BY LORI SMITH
I have experienced Bangkok twice as a business traveller. The first time I was a guest of the country’s department of trade and the city served as a base for a week spent visiting factories located in its outskirts and the surrounding countryside. The second time, I attended a trade show held at the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre (BITEC). Each time I was struck with Bangkok’s seamless complexity. It is a city of high rises, luxury hotels, top restaurants and endless traffic. It is also a city of gilded temples, palaces and spirit houses. Its ability to balance and blend these elements makes it a perfect MICE destination.
MEET AND SLEEP
Ranked alongside Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong as one of Asia’s top business and meeting cities, Bangkok offers a wide range of spaces and accommodations for groups of all sizes. BITEC, which hosted the show I attended, was built in 1997 and has more than 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibition and meeting space. The IMPACT Arena, Exhibition and Convention Center has more than one-and-half million square feet of usable indoor space. Its Royal Jubilee Ballroom (21,000+ sq. ft. and columnless) is the largest in Thailand. The Bangkok Convention Centre, located in Bangkok’s downtown business district, features convention/exhibition space, meeting suites and boardrooms. It is part of the CentralWorld complex, which also includes the country’s biggest retail and leisure facility (500+ stores, 100+ restaurants, 15 movie theatres, etc.), and the 505-room Centara Grand, owned and managed by Centara Hotels & Resorts, the leading hotel chain in Thailand.
The Centara Grand itself has meeting space as do all of the properties on Bangkok’s long roster of luxury hotels. The majority of the world’s great hotel brands are represented in the city. The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La and Sheraton have five-star properties on the city’s river, Chao Phraya. The Hyatt, Westin, JW Marriott, Kempinski, St. Regis, InterContinental, the Four Seasons, Plaza Athénée and Pullman also have exclusive properties. These hotels feature the highest quality guestrooms, suites, meeting spaces, and restaurants. And while each delivers services and amenities in keeping with their brand, they do so in ways that reflect and respect Thai culture and traditions, and further the country’s reputation for warmth and kindness.
For Canadians, one of the pleasures of journeying to Bangkok for a meeting, convention or incentive trip is having the opportunity to learn about Thai culture and history. During my trips to the city, I visited The Grand Palace, a 54-acre walled complex that was the home to Thailand’s monarchs from the time it was built in 1782 until 1932. I went to Wat Traimit to see The Golden Buddha, the world’s largest solid gold statue. For good luck, I dropped coins into the 108 bronze balls that line the walls of Wat Pho, the temple home of the 155-foot Reclining Buddha. And I toured the gleaming Teak Palace, the world’s largest teakwood building, restored in the early 1980s by Thailand’s Queen, who transformed it into a museum celebrating the reign of King Rama V.
Sightseeing is a great perk for meeting attendees and a must-have part of spousal programs. So is shopping and Bangkok is a paradise for those in need of retail therapy. The city is filled with malls and street vendors. At the top end of the spectrum, the Siam Paragon shopping mall is the city’s equivalent to Rodeo Drive. It’s where well-heeled shoppers can stock up on Jimmy Choos and check out the latest Ferrari. At the opposite end is the Chatuchak weekend market, 35 acres of stalls selling everything from clothes to pets. If a group’s schedule permits, Chatuchak is a must-see. It’s the perfect place to stock up on great gifts (silk scarves, etc.) and souvenirs.
Dining is another of Bangkok’s pleasures. In fact, the city is a foodie paradise with top notch restaurants offering every cuisine and, for intrepid eaters, a great street food scene. But, many group members will be happy to have the chance to explore Thai food. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter—it is one of the world’s most nuanced cuisines and taking a cooking class is one of the most popular activities for leisure and business travellers as well as team-building. Some hotels offer cooking classes on-site. For example, The Mandarin Oriental is home to the renowned Thai Cookery School. Groups that would like to go off-site can choose from any number of cooking schools including the top-rated BaiPai Thai Cooking School and Amita Thai Cooking Class. And for clients interested in adding a CSR element to their visit, there’s the Helping Hands Thai Cooking School. Run in Klong Toey, one of the city’s poorest areas, Helping Hands is on my must-do list when work brings me back to Asia’s City of Angels.
If you’re looking for something more active for your group to do consider holding a team-building event in Pattaya, a beach resort on the Gulf of Thailand some 130 kilometers from Bangkok. There, local companies can help you organize sailing regattas, dragon boating, cardboard boat races, catamaran racing, canoeing, kayaking, deep sea fishing, beach Olympics, and more. – LS