Visiting Bangkok? Remember to drop by Siwilai and Eathai

Central to what makes Bangkok such a compelling destination for Singaporeans are the three Cs - cheap, cheap, cheap.

To that, of course, add its rich cuisine and culture (not to mention the city's colourful nightlife, ranging from pink to deep blue).

But I've always had another excuse for a quick getaway to Bangkok: Its Creativity.

As someone who gets a buzz from all things unique and chic, Bangkok is an amazing trove of surprises, from awesome gadgets to amusing trinkets.

That each trip ends in excess-baggage penalty is testimony to my penchant for all thing

You see Thai creativity in their TV commercials, you see it in the street-markets and you see it in your shopping bags filled with clothes created by young Thai designers.

Now there are two comfortable, one-stop spots which capture the essence of Thai creativity and cuisine: Siwilai and Eathai.

Both are within the same, cavernous Central Embassy, which sits on 144,000 sq m of prime retail space at the heart of Bangkok's shopping district. And that makes it a huge convenience.

Seasoned visitors know that the less time you spend in the snarl of Bangkok's traffic, the more time you have to enjoy its attractions.

So start browsing with Siwilai, on the fifth level of Central Embassy.

To call it a shop would be an injustice. It is more like an alternative, multi-brand concept store; a stylish, one-stop showcase of Thai design.

Why Siwilai? The name was coined by its creator and managing director Barom Bhicharnchitr (pictured below) from the word "civilisation".

It is meant to represent the heritage of the Kingdom, its blossoming culture and urban growth, and its links with the life-giving Chao Phraya River.

"Siwilai is meant to be a showcase of Thai creativity," the snappy-dressing Mr Bharom, whose family runs Thailand's Central Group, told The New Paper.

He takes an active interest in curating what is featured at Siwilai. "How I curate is based on intuition and experience," he said.

So what you see is what thrills him and his team of buyers. He draws inspiration from young, promising designers to established artisans throughout Thailand.

But this is no air-conditioned Chatuchak. The clothes and accessories are not only uniquely and meticulously designed but refined. It is avant garde, yet affordable .

In a word, the stuff at Siwilai is cool. It has a print media and vinyl library, a beauty lab, a toys and gadgets section, a "Thai-Made" section, a comprehensive unisex selection of fashion and lifestyle brands, among other treasures.

It is, says the US-educated Mr Barom, "a whirlpool of cultures and experiences".

"I work personally to choose what brands to feature in Siwilai. It has to click with customers. As important, we want to give Thai brands exposure.

"For our in-house line we have special pottery, silk scarves and indigo dye T-shirts. We want to relate to the Thai audience while showing off our rich heritage to the international market.

"I've always wanted to do something that the Thai people can relate to and tourists can appreciate."Indeed, Siwilai stands out among the over 200 high-end brands at Central Embassy as a sweet oasis of affordability amid the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, Prada, Ralph Laurens, BCBG Max Azria, CH Carolina Herrera and Christian Louboutin .

Having filled your senses with one-stop Thai creativity, fill your tummy at Central Embassy's version of Thai street cuisine.

Eathai is a stylish food court at the basement of the mall offering the essence of Thai street food minus the humidity and fumes of taxis and tuk tuk traversing the various sois.

Again, the idea is to source from the best that Thailand can offer, with stalls run by the same operators of Bangkok's most famous stalls.

Eathai features four main areas: Street Food Selections, Krua 4 Pak (Regional Cuisine), Talad Eathai (Food Market), and Issaya Cooking Studio.

It promises originality in every aspect. Every dish is true to Thai culinary heritage so do not expect the watered-down offerings at food courts catering to touristy taste buds.

But be warned: As at Siwilai, one visit would not be enough to cover the full extent of the Thai experience. The sheer variety can be overwhelming.

Eathai and Siwilai needs to be explored, appreciated and savoured at a leisurely pace, with the Zen-like patience of a Bangkok cabbie caught in a never-ending crawl.

This article was first published on March 13, 2015.
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