If you are looking for an interesting cultural experience while you are in Bangkok and you feel you have done enough of temples and museums it might be worth your while making your way to Pantip Plaza (also spelt ‘Panthip Plaza’) on New Phetchaburi Road.
It is a place that is famous for all the wrong reasons. There is a famous Thai pop song where the chorus is ‘I don’t want to go to Pantip’. It’s a love song and the male singer repeats these words to his lover because his ex-girlfriend works in the infamous plaza. The real infamy of Panthip Plaza comes from the fact that much of the giant indoor shopping mall is devoted to selling illegal copies of copyrighted material. There are not only DVDs, CDs, computer games and software but also incredibly cheap iPods, smart phones, tablet computers and lots of other gadgets in the giant indoor mall on offer. It is all available for purchase at very cheap prices. There are also cheap computers made by people such as Acer. Any software program can be added for a few dollars. Pantip is undoubtedly a place that exists due to the hacking abilities of Thais and the genius of Chinese reverse engineering.
The morality of such a place is very much open to debate. It is very curious to observe the Thai authorities persistent blind eye to the money making plaza.
However, it is not the illegality of Pantip Plaza that makes me find the place fascinating. Rather it is the experience of wandering down the rows taking in the sight of buckets filled with computer parts. Any part for any type of computer can be found in Pantip Plaza. If you searched hard enough you could probably find a ZX81.
In hundreds of tiny workshops are to be found Thais dismantling computers, building computers and repairing computers. Much of their work seems to be data retrieval from damaged hard drives. They work methodically as the customers watch in hope that their photos, music collections and other valuable data can be recovered.
In another section it is great to stroll through the stalls that sell mobile phones and spy on saffron robed monks that are studiously looking at the phones. Although these men have sworn an oath to shun materialism they are obviously seduced by new touchscreen technology.
If you need a business card, a brochure printed, a T-shirt designed or any other type of printed media the stalls in Pantip Plaza offer great value for money. Care, however, should be taken as quality dramatically varies from shop to shop.
For anyone remotely interested in technology, seeing another side of Buddhism or in need of the latest version of Photoshop, Pantip Plaza is the place to go. Unlike the singer in the song I am more than happy to spend a few hours taking in the sites of Pantip Plaza.