Thailand's iPhone underground

Updated on
The World

BANGKOK, Thailand — Come weekends, Bangkok's premiere cell phone bazaar is a nerve-zapping labyrinth.

Its 500-plus stalls are crammed into Maboonkrong shopping center's fourth floor. Customers choke the narrow aisles. At least three cell phones are always bleeping within earshot, piercing the language stew in the air: Thai, English, Russian, Arabic and the sound of salesgirls cooing for customers.

Some shops are cubicle-sized. Others boast cramped showrooms. But inside nearly every display case is the holy grail of Bangkok cell phone chic: an illegally smuggled Apple iPhone.

The slick and illicit Web-browsing phones have been priced at roughly $800 here — as much as eight times the U.S. retail price and more than double the average Thai's monthly salary.

"It's like a Louis Vuitton handbag," said Jesada Chandraprasert, who tracks Thai technology trends for CNET Asia. "Anyone seen holding it is a step up from a regular person."