Buzz in Bangkok Among Ex-rich: 'Sell!'

As business bubble bursts, urban Thais peddle Porsches at flea market.

Buy! Buy! Buy!" were the buzzwords of Thailand's economic boom.

In this nation of 60 million, which used to produce world-beating growth, shopping was considered good fun.

On weekends, swarms of cash-laden shoppers trawled through Bangkok's malls, pausing to purchase a Louis Vuitton bag here or a Rolex watch there.

For those who did best from the Thai economic "miracle," money was no object.

Now those same supershoppers are pausing for a rethink. A dramatic financial crash has deflated Thailand's stock market by more than 60 percent in a year and decimated its real estate sector.

With two-thirds of the nation's finance houses shut down and the economy tied to a $17.2 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund, the cash, quite simply, has dried up.

Not everyone, however, is wringing their hands in despair. Proving that you can't keep a good entrepreneur down, even at the worst of times, Thai businessman Wasun Panon has turned crisis into opportunity by opening up a market for Thailand's "former rich."

For this Mercedes-Benz dealer, who has seen sales drop by 50 percent in the past few months, the new buzzwords in post-crisis Thailand are "Sell! Sell! Sell!"

At Mr. Wasun's makeshift Market of the Former Rich, which opens every Saturday and Sunday in a four-story parking garage behind his dealership, there is convincing proof that many Thais are starting to agree with him.

Surrounded by rows of second-hand Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, and even a small private plane, Wasun estimates that as much as $1.5 million changes hands at the market each weekend.

"Most of those who buy are foreigners or exporters who are doing well since the baht went down in value against the dollar," Wasun says.

Contrasting with the $100,000 price tags on some items, noodle vendors hawk their wares for as little as half a dollar, while a few genuine shoppers and scores of curious onlookers browse through this museum-like testimony to the excesses of the Thai boom.

"It's true. We bought too much. We were materialistic," admits Wasun.

He says his eight cars, four drivers, and 50 luxury watches are small change compared with the lifestyles of people who are considered "really" rich here.

"I'm somewhere in the middle," he adds modestly.

If anything, however, Wasun's Market of the Former Rich is persuasive evidence that Asia's economic dynamism, and its legendary pragmatism in the face of hardship, is still alive.

"I just want to help people get rid of their things so they can increase their cash flow," Wasun says. "People need capital to keep their businesses running."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.