220 Volt Shopping

One of the small challenges in moving abroad is that electrical power is delivered at 110/120 volts in most of the Americas but at 220/240 volts in most of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The higher voltage in Thailand means that many appliances made for the U.S. would burn out if they were used here without a converter or transformer.  Before we left Fort Worth, I examined all of our electronics to understand what would work abroad and what would not.

The good news is that computers, laptops, and many audio products have built-in transformers that can run on either 110 or 220 volt power.  Many other electrical appliances, however, only run at one voltage.  As we got ready to move, we built a list of things that we would need to replace once we landed in Bangkok.  The list included the hair dryer, coffee pot, clock radios, electric toothbrush, computer monitors, and printer. Nothing on this list was urgent, but many items are conveniences that we are used to having.

This weekend, we jumped on the BTS SkyTrain and made our way to Siam Station, which is in the heart of the Ratchaprasong shopping area.  Along a 1.5 km stretch of Ploenchit Road from Chit Lom to National Stadium, there have to be as many malls, stores, and shops as can be found on Chicago’s Miracle Mile.  Among the major malls are Central World, Siam Paragon, Amarin Plaza, Erawan Bangkok, Digital Gateway, and the Gaysorn Shopping Mall.  There are several major hotels located adjacent to this shopping mecca including the Grand Hyatt, Four Seasons, Renaissance, Intercontinental, and Centara Grand.

With over 500 stores with more than 5 million sq. feet of retail space, over 100 restaurants, a huge supermarket, 15 cinemas, and an ice rink, Central World has to be among the world’s largest shopping malls.  What I found most interesting about this mall was that stores selling similar goods were typically all located on the same floor. Real easy for the buyer to shop multiple stores to find the merchandise that best suits his or her tastes and price. Less than a year ago, Central World was firebombed during the Red Shirt protests.  One section of the mall (the Zen area, how ironic is that?) remains closed and under reconstruction.  The rest of this gorgeous, vibrant mall is open and incredibly busy.

From a square footage perspective, Siam Paragon rivals Central World, but Siam Paragon has fewer but large stores. Siam Paragon is perhaps the most high-end mall in this area, and this is saying a lot since the others also have a large assortment of top designers and brands. There is an auto dealer in Siam Paragon who shows and sells Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley, Lotus, and Maserati cars.  These cars are expensive enough in the States, but since they are imported into Thailand (rather than being assembled locally) they are subject to an 80% import duty.  So, to purchase one of these vehicles in Thailand, you would need to take the price in the U.S. and double it.

Now these malls may seem to be silly places to look for more mundane items such as the electronic items for which we were shopping.  But these malls have plenty of regular department and specialty stores that serve middle-class shoppers from Thailand and abroad.  We ended up getting our toothbrush, a clock radio that works with the iPod, and a combo scanner/copier/printer.  I doubt if we saw 20% of the stores along this shopping avenue and I expect that at least one of us will become a regular visitor.

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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