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Department stores and shopping malls
Visitors to Bangkok no longer have to suffer the heat of the market stall – the city is fast becoming another Singapore or Hong Kong with shopping malls springing up all over the place. The huge number of department stores and shopping centres feature endless retail, eating and entertainment opportunities. Where else in the world could you find a ‘knowledge park’ (Central World Plaza), aquarium (Siam Paragon), ‘cultural design centre’ (Emporium) or water park (Central Bang Na) atop a shopping mall?
Bangkok has set its sights on becoming the fashion capital of Southeast Asia and is certainly a bustling centre of creativity when it comes to both cutting-edge home-grown couture and smaller independent labels. The previous government’s Fashion City Project has raised the bar for major-league players like labels Greyhound, Fly Now and Stretsis while Siam Square, Chatuchack Weekend Market and even the once-hippy/fake-label haven of the Khaosan Rd all rock with young designers’ more daring wares.
Cheap designer wear with meaningless slogans and a surfeit of labels (on the outside) are available just about everywhere and anywhere, and especially in tourist areas like Patpong and Sukhumvit. Imitation Lacoste and other garments are less obviously on display now that the US is pressurizing Thailand to respect intellectual copyright laws but they are still available. Note that the less you pay, the more likely that the dyes will run, shirts will shrink after washing, and buttons will eject themselves at will.
Gold and bronzeware
Gold is considerably cheaper than in the USA or Europe; there is a concentration of shops along Yaowarat Rd (Chinatown), mostly selling the yellow ‘Asian’ gold. Price is determined by weight (its so-called ‘baht weight’).
Thai bronzeware, or the less elaborate Western designs, are available in Bangkok. There are a number of shops along Charoen Krung, north from Silom Rd, eg Siam Bronze Factory at No 1250, also at 714/6-7 Sukhumvit Rd between Sois 26 and 28. The cutlery has become particularly popular and is now even available at the big department stores.
The markets in Bangkok are an excellent place to get a real taste of the city: browse, take photographs and pick up bargains. Part of the lifeblood of Bangkok, the encroachment of more organized shops and the effects of the redeveloper’s demolition ball are inimical to one of Bangkok’s finest traditions, though such is their stronghold that impromptu markets still thrive and multiply on every bare piece of land in the city, however temporary. Below are some of the more established pick of the bunch. Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok, available from most bookshops, is the most useful guide to the markets of the capital.
After eating, the next big love for many Bangkok residents is shopping. From energetic all-night flower and fruit markets through to original (and fake) Louis Vuitton, Bangkok has the lot, though branded, Western goods are often cheaper back home. It is also wise to do your shopping at the end of your trip rather than the beginning. That way you’ll have had a chance to gauge the real value of things and avoid being overcharged. Most street stalls will try and fleece you, so be prepared to shop around and bargain hard. The traditional street market is now supplemented by other types of shopping. Some arcades target the wealthier shopper, and are dominated by brand-name goods and designer wear. Others are not much more than street side stalls transplanted to an arcade environment. Most department stores are fixed price, though you can still ask for a discount. Shops do not generally open until 1000 or 1100.
Sukhumvit Rd and the sois to the north are lined with shops and stalls, especially around the Ambassador and Landmark hotels. Many tailors and made-to-measure shoe shops are to be found in this area. Higher up on Sukhumvit Rd particularly around Soi 49 are various antique and furnishing shops.
Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok is the best shopping guide.
Permission to take antiques out of the country must be obtained from the Fine Arts Department on Na Phrathat Rd, T02-221 4817. Shops will often arrange export licences for their customers. Buddha images may not be taken out of the country – although many are.
In Bangkok you will find Chinese porcelain, old Thai paintings, Burmese tapestries, wooden figures, hilltribe art, Thai ceramics and Buddhist art. Be careful of fakes – go to the well-known shops only. Even they, however, have been known to sell fake Khmer sculpture which even the experts find difficult to tell apart from the real thing.
Serious shoppers should consult Robin Brown’s Guide to buying antiques and arts and crafts in Thailand (1989, Times Books: Singapore).
There are several pottery ‘factories’ on the left-hand side of the road on the way to the Rose Garden, near Samut Sakhon . Also see Koh Kret (page).
There are lots of woodworking shops along Worachak Rd where it crosses Khlong Banglamphu. Bua Thong is recommended, although the sign is only in Thai. These are good places to buy bracelets, curtain rings and trinkets made from tropical hardwoods.
Thailand has become the world’s largest gem-cutting centre and it is an excellent place to buy both gems and jewellery, although not for the uninitiated . The best buy of the native precious stones is the sapphire. Modern jewellery is well designed and of a high quality. Always insist on a certificate of authenticity and a receipt.
Ban Mo, on Pahurat Rd, north of Memorial Bridge, is the centre of the gem business although there are shops in all the tourist areas particularly on Silom Rd near the intersection with Surasak Rd, eg Rama Gems, 987 Silom Rd. Uthai Gems, 28/7 Soi Ruam Rudi, off Ploenchit Rd, just east of Witthayu Rd, is recommended, as is P Jewellery (Chantaburi), 9/292 Ramindra Rd, Anusawaree Bangkhan, T02-522 1857.
Glasses and contact lenses are a good buy in Bangkok and can be made up in 24 hrs. Opticians can be found throughout the city.
The city is now littered with the Brit-Thai Tesco Lotus supermarket chain, although those familiar with the brand may be surprised to see that the budget ‘Basics’ range features fish sauce rather than baked beans.
CDs and music DVDs can be bought from many stalls in tourist areas, although the choice is fairly limited. Cheap copies are harder to come by these days; as the genuine article is just ฿฿350-500 for a CD, it makes sense to buy the real McCoy.
Beware of ‘bargains’, as the silk may have been interwoven with rayon. It is best to stick to the well-known shops unless you know what you are doing. Silk varies greatly in quality. Generally, the heavier the weight the more expensive the fabric. 1-ply is the lightest and cheapest (about ฿200 per m); 4-ply the heaviest and most expensive (about ฿300-400 per m). Silk also comes in 3 grades: grade 1 is the finest and smoothest and comes from the inner part of the cocoon. Finally, there is also ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ silk, soft being rather more expensive. Handmade patterned silk, especially matmii from the northeast, can be much more expensive than simple, single-coloured industrial silk – well over ฿10,000 per piece. There are several specialist silk shops at the top of Surawong Rd (near Rama IV) and a number of shops along the bottom half of Silom Rd (towards Charoen Krung) and in the Siam Centre on Rama I Rd....
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The largest market in Thailand...most stalls are open on the weekends, hence the name. Our friend ...
A luxury shopping paradise. If you want to go slightly higher-class than MBK, check out Siam Parag...
Panthip Plaza, otherwise known as ‘geek’s paradise’, is home to one of the best hi-tech computer ...
Here is where street vendors go bargain hunting for clothing, which they sell to tourists with tr...
Probably the largest shopping mall you've ever been to. Siam Paragon is across the street, but it ...
Geared to tourists, selling counterfeit CDs and DVDs, handicrafts, T-shirts, leather goods and fa...
A huge centre, expanded again and renovated in 2006. There are cafés and restaurants on every flo...
Mostly fairly young and funky fashion chain stores including surf/sportswear specialists on the t...
This shopping complex houses a large number of the more expensive antique shops and holds monthly...
This is the largest chain of department stores in Bangkok, with an enormous range of top-end Thai...