Buying a flat screen TV in Thailand requires a full 24 hours of dedication. But it’s really worth it. It was like a procession. An impossibly long line of very boisterous people, each speaking extremely loudly and very excitedly and each – and let me repeat that word, EACH had a 32-inch Samsung or Sony LED TV propped up on the baggage trolley. This was the line for checking in to the Thai Airways flight back to Delhi from Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok.
As I was scratching my head and trying to figure out what was going on, I was also thinking about how difficult it was going to be for each of these people to convince the check-in person to book these TVs in as part of their check-in baggage. But it seemed like the whole thing was like a well-oiled and much used machine. Check-in was smooth, each TV was snapped up like it was part of the process and finally it was my turn. “No TV?” was the shocked response to my handing over of my passport and ticket. Feeling like a criminal who had broken some local law that made it mandatory for each Indian returning home to buy a TV, I was subjected to suspicious looks by the person at the counter as well as the baggage handler standing next to her.
Finally I was done and as I slowly slunk away trying to avoid any further scrutiny from the two people who thought I had lost my marbles, I felt a big swarthy arm attach itself to mine and lead me to one side. “Tussi nahin le ke aye TV?,” asked the Sardarji wearing a Hawaiian shirt, open almost to the belly button, and Bermuda shorts that were way too tight for the purpose they were originally made for. On seeing my perplexed expression, I was given a two-minute primer on exactly how silly I was and how I had missed out on getting “one TV per person in family for exactly half price ji”.
Basically buying a 32 or 40-inch flat screen TV in Thailand and bringing it to India costs you about half of what it would back home. How? Well, pay attention as this story gets even more interesting!
Project Holy Grail
While Daljit Singh of the sweat-soaked-curly-chest-hair-inside-very-open-Hawaiian-shirt fame, hailing from Rajouri Garden and dealing in auto parts brought me up to speed – there were still many gaps in the whole methodology. It seemed too good to be true and I was determined to get to the bottom of this amazing cult that seemed to have discovered the TV-buying Holy Grail. My next trip to Thailand two months later revealed all. I was to spend three days in the lush surroundings and calm waters of Hua Hin (by the way, all you expert travellers that seem to think Thailand is only about Koh Samui and Pattaya, forget all that and explore Hua Hin – it’s an undiscovered paradise), I forced in one full day in Bangkok as part of my itinerary. This was Project TV and it required a full 24 hours of extreme dedication.
The Adventure begins
I checked in to Centara Grand Hotel, as part of my research told me that picking up the TV was easiest at CentralWorld Mall. This is a pretty unique hotel with a tranquil feel all around. The reason I was surprised at the calm surroundings is due to the fact that this hotel sits right on top of the mall itself and yet doesn’t have any of the chaos usually associated with mall hotels. I flung my bag into my room and jumped straight into half-price TV adventure land.
There are very few times in life when you truly discover something new every minute. This was one of them. To cut a long story short, let me take you through exactly how it works and skip the number of places I went to, the super street-smart people I met, how professionally all this is set up, how you can even get them to deliver a TV to you at the airport rather than you lugging one around, how there are certain shops that only carry the TVs that qualify for you to take home (they sell absolutely nothing else) and how the service, the smiles and the prices are top notch. This is how you go about it in a nutshell.
Prices for certain TVs in Thailand are one of the lowest in the world. You can pick up a Samsung or Sony 32-inch LED TV for about 9,600 Thai Baht (at current rates that’s 9,600 x 1.78 – about Rs 17,000). If you stay abroad for three or more days, Indian Customs allows you to bring back in person or in accompanied baggage – articles worth R25,000 without paying ANY customs duty at all. Thus your Rs 17,000 TV costs you just that compared to about Rs 32,000 in India. A 40-inch LED costs around 14,000 Baht or Rs 25,500. Thus you pay 35 per cent custom duty on the extra Rs 500 and get a 40-inch LED for about Rs 25,700. Most people pick them up from electronic stores like Power Buy, but those who’ve made this into a fine art buy from Phahurat (Mini India), Pantip Plaza (a mecca of computing products) or shops around Ratchadamri Road.
Pays for itself
That’s pretty much it. Buy the TV, keep the receipt in your front pocket, check it in as accompanied baggage to the smiling and very welcoming check-in personnel and wave cheerfully at the Customs people in India as you walk through. It’s perfectly legal, it’s part of your rights as an Indian citizen and there’s no reason why this should be restricted to a small cult of those in the know. The price difference in the TV that you buy can take care of the airline ticket to and fro from Thailand with change left over for a nice foot massage! At least you can also now smilingly nod your head when you’re asked “tussi vi le kay aye TV?”. So pack those bags and head out to T(V)hailand and send me a postcard and a picture of the TV you bought when you get there.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, February 10
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