Asiatique is a new riverfront shopping area built on 28 acres of land on the southern bank of the Chao Phraya. The site had initially been developed in the early 1900s by the East Asiatic Company, a business dedicated to the export of teak. Asiatique is a redeveloped factory and warehouse complex, very much like Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace or Baltimore’s Harborplace. However, with 1,500 shops, 50 restaurants and two theaters, Asiatique dwarfs both Boston’s and Baltimore’s redeveloped markets and seems to have more in common with Minneapolis’ Mall of America. Asiatique is a permanent night market with its shops and restaurants open only from 5 p.m. to midnight daily.
On Saturday evening, I took a taxi from the apartment (point A) to Saphan Taksin Pier (B). When I arrived at the pier, there were at least 300 people queuing for the complimentary water shuttle. It took me about 15-20 minutes to get on one of the boats, each of which holds about 100-120 people, for the 1.5 mile ride downriver on the Chao Phraya to Asiatique (C).
The development has four distinct parts. The old trade center — the yellow portion on the map on the right — has been designated as the Charoen Krung District. Charoen Krung was the first road in Bangkok, it runs south from the Grand Palace for about 5.5 miles parallel to the Chao Phraya, and it forms the southern border of Asiatique. The Charoen Krung District is the largest part of the Asiatique complex and it is home to over 1,000 retail shops as well as to both the Joe Louis Theater and Calypso Theater.
As odd as it may sound, the Joe Louis Theater is tangentially associated with the Brown Bomber. The theater was founded in 1985 by the Thai puppet master Sakorn Yangkhieosod, whose nickname was “Liew”. In the post-WW II era, he adopted the English name of Joe Louis in honor of the world heavyweight boxing champion (1937 to 1949) and Detroit’s adopted son. From 2002 to 2010, the Joe Louis Puppet Theater was located at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, but it was forced to close when this market was demolished. The new Joe Louis Theater promises to once again showcase traditional Thai puppetry, and I expect that I will make another visit to Asiatique to see a performance.
This August, the Calypso Cabaret Show will relocate from the Asia Hotel to Asiatique’s Calypso Theater. Since 1987, the Calypso has been the premier ladyboy show in Bangkok. The cabaret show features more than 50 ladyboys singing and dancing in costumes reminiscent of Vegas in the 1960s — skimpy outfits, long legs, boas, and feathers on top. When Lady Gaga performed in Thailand this past May, she reportedly went to see the Calypso. Stay tuned because this sounds like it has all the makings of a fine blog post!
Town Square District — the green section on the map above — primarily contains restaurants and sports bars, although there are also some retail shops in Warehouse 5, on the eastern edge of the complex near the car park. There is a pretty wide open area and the developers expect to use it for special events and activities, such as new product launches. As I walked through it, there were some street performers break dancing and a fellow who was performing with a singing marionette.
The Factory District — the brown section on the map — is the second largest part of the complex. The Factory District has some trendy restaurants and bars as well as shops with uniquely-designed products. According to the developers, the focus is on modern, post-Industrial lifestyles (whatever that means.)
With an advertised 1,500 shops, there is something for everyone. I am always amazed by the single-concept specialization of almost all these small retailers. I also find it phenomenal that many of these small stores seem to be unattended. I am not sure if the merchant has simply gone someplace nearby to visit or out for food or something. In any event, the stores are not locked up and yet nothing seems to disappear.
I also saw several places that offered fish massages. For 150 baht ($5), you can put your feet and legs into tanks of water that contains hundreds of small fish that will eat the dead skin. The Garra Rufa fish that munch on the dead skin have no teeth, but with evolution and scientists mucking around with DNA you never know when this might change. It is highly unlikely that I will be writing a blog on this anytime soon.
The Waterfront District — the blue section on the map — is perhaps the signature feature of the Asiatique development. This district showcases the redevelopment of Bangkok’s riverside from a center of trade and commerce to tourism. This is where the water shuttles from Taksin Pier drop off visitors and many people were just hanging out along the 1,000 foot long public boardwalk. Several high-end, fine-dining restaurants are also located here with views of the river. The developers plan to use this space for concerts, festivals, and New Year’s countdown celebrations.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.