Bangkok is a veritable shoppers’ paradise, with its profusion of retail outlets, high quality of goods, and surprisingly low prices. Staff in department stores are super-attentive – some might say overly so – and whether it’s designer clothes, traditional crafts, or electronic equipment you’re after, there are some great deals to be had. Don’t miss the fun of bargaining in the open-air markets, where vendors will often drop their prices by 30 percent or more. Beware of the energy sapping heat and humidity of mid-afternoon, and limit your buying spree to one or two locations per day.
Opening hours are usually early morning to mid-afternoon in fresh markets, 10am–10pm in shopping malls, and 24 hours in convenience stores. Credit cards are accepted in shopping malls and modern boutiques, but market vendors expect cash payment. VAT refunds are available, but the shop where the item is bought must fill out a form for customs, which can be time-consuming, so it is only worth it for significant savings. Bargaining is expected at street stalls and markets, but prices are fixed in department stores and boutiques. For more information.
Boutiques and markets are scattered all over the city, but an especially high concentration of shopping outlets can be found around Siam Square and Silom, Ploenchit, and Sukhumvit roads.
CentralWorld leads the way in the race to be Bangkok’s best and biggest mall; indeed, this is Southeast Asia’s largest shopping complex. Another favourite shopping destination is Siam Paragon, where you can buy anything from a sports car to a bowl of noodles. Mahboonkrong (or MBK) feels more like a street market spread over eight floors. Other centrally located malls are Siam Center and Siam Discovery, Emporium, Silom Complex, Amarin Plaza, Gaysorn Plaza, and Erawan.
No self-respecting shopaholic can claim to know Bangkok without having experienced the city’s vast Chatuchak Market, said to be the world’s largest open-air market. Pick up a map and be selective, since you’ll never get round it all in a day.
Bangkok’s night markets in the Khao San, Patpong, and Sukhumvit Sois 3–15 regions, which consist of simple stalls set up each evening on the sidewalk, make it possible to combine souvenir shopping with dining and clubbing in case you’re pushed for time.
Silk and Cotton
Thai silk is renowned for its high quality, unique designs, and reasonable price. Be aware that in the night markets, some items that claim to be silk are, in fact, made of synthetic fabric. To be sure you’re getting the real thing, it pays to visit a reputable shop, such as Jim Thompson, which has outlets in many top hotels. If you know what you’re looking for, head for Phahurat Market, where prices are cheaper.
Thai cotton is also a good deal. The eye-catching designs on items like bedspreads and cushion covers make it a distinctive souvenir.
With prices only a fraction of what they are in the West, it makes sense to stock up on clothes, either off the peg in shopping malls or tailormade to order. Tailors abound in all tourist areas, but workmanship varies, so visit a reputable tailor such as Raja’s Fashions or Marzotto, and allow several days for preparation and fittings.
Examples of ancient crafts are available in many shops, but few of these are genuine antiques, for which a permit from the Fine Arts Department is required for export. A couple of reliable outlets are the River City Complex, which has four floors of antique furniture, carvings, and old maps, and OP Place, with rare collectibles like sculptures and prints.
From silverware to celadon, from lacquerware to woodcarvings, from basketware to hand-woven textiles, the variety of Thai crafts is rich indeed. Good places to see a wide range of crafts include Chatuchak Market, Narai Phand, Silom Village, and Nandakwang.
Gems and Jewelry
As with antiques, extreme caution should be exercised when buying gems or jewelry, since potential customers are often exposed to sophisticated scams. Serious shoppers should browse the glittering displays of jewelry at Peninsula Plaza or the gem boutiques at reliable hotels.
Computer equipment, video games, cameras, and mobile phones are on sale in shopping malls throughout the city, but one place that specializes in such goods is Pantip Plaza. Customers should be aware that some items on sale, such as software, are pirated and offer no money-back guarantee.
Book addicts should explore the massive selection at Asia Books and Kinokuniya Books. Other bookstore chains with outlets in central Bangkok are B2S and Bookazine.