Features VAN NOV17 banner.jpg

Bangkok, the vibrant capital of our kingdom, is without doubt a fun place to be but despite the creation of the skytrain and metro networks, it is also one of the most congested cities in the world. Truth be told, many people here still commute by car but unlike other parts of the globe—Europe for example—in Thailand the luxury van has come to be an all-important mobile office, wardrobe, changing room and nap spot, at least for our five notable interviewees.

 (More features on Thai society: 5 Men Show Us That Crafty's The New Manly)

Chitramontn Techaphaiboon

Features VAN NOV17 01.jpg

Chitramontn Techaphaiboon appreciates the perks of commuting in her Volkswagen Caravelle van. “Of course there are conveniences,” she says. “It’s great for when I have to attend several events in a day, which require changes of outfits, and it’s a very comfortable way to travel outside of Bangkok. Everyone can travel in the same vehicle and you can buy things along the way and have plenty of space to keep everything.” Two things that always go with her in the van: her neck pillow and a matching trolley bag to carry whatever she needs.

Chitramontn also appreciates the comfort of the van. “I sleep very easily and a favourite aspect of the vehicle is being able to take naps in it.” A function she would add if possible? “A toilet,” she says with a grin. But there is a down side. “With a van you need a driver and I don’t like the idea of having someone wait for me for hours at a time.” To avoid this, she still occasionally drives her Mercedes-Benz car to functions such as her regular game of bridge with her friends. “Nowadays there is valet parking almost everywhere, so when I can I like to drive myself,” she says. Will she ever stop driving? “I will drive until I drop,” she laughs.

Lee Puengboonpra

Features VAN NOV17 02.jpg

When one is as dedicated to merit making as Lee Puengboonpra, a van becomes essential. Lee visits multiple temples per month, which entails transporting an abundance of votive offerings such as buckets filled with candles and flowers. She also needs room for the five assistants who accompany her almost everywhere. “Ninety per cent of my commuting is done in a van, even when I’m in another city,” says the extravagant lady. “When we go to Chiang Mai for instance, we will fly there and have a van pick us up at the airport.”

When more space is needed for her entourage, Lee calls upon a limousine service with a driver provided to follow in the convoy. Though she spends much time in a van, an onboard TV isn’t her go-to distraction. Instead, she prefers to listen to Buddhist teachings or enjoy long conversations with friends on her phone. She doesn’t change outfits very often in the vehicle, although it has been necessary a few times, but with the need to always look sharp, what she cannot do without in the van is a mirror and her make-up.

Apicha Laohapongchana

Features VAN NOV17 03smol.jpg

Apicha Laohapongchana runs the family-owned business, Krungthai Tractor, and although she admits her office is near her home, owning a van as opposed to a regular saloon car has made life much easier. Not fond of driving herself, having the luxury of a driver and a spacious van is heavenly. “I get easily uncomfortable and feel suffocated in confined spaces, so a van’s spaciousness is perfect for me,” she explains. “I feel more relaxed travelling this way.” Having said that, Apicha doesn’t like a van to be too big either. “The larger Volkswagen models are too voluminous, too tall,” she says. “When they are too tall, you feel the movement more, which can make me car sick.”

So she opted for a mini-van, more specifically the Toyota Vellfire. “I use it every day and go everywhere in it,” she laughs. She enjoys the fact that there is a copious amount of legroom and that she can eat and work and even sleep in the van, the latter being a top perk for Apicha. And let’s face it, a lot of women need the space for their belongings, particularly when they attend events. “I’ve done practically everything in my van,” Apicha laughs. “And I’ve been able to take with me just about anything— numerous pairs of shoes, bags, makeup kit, jewellery, dresses and boxed food for when I feel hungry.”

Poowadee Kunpalin

Features VAN NOV17 04smoll.jpg

Poowadee Kunpalin, also known as Aey, is managing director of the family-owned Chaophraya Cruise Company. The businesswoman often attends back-to-back meetings in different parts of the city. Usually packed with an array of her belongings—suits, dresses, shoes and make-up cases—her Volkswagen Caravelle has been turned into a wardrobe on wheels. Always on the go, changing into multiple outfits in the van has become the norm. “I consider it almost like my second house,” she laughs. The longest amount of time she has ever spent in her van in Bangkok is four hours. While that can be annoying, luckily there is a TV to keep her distracted when she isn’t on her phone dealing with work. “I also love taking naps in the van,” she says. “I don’t usually get much sleep each night, so these naps help to compensate.” She has her very own spot in the vehicle: the front left seat, which is adjusted to suit her comfort.

Among her regular ride companions are family, friends and two fluffy escorts—a Pomeranian and a husky who enjoy trips to the dog park and grooming salon. Aey has had her current people carrier for almost seven years now but plans to buy a new one soon. “I think my next van will definitely have more personalised functions,” she says.

Promporn Yuvaves

Features VAN NOV17 05.jpg

TV presenter and MC Promporn Yuvaves’ career requires her be constantly on the move between studios, outside broadcasts and various events. “I’ve been using a van to get around for almost a decade now,” she says. “I used to own a Toyota Vellfire but decided to switch to a Volskwagen Caravelle.” The advantage with this van is that there is a partition between the driver and the passenger cabin, which clearly makes it more convenient when it comes to changing outfits. “I do that a lot,” she laughs. “Actually I do an awful lot of stuff in my van. I eat, sleep, watch movies and work in it. Most of the space is taken up by my belongings—books, documents, clothes, shoes, bags and more.” There are many advantages to having a van but a key benefit for Promporn is the time saving it offers. “Having to hop between meetings and venues all day, the van allows me to catch up on work and to change clothes. I can also be dropped off at venues as opposed to looking for parking space.” The one thing that would make her happy is to have a toilet onboard. But as much as she enjoys the benefits of the van Promporn also loves to drive, so on the weekends she often gets behind the wheel of her own car.

(More society features: Naphalai's Diary: October 30-November 5)

Tags: Promporn Yuvaves, Poowadee Kunpalin, Chitramontn Techaphaiboon, Apicha Laohapongchana, Lee Puengboonpra