it a barbecue chicken stall at the side of the road, or a sea gypsy market by the sea (the sea gypsy one I have to admit was my favourite, I could have spent all day gazing at the polished shells and wood carvings being sold). Another market we visited whilst in Bangkok was the Patpong night market. This was a life experience I will never forget, having to push past the ping-pong sellers and the lady boys to get to the stalls, and being faced with some of the worst designer rip offs in existence. But every so often you would see that little gem of a copy glinting through, and no one back home would realise the difference, and instead question where this new-found wealth has come from.
The shopping centres are a whole world away from the markets. I stepped into Central world in Bangkok and was faced with a completely westernised environment, like walking back into England. A very strange feeling, and one which fascinated me. The need for Thais to be westernised is so strong that their moisturisers have whitening included into them. The advertising used for every shop is of blonde, tall, white models, and when you so see a Thai in an advert they are photoshopped to look pale. It was strange comparing this to the need we British feel for the perfect tan, proof that nobody is happy with what they have.
The mall was covered in christmas decorations, even though the Thais don’t actually celebrate Christmas. One thing in particular that made me laugh was a shop selling christmas flip-flops and T-shirts, rather than our typical scarves and jumpers. Having worked for Gap over the Christmas period I went inside their first ever Thai store, opened in March 2010. They were a season behind, which of course makes sense with their climate, the need for summer clothing is much greater over there than in Britain. The other massive difference was the price of the clothing over there, with at least a 25% mark up compared to our ticket prices. This is possibly to do with the transport and import costs, but when comparing the price of high street clothing and the beautiful Thai clothing available for next to nothing on the markets, it was obvious where I was spending my holiday fund! If you know where to look, Thailand is one of the best countries for shopping. From sales people walking along the beach with their goods slung behind their back, to designer stores in central world, to hand-made souvenirs and homewares, there is something for everyone.