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Shopping in Bangkok

Bangkok ShoppingIf you’re looking to go shopping in Bangkok, get ready: your options are plenty and you can spend a week perusing the different markets and malls. You can buy whatever you want, from baby flying squirrels to vintage leather shoes to designer labels to (usually fake) electronics. Bangkok is hip and fashionable, yet caters to all budgets with its variety of malls and markets. Stuff can be found at a bargain here, particularly if it’s a knock-off.

Here are a few Bangkok shopping hot spots:

Siam Square

This conglomeration of malls is where Bangkok’s fashionable elite head, and where trends emerge. The collection is full of creativity and eccentricity, yet boasts the most expensive rent in Bangkok. A youthful vibe permeates the scene, and on weekends the Skytrain is crammed with folks who will stream into the glossy, air-conditioned malls. The two Skytrain stops you need to know are Siam and National Stadium; these will get you linked in.

A few venues in Siam Square include:

  • MBK: The eight-story MBK (Mah Boon Krong) is packed with more than 2000 stalls, carrying clothing, textiles, and electronics. This is the place to get your knock-off Diesel shirts, fake iPads, camera gear, and home décor. Want a leather handbag? You’ll find it. Want a pair of fisherman’s pants? You’ll find that, too. MBK is considerably cheaper than other shopping malls, which makes it popular with tourists and young Thais.
  • Siam Center and Siam Discovery Center: Across from MBK, these two glossy malls are linked. Siam Discovery Center focuses mainly on home décor, while Siam Center, Thailand’s oldest shopping mall, features many local brands and is targeted at a young audience.
  • Siam Paragon: Featuring luxury goods (if you forgot your Jimmy Choos, you can buy a pair here), Siam Paragon is, not surprisingly, less popular with tourists than other budget venues. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to enjoy; both window shopping and for-real shopping are fabulous.

Tip: Several Siam malls offer a “Tourist Discount Card,” which will enable you to receive 5-30% discounts. Bring your passport!

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The delightfully large Chatuchak comes alive on weekends, when vendors fill it with a seemingly random assortment of goods. Fish, shoes, dresses, food, books, and art are all available. The chaos and heat can at times feel overwhelming; arm yourself with a Nancy Chandler map of Bangkok, which has a special Chatuchak section, and don’t forget to stay hydrated. Take lots of breaks, and just enjoy the scene. Both the Skytrain and the Metro have stops at the market, though the Skytrain’s stop is called Mo Chit.

After-dark markets

Well after the sun sets, many of Bangkok’s streets fill with fluorescent-lit night markets. Though there are too many to list here, some popular tourist markets include Sukhumvit, Patpong, and Khao San Road. At these you’ll find t-shirts, bags, flip-flops, and pirated CDs and DVDs. Each market has a slight bit of personality: you’ll find porn at Sukhumvit, plenty of hippie wear on Khao San Road, and all sorts of erotica at Patpong (plus all the usual offerings, of course).

Bargaining tip:
Except at the fancier malls, bargaining is expected and accepted. That doesn’t mean you should haggle hard – the best way to bargain in Thailand is with a smile and a ready laugh. It should be a friendly transaction, not an argument. Have an idea of what you want to spend, and then start at around 50% of the asking price. When you agree to a price, don’t keep trying to haggle (for example, if the vendor agrees immediately to your first offer) – it’s bad form to keep going. Also, don’t haggle over a few baht or even a few dollars. Most Thais are not trying to rip you off, but simply doing business the way Thais have done for hundreds of years.

If the vendor stops smiling, it’s a good indication that you’re bargaining too hard.

[Photo credit: jetalone, Flickr]