Monday, May 31, 2010

Bangkok's Central World mall, before its fiery death

It took Chuvaness' mournful post for me to realize that, holy crap, I had been to Bangkok's Central World, the giant shopping mall (Thailand's biggest, in fact) that was torched by anti-government demonstrators a couple of weeks ago.

Blame it on my general disinterest in shopping. My colleague Pam and I were in Bangkok late last year, along with the Star's JR Isaac and (namedrop alert) Jim Paredes of the Apo Hiking Society (wonderful man--will blog about him soon, now that the Apo has formally said adieu) for a Samsung event. During lunch break, with about 45 minutes to spare, Pam dragged me from the hotel and we walked the short stretch to Central World.

Of course, to my jaded urban eyes, one glass-and-steel shopping mall is often the same as another, so I didn't even bother to catch the name of our destination and just went along. It was noon, the heat was intense, we were under time constraints and I had to take snapshots while doing our brisk walk.

Many months later, with pictures of Central World's smoldering remains making their way around the world, Cecile's post instantly brought me back to that part of Bangkok which I remembered so differently from the bloody, chaotic battleground it had become, according to reports. I dug out my pictures, and here they are. Join me as I retrace my steps and revisit the mall that billed itself as “The largest lifestyle shopping destination in Bangkok”--now all gone. What a waste.

We started our walk from Erawan Bangkok Hotel, a side entrance of which opened into this street with Thai vendors selling flowers and native delicacies. We crossed the street corner by the main highway...

Entered this smaller shopping mall--odd, I thought, that it was noontime and there were hardly people inside...

And exited a mall door connected to an overpass, which had this view, on my left, of the corner where we came from. Note, too, the absence of the infamous Bangkok traffic on this particular day.

Let sleeping dogs lie, 'ika nga. On the overpass that we had to cross to get to Central World was this dog blissfully taking his siesta.

To my right was this view of a portion of commercial Bangkok. Who knew this posh part of the city would sprout barricades and erupt in bloody upheaval one day?

And there was the facade of Central World beckoning to us. Zen was the anchor department store of the mall. See the giant bust in gold on the courtyard? You will see it again, under vastly sadder circumstances, in the last picture of this post.

We went down the overpass and saw this group of veiled women checking out the dresses displayed in a stall. Below, a vendor selling--I'm not sure--buko?

The courtyard of Central World. Where were the crowds? I had so gotten used to the mall scene in the Philippines where, on a weekend, I actually dread going to Trinoma, Megamall or MOA because of the crush of shoppers.

Finally, inside the mall--quite an elegant sight. Imagine all this going up in smoke. I still can't.

An all-Thai bookstore on the third (fourth?) floor was where I saw this stack of Twilight books with a different cover design. Gone was the austere black-and-red look of the series, replaced by what looked like an updated version of those Barbara Cartland bodice-rippers. (I blogged about the books here.) Beside the bookstore was the department store Zen, which occupied a whole wing of the mall, I think.

Along the open-air walkway outside Zen were these interesting window displays--a row of mannequins in shirts sporting either colors or black and white. Simple concept, arresting sight.

On the opposite side of the mall was this building with a banner of Thailand's Queen Sirikit on the facade--the other mall we had to pass through to get to Central World. That covered overpass with the clock tower? That's the one we crossed, where the dog lay sleeping, and where I snapped pictures of a serene, ordinary Bangkok, months before its cataclysmic unrest.

On May 19, 2010, Central World went up in flames. [Photos and captions from The Big Picture.]

A Red Shirt protester throws a rock at a burning shopping mall on Wednesday, May 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

A statue and a torn Thai national flag remain in front of Bangkok's Central World shopping mall, which was gutted by fire after army soldiers advanced towards an encampment of thousands of Red Shirt protesters, May 19, 2010. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)


GeoRge said...

If that bust could talk.
Grabe yung last two pictures.
The devastation reminds me of the Glorietta 2 explosion.
The Southeast Asian mall experience. One day posh, another day in flames.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a shopper either but it is too bad for that country. Why were the streets and the mall so empty?

rudeboy said...

I like that last picture. The bust is probably a Buddha head, which is why it looks unscathed. The startled look in its eyes underscores the inferno behind it.

@ Anonymous : I'm in Bangkok quite a bit and though I worship at the temples of commerce, I've noticed that the more upscale malls tend to be crowded only on the weekends. They're practically deserted on the weekdays, except for the venerable MBK, which is always chock-full of bargain-hunters any day of the week.

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