Two years ago, the balcony of my hotel room at the Chatrium Riverside offered a stunning view of the Chao Phraya River heading downriver to the South.
Today, my view of the Chao Phraya is nearly identical — with one exception. On the East bank in what used to be a non-descript warehouse area, there now sits a Ferris Wheel (the upper part of the wheel can be seen above the closest white building in the picture). This “observation wheel” is brightly illuminated at night and is part of Asiatique, a massive retail complex that opened in April 2012 at a cost of 1 billion Thai baht (roughly $34 million) and features 1,500 retail stalls and 40 upscale restaurants. The dining list includes Why 97 Pub and Restaurant, a hip establishment I visited on Monday night. The food was outstanding and the sleek, modern design reminded me of a Las Vegas restaurant.
Two years ago, I was surprised to hear from a Thai teenager that her and all of her friends used Blackberry while iPhones were used mostly by older businessmen. She said that Blackberry Messenger was the application they used to communicate.
Today, that same teenager and her friends all use iPhones, as do the younger professionals in Bangkok. They say the only ones still using Blackberry are tourists like myself. I found evidence of this as I bought a phone charger at Siam Paragon, an upscale mall catering to the wealthy and featuring exotic car show rooms for Lamborghini, Porsche and Lotus. Throughout the mall, Apple signs were in abundance and I did not see any for Blackberry. The same held true in an electronics store, where the clerk took me to his Blackberry accessories in a small corner shelf in the back of the store.
I’m told that one of the main reasons for this mass exodus from Blackberry to iPhone was the introduction of the Japanese instant messaging app Line, which is extremely popular in Asian countries. According to Line’s Wikipedia page, Line has over 100 million users in World and supports Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese. Line, which was introduced in June of 2011 following an earthquake in Japan, is also a favorite of Asians in the United States who can communicate with friends and family in their native countries without an additional charge. (According to Line’s Wikipedia page, the app was released for Blackberry in October of 2012 but in true RIM fashion, it appears it was too late.)
While some things have remained the same in Bangkok for decades and will continue to do so for many decades to come, this bustling city on the Chao Phraya River has quickly evolved in two commerce areas over the past two years: from Blackberry and back-street bazaars to Apple and Asiatique.