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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

RIVER CITY - BANKING ON BAZAAR



It's obvious Bangkok's retail industry never stops evolving. And while street commuters are continuously excited by the multiplication of fresh-looking shopping malls throughout the city, travellers along the Chao Phraya now have their fair share of excitement with the presence of a new shopping facility on the east bank of the river.
In response to the bazaar's spectacular 100-metre-long, five-storey-high glass facade and breezy riverside boardwalk, which give it the look of a world-class venue, a passer-by may curiously ask, "What is that beautiful building?"
Well, its location says it all _ it is River City.


Thamsathit Chamsri, River City’s managing director.
Relaunched earlier this year, the River City plaza, which has been a well-known landmark and high-trafficked pier on the Chao Phraya river since 1984, recently began a new chapter.
With a new look, new strategy and new business direction, the 43,000sqm complex has mutated from a humdrum arcade of touristy antique stores into a sophisticated destination for all, whether they be shoppers, diners, tourists or collectors _ foreign or local.
It officially took 18 months and 350 million baht for this inside-out renovation. Though, according to the management, the plan was initiated in 2006.
''Five years ago when I took the position as the third managing director of River City, a main project was to create a future direction for the plaza. Because it had never had any major refreshment since it first opened 27 years ago,'' said Thamsathit Chamsri, River City's managing director.
''Over the years, we've realised that Thailand's retail industry is getting more and more competitive. One of the reasons is that most business developers usually look at retail ventures, thanks to the high financial return, as their first choice when it comes to developing land. As a result, almost every day we have new shopping malls opening with various selling points to cater to the different lifestyles of consumers.
''So instead of trying to recreate something totally new, we decided to better present what we really are by strengthening our strong points and expanding our service,'' he said.
Managed by the Italthai Group together with Mandarin Oriental Holding BV, River City currently features more than 100 retail shops, 11 restaurants, a state-of-the-art grand hall and a number of fully equipped conference rooms.
It's obvious Bangkok's retail industry never stops evolving. And while street commuters are continuously excited by the multiplication of fresh-looking shopping malls throughout the city, travellers along the Chao Phraya now have their fair share of excitement with the presence of a new shopping facility on the east bank of the river.
As a shopping haven, River City presents, on its 11,500m2 retail space, a large number of shops carrying specially designed products including leather goods, silk, jewellery and fashion items.
While it boasts new types of merchandise, the bazaar still well highlights its art and antiques signature, with 45% of its shops (on the third and fourth floors) stocking artistic objects and collectable heirlooms.
''Art and antiques has been our strong point for more than two decades. Our monthly antique auction draws more than 100 bidders each time. In August this year, for example, our turnover was more than 10 million baht.
''So, we can say that we are one of the biggest auction centres and a most-respected antique market in the Southeast Asian region. We don't just provide a venue for the activity but also have the operators and appraisers on site. Today we have experts in various kinds of antique,'' the managing director said.
River City features more than 100 retail shops, 11 restaurants, a state-ofthe- art grand hall and a number of fully-equipped conference rooms.
As they are enjoying a larger variety of merchandise, visitors to River City won't fail to spot the plaza's inviting new dimension _ world-class gastronomy, which now dominates the space on the first and second floors.
''In the past, when people mentioned River City dining they only thought about a dinner cruise. But now we'd like to say that, on top of the cruises, we also have a nice range of restaurants and the best hub of riverside eateries in Bangkok. We have various choices of cuisines on offer whether it's Mediterranean, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Japanese, European or Thai.''
Among the selection are La Grande Perle French restaurant, Bar-B-Q Corner (see review on page L7), River View Thai restaurant, Sala Thai, Pimienta Tapas Bar & Restaurant (see review on page L6), Viva Aviv Mediterranean and Tokyo Kare Japanese curry house.
''From our research, we learned that customers wanted to see the river. So we have come with a new perspective. We've moved antique stores from the second floor and replaced them with nine see-through restaurants.
''One of our selling points is all restaurants are equipped with a river view. Now you don't have to be on a cruise to appreciate the illuminated river. You can dine at any of our indoor restaurants _ some even feature a waterside al fresco dining area _ and enjoy a daily exhibition of the bustling view of the river and glittering parade of ships.''
Of course, for those in the mood for gastronomic sailing, choices remain plentiful. Pick from seven dining cruises including Grand Pearl, Chao Phraya Cruise, Chao Phraya Princess, Wan Fah, Khun Mae, Apsara and White Orchid.
According to Thamsathit, River City is not only a place for big spenders. Thanks to its luxurious, multi-functional hall, which has a capacity to handle audiences as large as 1,000 people, world-class events and grand exhibitions are also the new magnets of the plaza.
''We spent 100 million baht on the grand hall alone. It was professionally designed to cater to many types of purpose. For example, it can be completely shut from the shopping zone and turned into a soundproof concert auditorium with state-of-the-art light and sound system and theatre corridors. It's like having a building within a building,'' proudly explained the managing director.
The 27-year-old plaza’s new aim is to be a shopping haven mixed with world-class gastronomy.

Over the past several months since it first operated, the grand hall has hosted a good number of big events, including fashion shows, boxing matches, classic car shows, product launches, art exhibitions, a food fair and even a zero-wind kite festival.
''We are currently the only riverside shopping centre in Thailand. So we'd like to set River City as a metropolitan landmark for tourists. At the same time we want it to be a shopping and dining venue that reflects Thainess so that locals can take it as a destination to treat their foreign guests.
''Now we've switched our positioning from a 90/10 ratio of tourist/local to a 60/40 foreigner/Thai clientele. It doesn't mean we are reducing the tourist market. Instead we are expanding in the local market while the trade for foreign visitors still grows,'' Thamsathit noted.
He also added that another advantage of the plaza is the accessibility. It can be accessed either from the river, by road or by air.
''Many of our clients are VIPs from overseas. They stay at five-star hotels in the area so we have a helipad to cater to their exclusive requirements. Meanwhile we have a free shuttle boat, which runs between our own pier to Taksin pier, to serve everyone. Or you can come by an express ferry. While taking the BTS (to Saphan Taksin station), MRT (to Hua Lamphong station) and taxi are very convenient.''

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