Tourism is just one thing Bangkok is famous for, but there are of course others which we will take for granted. Millions flock there every year, but at times, amazingly the huge very modern airport gives the impression of being anything but busy, which is always a nice surprise having no long queues. Some might dispute that, but when Whodoeswhat.tv went, you can see from the video that it was beautifully calm.
So what else to credit Bangkok for? Hold on! No, not that, but probably not one of the biggest, if not the biggest Gems and Jewelry fairs in the world
if your penchant is for all things that glitter or shines, be it trade or just beauty, then you ‘aint seen nuthin’ yet’ if you have never visited the ‘Bangkok Gems & Jewelry Fair’, (BGIF) with its 2019 theme ‘Thailand’s Magic Hands’
It was ginormous. Simply saying it is big, doesn’t cut the mustard. This is not an exhibition for people with bad legs, but having said that, one might expect visitors zooming around on those gyro-stabilized electric scooter things. No such luck, one has to walk. It is Shanks pony all the way and if you are a tad over weight and aint fit before hand, you will surely be sylph like after 4 days. Did we mention anything about size yet? Oh, sorry we didn’t hear you, we were a mile away at the other end of the hall.
The 2019 BGJF ran from September 10th – 14th. This was the 64th show of its kind and what a show it was. You might be intrigued to learn that thousands of business visitors who are not considered tourists are indeed very much aware of this far and with their diary dates fixed off they pop to Bangkok just for the expo. Not only that, the fair is held twice a year; September and February.
Suffice to say that the B.G.J.F. creates a huge international clubby type buzz while seemingly having little impact on locals other than specific traders. There really are not so many shows that can claim such a following other than airshows or some of the well-known audio/visual exhibitions which are tiny by comparison.
Mixed in with the streams of human curiosity are thousands more tourists who now put the B.G.J.F. on their travel itinerary. One imagines that they are looking for bargains; or is it the curiosity of the art for which there is no disappointment. Although Thai artisan pride is on display in volumes, traders from around the world are also welcome to exhibit, so from a tourist aspect there is very much a chance to experience the various cultural and jewelry art forms….. if that is what floats one’s boat. The bottom line though is trade and bundles of it. Over 900 companies are represented and money changes hands by the bucket loads. It is all very subtle and respectful from and observer’s viewpoint, but intense at times and who knows what hard bargaining goes on.
Visitors will need to wade through 2,200 odd booths. Some of those booths are also expansive with very bold designs well suited to the gem and jewelry industry, but not much else when all is said and done, because by and large 80% of the stands are just that; simple but typical well-dressed market stalls which look identical. Maybe that is deliberate in order to get so many exhibitor in.
The ‘IMPACT Arena and IMPACT Exhibition and convention Centre’ where the B.G.J.F. takes place is colossal in itself and claims to be one of Asia’s largest complexes. Surely, they don’t get bigger than this – do they? The expanse and number of enormous pillarless halls just dwarfs anything most of us have experienced – even within the extravagance of the Gulf. Low and behold, with several exhibition taking place at the same time in other halls, the B.G.J.F. takes up an entire building consisting of three continuous halls bigger than four football pitches if not five, six or seven. The usable space is claimed to be 140,000 square metres all up and if one considers the average size of a football pitch being just 7,100 square metres…… Are you getting the idea now?
To settle any anxiety regarding the expanse and how to find what you are looking for, there’s pinpoint help in the form of well documented organizational paraphernalia and human interaction with the likes of business matching ‘Thaitrade’ for example, who provide lounges for trade negotiation and personal assistance to find who or what you might be looking for.
Huge department store representatives to small time jewelers all equally engrossed, spending the entire four days sifting through the spread. The first two days are for trade and of course press only.
Bangkok is far from being the cheapest place in the world, but there are obviously some stunning bargains to be had, particularly among the hand-made Thai stuff or raw gems up for sale. As mentioned, among the traders are thousands more tourists from all over, just buying personal jewelry on the spot. Some of it made before your eyes. You can generally tell the tourists apart because most are women and after a few short stops at stands, they walk around with their fingers waggling in the air as if admiring a distant star or planet.
When asked, Assistant Director-General of D.I.T.P., Mr. M.L. Kathathong Thongyal; ‘Call me Larn for short’, implied that tourism was indeed a major asset and with all intent and purpose the B.G.J.F., although not specifically held for tourists, does in fact contribute large numbers to the overall visitor tally to Thailand. He added; ‘The gap between trade and tourism is getting less and less, especially for Thailand where we have a very large tourist industry. We see that industry as a benefit to the trade part of our export revenue’. Judging by the throng of visitors around Larn as he makes his appearance, journalists in particular warm to him very quickly with his informed eloquence and almost detectable Australian twang over his Thai accent. After all, the man is a bit of celebrity within the region and a Tatler pin-up. Larn is also the former cricket star who played for the Thai National Team.
Along the same vein, Larn also highlights the highly respected Thai artisans mentioned early who feature in great numbers. There is considerable pride attached to the skills as they manipulate what looks to be tons of gems of various values. Watching them perform their skills on many stands is quite mesmerizing, as they make it look so easy and suddenly there is a gem masterpiece right in front of you..
It is not all buy and sell though; you will find several traders willing to show ‘how it is done’ and offering schooling in the very art. If one decides to take up this line as a vocation, then there are opportunities to get hands on, so to speak, with some exhibits demonstrating teaching of the skills and hopefully recruiting.
During the extended press conference, Larn was clear about expansion, saying that the Middle East was a firm target. They have an office in Dubai which deals with the local region. One assumes he means sales, rather than more visitors to the exhibition, but when all is said and done, the two go hand in hand. Bahrain is already set to open ‘Thai Mart’ mall this year (2019), offering a range of Thai made products, some of which will no doubt be gem and jewelry related. Its location is adjacent to the current Dragon Mall which is situated on re-claimed land on the North of the Island within the large ‘Diyar Muharraq’ development. Thai Mart is a 6,700 square metre area consisting of some 200 shops.
So for those reaching the foot of the mountain here wondering is there anything negative about this exhibition. No, there isn’t really, because what lacks in one area is made up in others.
Oh, there are one or two small issues: Internet is available but quite how you get on it requires Black Hat hackers to fix it for you. You are however somewhat better off as a general visitor than representing the media. Reasonably located, there are VIP lounges a plenty and they accept various visitors, so make sure you have the badge to fit. You’ll get cake and chino and free traditional massage, which always goes down so well with gems and jewelry- cough! The Media Centre is another two miles towards central Bangkok at the end of the building and has the same cake, black tea and coffee, no chino. By the time you have walked there and back, tried to get on the Internet, the next expo is moving in. Needless to say, the place was near totally avoided by journalists who were happily and congenially welcomed on VIP stands.
Finally, have your passport with you at all times. They do not discriminate; everyone has to have their passport and to get into this exhibition you will need it. The Thais obviously have a strong fetish about them, because you need to present it almost everywhere.
Fortunately, everything is listed in Thai and English, so if you choose not to use the ATM withdrawal with its exorbitant charges, then use the many exchange houses, some a lot better than others for Gulf currencies, but again, you will need your passport. Ask around!
If this trip had ratings with stars out of 5, then a 4 star rating would not be unreasonable. Selfishly, vastly improve the media centre and offer electric carts, jump on, jump off to get around and no doubt it would rise to 5.
Already mentioned several times, so why not once more; ‘Is this exhibition just too big’? Back to Larn who agrees; ‘Oh yeah it’s big, very big, but we want even bigger’.