Archive for category Thailand Trip 2013

Asiatique & Apple in Bangkok Evolution

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.

Mobile Only Experiment – Part I

After reading about the Mobile Only exploits of Seattle mobility guru Benjamin Robbins, who recently completed one year of working entirely on his smartphone, I decided try something similar during my two weeks in Thailand. My task would be a whole lot easier since I wouldn’t be working and instead of one smartphone, I would be using three mobile devices from different platforms: an iPhone 4s, a Blackberry 9650 and a Google Nexus 7. And finally, I wouldn’t be using a costly International plan, relying instead on WiFi and a Thai SIM card for phone and Internet.

Several days before leaving for Thailand, I began the difficult chore of bringing the Blackberry 9650 out of retirement. I hadn’t used the device since December of 2011 when I gave up on RIM and moved to the iPhone platform. It took several hours over multiple days to perform the updates for both the operating system and the main apps I planned to use on the trip: Foursquare, Facebook, Hootsuite and WordPress. One thing I realized immediately was that the Blackberry’s processing speed was ridiculously slow compared to the iPhone. And the time to reboot a Blackberry was ages longer than the iPhone. And no matter how hard I tried and how many times I uninstalled and reinstalled the app, I could not get Hootsuite, my favorite social media app, to open on the Blackberry.  

The working plan for connectivity was to leave my iPhone in airplane mode the entire time (which would assure it did not accidentally connect to any networks) and only enable WiFi on the device. Since the Blackberry was no longer being used, I would make that my throw-away device and use a Thai SIM card for both phone and Internet. And finally, I would continue to use my Nexus the same way — as a Kindle book reader and also as a Web browser when I had WiFi access.

Travel day arrived and when I got to the airport, I realized I had made a rookie mistake and failed to fully charge my Nexus. No problem, I thought, I’ll just find an outlet at the departure gate. While I did find a power source, the juice it provided was minimal as it only raised the Nexus charge 10 percent in an hour.

The Emirates flight from Dulles to Dubai took 12 hours and I never ran into any device power issues as I read a book the old fashioned way and used the in-flight entertainment system. One nice feature of this system was a power outlet for two of every three seats in an aisle. Each seat also had a USB port which appeared to be for charging, as well.

As a big Foursquare user, my plan was to check in from Dubai during a 1 1/2 hour layover. According to the airport Web site, there is free WiFi. However, I was unable to find an open network or a kiosk that provided a password.

On the five-hour flight from Dubai to Bangkok, the massive A380 double decker jet had WiFi for purchase: $10 for 30 MB and $20 for 100 MB. I didn’t use the Internet and actually caught up on some much needed sleep.

On arrival in Bangkok, I again tried to check in via Foursquare. The signal was strong but the free WiFi at Bangkok International requires a username and password, which is available at the information desk. So I stopped at the desk before my wait at customs and retrieved the log in info. As I stood in line, there was no signal. Foiled again by Free WiFi.

On the way out of the airport, I stopped at a kiosk for DTAC, one of the Thai telecom providers. For 500 baht (about $17) I was able to purchase two weeks of unlimited Internet and a meager amount of local phone service for the Blackberry. It took the attendant about 10 minutes to set up the phone and he told me to wait 20 minutes for the Internet to start working. After 30 minutes and no Internet, I started troubleshooting since I was connected to the DTAC network and I was able to make voice calls. As anyone who has ever owned a Blackberry knows, there are numerous menus and sub menus. I eventually found the TCP IP menu under Advanced Settings and unchecked a box for APN Settings Enabled. I won’t claim to know anything about what I later found was a setting for Access Point Name, but that did the trick and I was finally connected in Bangkok late Sunday night.

Sunrise Over Baghdad

Never in my life did I expect to see the sun rise over Baghdad. But I did this morning.


Instead of flying the normal Bangkok routes via Tokyo and Seoul, I decided to change things up on this trip and go through Dubai. While you may think it’s because of my excellent sense of adventure, in reality, Emirates was a helluva lot cheaper than Korean Air and ANA. So Dubai it was, and the route from Dulles to the United Arab Emirates featured a route through Europe and the Middle East.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the flight goes through Iraqi airspace, but honestly, I never even thought about the route.

So this morning, while watching the plane’s on-board satellite navigation, I realized I was flying over Iraq. And just as the sun was coming up, we flew very close Baghdad, which couldn’t have been more than 10 or 15 miles away (I was on the wrong side of the plane so I only saw Baghdad on the map).

How’s that for a Sunday morning sunrise?