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Join in the fun!
The new and improved Suan Siam theme park rides again
Those of us who grew up in the Eighties will remember the cheery Suan Siam TV commercial: Kids with huge smiles on their faces, on a sunny weekend, whizzing down a seven-lane, rainbow-coloured water slide at high speed before plunging into a pool with a big splash. The jingle - "Join in the fun, everybody" - may have sounded naff when we moved up into primary school, but it still lingers in our ears.
Widely known as Talay Krungthep (The Sea of Bangkok), this gigantic theme park was, for many families, more like an institution than just another theme park.
"There are two places my kids grew up with: the Dusit Zoo and Suan Siam," says Pattama Kengkarnrob, a mother of two grown-up children. "While my son and daughter would enjoy seeing the animals in the zoo every once in a while, they would go to Suan Siam to play at the water park all the time. We used to take picnics and hang out there all day. We did that for years; it was a family thing."
Now, some 20 years later, with Bang Kapi's famous amusement park, Happy Land, closed down since 1979 and Magic Land, or Dan Neramit, shutting its doors in 2000, few of us would even remember a once-loved childhood destination like Suan Siam. At least until a few months ago, when the place, also known as Siam Park, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons: One woman died and nearly 30 children were injured in two separate accidents and it was announced that the water-park-cum-fairground would be closed down.
"The park had always been my pride and joy," says Chaiwat Luangamornlert, founder and managing director of Amornphant Nakorn-Suan Siam which owns Suan Siam. "The accidents definitely broke my heart and I just felt like I couldn't handle the business anymore."
However, if you've been watching TV recently, you might have noticed that instead of closing down, Suan Siam is back with a bold new advertising campaign promising more thrills but no more spills.
"After I announced that I wanted to sell the property and was open for overseas buyers, I started to receive a great number of messages via letter, telephone and our website," says Chaiwat.
"They were from regulars and people who had great memories of the park. They all begged me not to sell the park, but to keep it for Thai people. Some of them said they learned how to swim here, while others said they met their spouse here and that they now had children who were also fans of the park. It really flattered me."
So, over the last few weeks, instead of selling off the property as previously announced, the park has been relaunched, with advertisements boldly promoting new high-tech rides imported from overseas.
The long-term fans may well be delighted, but the re-opening has also stirred up some confusion among an understandably sceptical public. After all, is it really safe?
Chaiwat admits that in the past he mainly focussed on how to please his visitors, rather than running the business methodically and according to the textbooks. But ever since the tragic incidents, which he says were down to inexperienced, untrained staff, he has changed his approach. Now, he has brought in international specialists to operate machines and to train the staff.
According to Chaiwat, among several companies that showed interest in buying Suan Siam, there was one investor from Spain who seemed especially interested. But after a month of research and analysis, they called off the deal. They simply couldn't see any possibility of making a satisfying financial return out of it.
"They said to me that considering the low average income of Thai people, we shouldn't have been able to afford to run a great park like this," says Chaiwat.
"If they invested 5.5 billion baht to buy my business and continued to charge the same prices that we'd charged, it would take forever for them to break even and at the same time be impossible to generate enough income to maintain the park.
"They also advised me not to keep running the business like a charity. But for me, by keeping the prices low it gives more Thai people a chance to enjoy the park."
Not that Chaiwat has totally ignored the advice and plans are afoot to list the business on the stock market.
Siam Park has actually been in the process of rebuilding over the past several years, work having started long before its future had been called into doubt. The state-of-the-art, 3-billion-baht amusement park project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2008.
Among the 16 sophisticated new rides and attractions, several are already in service including Boomerang, a backwards roller coaster; Condor, a spinning flying machine; and the 900-million-baht Vortex, one of the world's longest inverted roller coasters, from the Netherlands.
"As a destination for the whole family, I have always wanted to offer a nice facility for teenagers - a place where they can come and enjoy outdoor activities instead of getting into drugs or being stuck with computer games," says Chaiwat.
Chaiwat notes that since opening, nearly 30 years ago, the park visitors, who have increased in number with each passing year, have become more cosmopolitan.
"When we first started in 1980 the phrase 'water park' was very new to Thailand. Back then, our swimwear policy seemed to be the biggest issue. We had a number of visitors who came from provincial areas, or Bangkokians who didn't usually go to the beach much, and they didn't feel comfortable wearing swimming costumes at all. It took us years to make them feel more comfortable and now, thanks to better education and what people see in the media, the problem has gone."
Chaiwat also says that the park synchronises perfectly with current health trends and the popularity of the park is increasing.
"Today people are more into health and have realised that the sun, fresh air and exercising are good for them. But every day they wake up in an air-conditioned bedroom, drive an air-con car, work in an air-con office and shop in an air-con department store. The opportunities for them to enjoy fresh air and hang around under trees are rare. Our park is therefore a perfect recreational spot for everyone, not just children."
Because Chaiwat strongly believes that the amusement park shouldn't just offer entertainment but also knowledge, the park tries to serve as an educational centre with a collection of museums, cultural exhibitions and even a scout camp site.
"The scout camp has been in operation for more than 20 years now," he says. "The project is cherished by many schools and parents because it offers high standard camping facilities within the city. And it's very convenient for parents to visit."
Today, the park sees approximately 4,000 visitors on weekdays and up to 20,000 on weekends. My recent visit to Suan Siam with the initial purpose of finding out if the place was worth recommending for my readers turned out to be a great personal discovery. Now I know where to take my preschooler this boiling weekend.
18 เม.ย. 51 14:17:16