Whether you hit busy districts like Chinatown, or head to street markets, shopping is one of the most popular things to do in Bangkok. (Photo: Alamy)
Bangkok can feel daunting as you try to worm your way around a city of more than 8 million people. To that end, shopping in Bangkok offers a contrast to the hustle and heat, whether it’s wandering through a glistening glass mall for a steal on Jimmy Choos or looking for electronic items that can be picked up for a song.
But shopping in Bangkok is not for the faint of heart — you have to know where to go as well as how to bargain, deal with crowds and keep a cool head.
If you’re up for browsing, you’re in for a treat. It’s possible to buy anything in Bangkok, and bahts to dollars will be a bargain.
Bangkok has more then 40 towering shopping malls. If you’re looking for strong air conditioning, dozens of dining venues and shops selling everything from toenail clippers to Escada skirts, you’ll find all that in more in a Bangkok shopping mall.
Go to MBK Center to start. It’s connected by skywalk to Siam Discovery, Siam Center and Siam Paragon.
All carry high fashion items; many are western-branded designer stores. On some of the upper floors or in out-of-the-way stalls you might find high-quality designer “fakes,” in purses, clothing and other notions.
A new six-story mall called Terminal 21 is a lavish affair where every floor is themed around a different world city. After dark head to Asiatique for night-strolling along the riverfront amid more than 1,500 boutiques and 40 restaurants.
It’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to souvenirs in Thailand. There are Buddhas galore represented in all manner of woodcarvings, masks, paintings and statues.
Expect, at very least, to come away with a gold-threaded purse or a key chain bearing a peanut-sized lucky Buddha.
If you aren’t too particular, the best place to begin shopping is Chatuchak Weekend Market, the biggest in Thailand. Find 15,000 stalls of clothing, carvings, crafts, baskets, wooden bowls, lacquerware, lanterns, ceramics, silks and even plants, animals and fruits that defy imagination.
It’s crowded and hot, so arrive early. Prepare to be dazed and always respectfully bargain (offer half and be patient; a 30 percent discount is usual).
You can also peruse the potpourri of goods found in the night markets of Bangkok: Patpong is famous for its strip bars and knock-off Polo shirts, Talad Rot Fai for antiques and fun vintage collectibles, and Silom Night Market for a treasure trove of souvenirs and odd lots.
Thailand’s silk stocks were historically imported from China, but a 20th-century entrepreneur with a mysterious past put the country’s silk trade on the map.
That was Jim Thompson, a member of the OSS who, in the mid 1950s, took the silk trade in Thailand to new heights.
While Thompson disappeared under nefarious circumstances in 1967, he left a legacy that is today a winding complex of silk-weave showrooms and impeccable products (purses, scarves, clothing, tablecloths, furniture fabrics) that you can buy at reasonable prices.
The Jim Thompson House itself is a museum of traditional Thai design and mid-century colonial style.
Thailand is a major exporter of jewelry, and the bargains can be excellent given the low labor costs. The best place to shop for gold is Yaowarat Street in Chinatown.
Be aware that vendors sell the bright, yellow gold that is nearly pure at 23 karat and not always to the taste of westerners. You’ll also find beaded jewelry in semiprecious varieties.
Pro tip: Do not attempt to buy actual precious stones in these shops. For gems, it is best to go to an upscale shop in a department store or hotel where you know you are getting the real thing at a decent price.
As in Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam, you can have clothes made to order in Bangkok. But this can be tricky if you are on a tight time schedule because, although promised, the goods may not show up at your hotel by your departure time.
Our best advice is to consider these suggestions: the Chinese Tailor, one of the largest tailoring companies in the city and known for its quality of clothes, variety of fabrics and reasonable prices (located near the Jim Thompson House); James Fashion on Sukhothai Road; and Thai Square, recognized by Le Clefs d’Or Thailand.