Monday, August 22, 2011

Mansion 7: Boutique Thriller Mall

Looking more like a movie set than a shopping mall, Mansion 7, which appropriately opened on Halloween, hopes to attract Bangkok's trendy thrill-seekers by offering them something completely unique. For starters it’s nowhere near Sukhumvit, it is on Ratchadapisek Road. It also happens to have a stupendously and shamelessly “out-there” theme, as it is designed to be a haunted mansion. Best of all, every food, retail, game and drink outlet has its own unique concept and design that can't be found anywhere else in the city – a rarity in franchise-heavy Bangkok.
The entrance to the 7-rai boutique mall is a great, frightening claw in the middle of a sophisticated purple façade. Once inside, the large, lofty and air-con free space is roughly separated into three main zones: Neglected Garden (home to retail boutiques), Playground (housing cafes and restaurants) and Dark Mansion. The front is the Garden’s domain, the side is for the Playground and all the back, the Dark Mansion [insert maniacal laugh…]. And interspersed amongst it all are an array of intriguing and entertaining games (pay with coupons), like grabbing a prize from a barrel before a guillotine cuts your army off – fun! There is no denying that the site is impressive, no creativity or money has been spared on its construction. In fact, this 170 million baht project is the second masterpiece of Pattara Sahawatra, the brains behind super successful "vintage village" Plearnwan in Hua Hin.
Besides all the other distractions, the real star is the "Dark Mansion" itself. It has been created around the fictional tale of the mad noble Lord Ratchada, who committed disgusting experiments on human bodies in a bid to resurrect his daughter (explained in a video at the beginning). The 15-minute walk through (groups of four clutching a rope) is definitely a work of art that plays with human psychology and fears. Each small group self-guides through spooky experimentation rooms, past embalmed bodies and into a ghostly bedroom. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a tacky romp, it was super creepy. Every detail has been carefully thought out and the odd creaking door, hysterical scream and surprise zombie will keep you on your toes. Not the mention cramped corridors, pitch-dark rooms, strange smells and things that go bump in the night….
Once you’ve made it out alive, you’ll be shown various photos (Bht 250) of yourself in completely embarrassing states of fear that can be taken home as a loving memento. After this experience you might need a stiff drink and Mansion 7 offers two choices: Beer Mansion and Cocktails! The entrance fee is Bht 180 for Episode I and Bht 320 for Episode I and II (the latter has newly been opened). There is a "Combo Set" available, including Episode I, two game coupons and a soft drink. Word to the wise, if you can possibly avoid it, do NOT go through with any teenage Thai girls in tow – their ear-piercing screams at every turn will have you running for the exit faster than any petrified corpse.
244/7 Ratchadapisek Soi 14, Ratchadapisek Rd
MRT Huay Kwang.
Open Mon-Fri noon-midnight, Sat-Sun noon-2am

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Royal Barge Museum

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sight-seeing, a good week perhaps, so I figured I may as well hit some spots on the river as it was another hot and cloudy days and a day on the water, or near to it, seemed like the perfect diversion. Looking at my lonely planet map I’d planned a route that looked both convenient in terms of getting back to work in the afternoon, and pleasant, in terms of being on the river for as long as possible. I now know that it can sometimes be pointless to try and plan things such as routes in Bangkok, unless your taxi driver knows where he’s taking you.
I had planned to head from home to the ferry that would take us to the Royal Barge Museum; the cab driver took us all the way to the museum. Well, not quite. In order to get to the museum by foot you must first walk down a rather narrow alley off of Arun Amarin Road that twists and turns around a series of canals and homes for a good 200m before reaching the museum, which is on the water, hence my initial plan to go by boat.
When we got to the museum we were ushered towards the ticket booth by a sleepy looking guard where we paid our entrance. A note to those who wish to take photos, there is the admission fee and then there is the photography fee, each is 100B, so I would recommend taking as many photos as you can of every inch of the eight magnificent barges housed inside.
When I say magnificent, I truly mean it! The barges were unlike anything I had seen before. I’d seen pictures on the Internet but of course, a picture can only say so much, in order to really appreciate something like these you really need to be standing there, looking up at the giant Nagas that make up the bow of one of the larger barges, you have to be standing next to the huge Garuda statue to fully appreciate the sheer size of these things. If I had to give a ballpark figure, I would say that the largest was probably around 50m long.
The largest and most important of the barges is called Suphannahongsa and was carved from a single tree in 1911 and was built to resemble the mythical golden swan, is the King’s personal barge and takes some 30-plus oarsmen to move and a team of coxswains, or helmsmen, to synchronize their movements. I used to row once upon a time and I can’t even begin to imagine the precision that must go into steering and coordinating the movements of these enormous boats, especially with the whole nation watching and the single most important person in your country aboard.
Walking around the museum doesn’t take very long, it’s basically a small aircraft hangar adapted for the barges. In one corner you can get the usual postcards and souvenirs and there are some old relics from previous barges, which were either damaged as a result of either deterioration or destroyed in bombings during WWII. That isn’t to say that touring the museum a quick fix, you can’t admire the craftsmanship of these beautiful barges on the run, you need to really stop and appreciate the detail and care that has gone into keeping them the way they are today.