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Modern India Comes to Thailand. Misc. Bangkok 2004

The Nation  (Bangkok)

9 August 2004

Modern India Comes to Thailand

By Ashali Varma

A few weeks ago I got a call from an old friend of mine who lives in Delhi. Deepi and Kittu, his wife wanted to do something special for his birthday and they were tired of the usual “Lets call all our friends over” routine.

So they gave me a call and said they had booked themselves at the Hyatt in Bangkok and were coming to celebrate the happy occasion here. They had other friends here as well, so it turned out to be a fun holiday, with a dinner at The Oriental and one at Baan Khanitha and of course meals and catching up on news at our place in Bangkok. He spent the mornings in the Hyatt Spa; she went to Chatuchak and the malls.

There is so much to do here, say all my guests and others who are here on a corporate posting.  Needless to say they depart with luggage weighing far more than when they arrived. They are big spenders and I am gradually coming to the conclusion that they play a vital role in keeping the Thai economy going strong. The profile of an Indian tourist has also changed considerably. They are well educated, work for corporations, have credit cards and enough foreign exchange to shop, eat and live well.

With the reasonable but very good hotels, the different types of cuisines and the excellent shopping, there are Indians who come here just to escape from India! To add to all this Bangkok is so temptingly close to all the Indian cities. Other attractions are the beautiful beaches and golf courses close enough to drive down even for the day.

It used to be that the only visitors who came to Thailand from India, had business interest or relatives here. Indians did not have credit cards then and foreign exchange was limited. In fact in 1979, when my mother and I decided to tour the East we had to go on a Sita Travel tour, where we paid for the fare and hotels in rupees and got less than $500 in hand to spend.  Imagine going to Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Manila with $500 for shopping and eating, over a period of 17 days! But I have to add that despite Indian Government restrictions on money, Sita put us at good hotels and we had a wonderful tour. In addition, we were lucky that food was cheap and we had friends in all the countries.

Things have changed dramatically not only for Indians but thanks to globalization for all Asians. Apart from the Indian tourist visiting Thailand, there are also a number of Indian executives working for Multinational Corporations, like Pepsi, Coca Cola, GE, Unilever and Whirlpool in Bangkok. Vivek is one such executive, young, bright and a graduate with an engineering degree and a management degree from the renowned Indian Institute of Management (IIM). He was posted here two years ago with Whirlpool and says he loves Bangkok for a number of reasons. “It was easy to find a good apartment with facilities like a swimming pool, tennis court and gym.  And we did not feel like outsiders, because there are many expats working here and Thais are used to foreigners,” says Vivek, adding, “You have a great variety of cuisines here from expensive to cheap but it is all good and clean—the choice is amazing.”

About schooling and other comforts, Vivek pointed out that there are more than 50 international, English medium schools so education is not a problem if you come with kids. “We even get Hindi speaking Burmese maids here who can cook Indian food!” he says with obvious delight.

In short, expats like it here because of the superb infrastructure, a wonderful, tolerant people, a number of golf courses and beaches reachable by excellent highways and lots of places to visit. He does admit though that India has many more historic sites but the infrastructure is simply not developed enough for comfortable tourism. “Here you can find hotels from Bt 5,000 a day to Bt 1,000 and even the medium range hotels are clean and comfortable,” says Vivek.

There are many Indians, like Vivek, working here and all of them say that for quality of life, Bangkok beats most Asian cities. Some find this country so addictive that they refuse to leave when companies try and relocate them. They try and get other jobs here—this is especially so with the Western expats.

Another area, which is fast growing is conferences. More and more Indian companies are choosing Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok as conference destinations. Some even charter planes to fly more than 100 executives and wives here for year- end good performance conferences and morale boosters. “ It’s the ambiance,” one conference manager told me. “The hotels are so reasonable compared to India and the wives love the shopping and sightseeing.”

The attraction of Thailand for Indians is only getting better and with a better class of tourists and executives coming in, I hope the Thai perception of Indians improves.