Practical Life in Bangkok


Shopping in Bangkok


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Bangkok is renowned for being a shopper's paradise and has ample shopping malls to suit all budgets and requirements. From high street to high end, to vintage to bargain, Bangkok has it all. Every day across Bangkok, masses of shoppers frequent the luxury malls in search of high end goods or trawl the streets preferring to buy cheaper (although highly illegal) copies of the same items.

What to Buy in Bangkok

Although it appears to be possible to buy whatever your heart desires in Bangkok, there are still some specialities that it is worth keeping an eye out for.

Thai Crafts

Passed down through generations of family, handicrafts are popular due to their elaborate detailing and the care that is taken over their construction. Thailand has a wealth of natural materials like wicker, teak, rattan and coconuts that allow for a variety of treasures to be crafted.

From street stalls, to markets to high end shopping malls, Thai handicrafts are easy to locate around Bangkok. There is a specialised Thai Handicraft market on the 3rd floor of the Amarin Shopping Plaza (BTS Chidlom). Relatively unknown to many, this remains a peaceful and quiet shopping experience.

Bangkok's Counterfeit Market

Despite it being ironically illegal, Bangkok's counterfeit market conducts a roaring trade. The quality of the goods available range in quality from undetectable rip-offs to unusable after a week.

Patpong's night market is probably the most popular counterfeit hotspot for selling everything from Prada handbags to Chanel watches, to sunglasses, to DVDs to branded clothes wear. Also be sure to visit the evening souvenir stalls along Silom and Sukhumvit Roads.

Depending on the quality both of the product and your bargaining skills (and do bargain, it is expected), a Mulberry handbag can range from anywhere between 1000 and 3000 baht, Nike trainers around 500 baht, and sunglasses 100 baht - a fraction of what one would expect to pay in a shop.

Tailored Clothing in Thailand

Attractive price and quality and 'ready in 24 hours'? Tailoring remains a popular purchase, although again quality of workmanship can range from excellent to atrocious. However, it is worth taking the time to research and locate a reputable tailor as an 'Armani suit' can be cut with excellent detailing at an unbelievable price and ready in days. Research is vital. Whilst a good tailor is worth their weight in gold, unfortunately tailors remain high on the list of gripes about Bangkok from poor material, to poor craftsmanship to a sudden last minute change of price.

The best and most easily accessible tailors tend to be located both near and in major hotels and business areas like Silom, Surawong and Sukhumvit Road (from Phrom Phong to Nana).

VAT Refunds while Shopping in Thailand

Remember to tell friends and family who visit you that value added tax (VAT) refunds are available to tourists. A tourist is eligible for a VAT Refund if they depart Thailand via an international airport; they are a non-Thai resident who has visited the country for no more than 180 days; and they are not a pilot or cabin crew of any departing airline.

Visitors must show:

  • Passport
  • VAT Refund Application Form (which can be obtained online or at the airport)
  • Original receipt(s) of goods purchased in Thailand
  • Actual goods purchased

(For more tax info refer to our section on Taxes.)

Popular Shopping Malls in Bangkok

Central Chidlom, Chidlom-Ploenchit - Open: 10:00-22:00, Nearest BTS: Childlom

This miniature mall is probably better described as an oversized department store and has many recognizable pop up stores from Topshop, to Dorothy Perkins, to Muji and even a Marks and Spencers. There is a gourmet market on the ground floor, next to the beauty section which contains every brand a girl could dream of. There is also a sport section, book store and the food court, Food Loft, on the top floor is a must try - from Thai food, to Vietnamese Pho, to boat noodles, to Mexican, to tempura to pizza - it has something to satisfy even the fussiest of eaters.

CentralWorld, Siam - Open: 10:00-22:00, Nearest BTS: Siam, Chidlom

One of Bangkok's flagship malls, this is eight floors of diverse shops with a focus on fashion brands such as Zara, Forever 21 and Miss Selfridge. Japanese store Uniqlo is also worth a visit if only to walk around and be constantly greeted by the insanely happy staff! There are two department stores: Isetan and Zen. Zense, the rooftop bar located on the 17th floor of Zen is a must to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset over Bangkok after a hard days shopping! Other highlights include a 15-screen SF World Cinema, all high street banks, Toys 'R' Us, Mothercare and more than 100 restaurants and cafés.

Emporium, Phrom Phong - Open: 10:00-22:00, Nearest BTS: Phrom Phong

The Emporium is a smaller scale luxury mall with brands such as Gucci and Prada. Other shops include Guess, Armani Exchange and Jim Thompson's store, which specialises in Thai silk products. There is also a Gourmet Market, food court, SFX Cinema, and interesting exhibitions are always displayed in the central lobby.

MBK, Siam - Open: 10:00 - 22:00, Nearest BTS: National Stadium

Popular and infamous, MBK is better described as an indoor market (which means air conditioning!), with more than 2,000 shops over seven floors. A haven for imitation designer handbags, cheap DVDs, electronics and Thai crafts, this is definitely a place to bargain. A large food court, bowling alley and SF Cinema City can be found from floor five and upwards.

Mega Bang-Na, BangNa - Open: 10:00 - 22:00, Nearest BTS: Udom Suk - IKEA operates a free shuttle service to the Mall

A must visit for any new resident to Bangkok, this mall is home to Bangkok's only IKEA together with Home-Proc, a Big C superstore, Office Depot and Robinsons Department Store. There are also many other fashion shops such as Aldo, New Look, Cath Kidston and Gap.

Pantip Plaza, Pratunam - Open: 10:00-21:00, Nearest BTS: Chidlom

Pantip Plaza is dedicated solely to computers, gadgets and cameras. Pantip's popularity lies in its reasonable prices and range of products available for purchase, although the quality is sometimes lacking. Individuals with knowledge of what they are looking for will find the better bargains.

Platinum Fashion Mall, Pratunam - Open: 10:00 - 22:00, Nearest BTS: Chidlom

Similar to MBK, Platinum is another indoor air conditioned market style mall. Popular with both office workers and students this is a great place to indulge in the latest fashion trends at wholesale prices - the more of the item you are willing to purchase the cheaper it will be. Been invited to a fancy dress party? This is the place to come!

Siam Paragon, Siam - Open: 10:00 - 22:00, Nearest BTS: Siam

Bangkok's ultimate luxury mall is home to everything from high end fashion to home décor. Other experiences include the 16-screen Paragon Cineplex, Kinokuniya bookstore, gourmet eateries and the not to be missed Siam Ocean World aquarium - only in Bangkok is it possible to swim with sharks and a morning of shopping.

Terminal 21, Sukhumvit Road - Open: 10:00-22:00, Nearest BTS: Asok

Terminal 21 is the ultimate shopping experience. Designed to resemble an airport, each floor is themed after a different city, from the luxury and finesse of Parisian stores, to wandering around a labyrinth of shops in Tokyo. Not just a shopping mall, this is also a popular location for photo opportunities! The food court found at the Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco (top floor) is always full of both tourists (street food available at low prices, on average a dish is 40B), but the abundance of locals also eating there reveals the quality.

Markets in Bangkok

Bangkok's markets offer a very different, but memorable shopping experiences. Not for the faint hearted or the unseasoned shopper, the markets require commitment, dedication, water, sunscreen, a hat and a comfortable pair of shoes, but you will be rewarded with rows of stores selling everything from unique fashion items to cheap clothes to crockery to agricultural produce.

The markets are also a great place to experience Bangkok life, interact with the locals, practice your bargaining skills and sample some of the tastiest and cheapest food available. It is worth trying to learn a few basic Thai phrases - even a small attempt to speak the local language will be appreciated and may get you a few extra baht knocked off the final price.

There are many different types of market in Bangkok to experience, from flea markets, to flowers markets, to floating markets to food markets.

Popular markets include:

Chatuchak Weekend Market - Open Saturday and Sunday 9am-6pm BTS: Mo Chit/MRT: Chatuchak Park

The 35-acre (68-rai) area of Chatuchak offers more than 8,000 market stalls to visitors. On any given weekend, more than 200,000 visitors will walk through the gates. Everything is for sale in Chatuchak: crockery, clothes, toys, handbags, pets, paintings and much more.

Many a first-timer has taken one look at the streams of crowds pouring into Chatuchak and almost immediately turn back. As South-East Asia's largest market, it can come across as daunting, but free maps are available and half the fun is wandering around and getting lost. Despite it appearing as utter chaos, there is a system to navigate your way around Chatuchak. One main walkway encircles the market, and it branches off into a series of numbered alleyways: Soi 1, Soi 2, Soi 3, etc. These alleyways are then grouped into sections, with 27 sections in all. Despite goods being sorted by types into each section, you will often unhelpfully find more than one category of goods in each section. If you see an item you are tempted to purchase, make sure you do there and then - the chance of finding the store again is slim!

Pak Klong Talad Flower Market - Open Daily 24 hours a day, Chak Phet Road near Saphan Phut or the Memorial Bridge

The Bangkok Flower Market (known locally as Pak Klong Talad) is the biggest wholesale fresh flower market in Bangkok. The market has all kinds of popular flowers and flora-related items, including roses, carnations, orchids, and lilies to name but a few. The market is close to Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha).

Open 24 hours, Pak Klong Talad is best visited after midnight or if you are particularly keen to see the market in its full glory, the best time is pre-dawn or at 3:00-4:00. This is when the vendors receive that day's produce from wholesalers.

During the day, Bangkok Flower Market remains quiet, although some therefore find this a much better time to shop and look around. Prices are usually reasonably cheap, but expect inflation to hit during special occasions like Valentine's or Mother's Day, of if there is a festival. Some flowers will be three to four times more expensive.

Floating Markets in Bangkok

Designed more for photo opportunities for tourists rather than for local shopping now, the floating market boats are still a must see Bangkok experience. Colourful boats are stocked with tropical fruit and vegetables, freshly squeezed juices and local food cooked from floating kitchens.

Most of the markets are located outside of Bangkok, and so it may be advisable to join a guided boat tour of Damnoen Saduak market. Other floating markets include Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Amphawa.

If you know where to look, it is still possible to find floating markets which operate as originally intended (i.e. a place for locals to shop), but these are few and far between and are on a much smaller and less grand scale. Try Bang Nam Pheung located in Bangkok's green lung.

Night Markets in Bangkok

Although many of Bangkok's shopping malls stay open until 10pm, night markets offer a whole new experience and are an opportunity to pick up some great bargains. Patpong remains the most popular although newly opened Asiatique is firmly on its heels. The stalls around Silom and Sukhumvit (Nana-Asoke) also stay open until late in the night.

Do be careful as these locations offer a ripe opportunity for pick pockets and bag snatching. It is also easier to confuse a 100 baht note (dark dull red) with a 1000 baht one (light brown) and not all vendors will be honest if a mistake is made.

Supermarkets in Bangkok

The main supermarket chains in Thailand are:

  • 7-11
  • Big C
  • Co-op
  • Central Food Hall
  • Gourmet Market
  • Family Mart
  • Foodland
  • Makro
  • Max Value
  • Tesco Lotus
  • Tops
  • Villa Market

Supermarkets vary in size with 7-11 and Family Mart being the typical corner shop convenience stores and Big C and Tesco Lotus providing the large superstore experience.

On the whole, the supermarkets offer a wide range of goods to fresh fruit and vegetables, to meat, fish (in some of the larger stores the fish are still swimming in tanks), to DVDs, stationary and home wear. There can be times, however, when you have planned to cook a meal only to find a supermarket hasn't got a staple ingredient in stock, for example beef mince. Therefore, a supermarket shop can involve visiting more than one location. This can make supermarket shopping in Bangkok incredibly frustrating at times.

If you plan to shop later at night, many supermarkets often discount their fresh fruit and meat. This can be a great way of stocking up and getting some great bargains.

Max Value offers home delivery for customers who live close to their shop and spend a minimum of 1000 baht. You can pay for your goods and then 2 hours later they will be delivered to you, either in the trolley or by motorbike. Big C and Tops also offer an online service which can either be collected by you in store or delivered to your house. Orders can be placed with Big C 24 hours a day, but delivery must be within 3 days from the date you place your order. Delivery is free for orders over 1,500 baht. You can either pay the driver in cash, or use your credit or debit card online. Tops works in pretty much the same way: orders can be placed 24 hours a day, and delivery is free with orders over 1,500 baht. Both websites are written in English. Home delivery might be something you already take for granted in your home country, but as the humidity and heat in Bangkok means it can be difficult carrying heavy bags of shopping home this is a particular perk.

Many of the larger supermarkets offer a wide range of brands from foreign countries, such as Heinz baked beans, Robinsons fruit juice, Tops stocks Waitrose branded products, Kellogg's cereals and Mcvities biscuits. Expect to pay more than you would at home due to the import tax.

Update 15/09/2013



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