The exchange rate may not be as favourable as it once was but head to the Thai capital of Bangkok and not only will you find a dizzying array of shopping options, you’ll still find plenty of bargains
Fashionistas, take note: there’s a new kid on the catwalk. Bangkok is a trendy Asian tiger that hosts its own fashion week and has some of the best shopping in the region, with sparkling malls that are home to established designers, new names and a host of high-street copycats. But it’s not just clothes shopping that's in great supply in the city – locally-made silks, ornaments and gifts are available from a great number of shopping areas. Take your pick from the following and prepare to haggle – it’s a sport in Thailand and many traders outside the larger stores expect it.
This is the place to head to for all the latest fashions. It’s where Bangkok’s trendy young things first cut their teeth on designer wear – the area is at the heart of the city’s fashion scene and regularly hosts shows during Bangkok Fashion Week. Thailand’s newest designers have shops here, while more established names like Versace, Gucci and Prada have stores in nearby Siam Paragon.
Trend-setting fashions and designer labels.
Although Bangkok’s Grand Palace is its top visitor attraction, Vimanmek is a beautiful former royal palace that will appeal to those trying to escape the crowds. Compared to the dazzling grandeur of the Grand Palace, Vimanmek is more understated but it's equally appealing. The world’s largest golden teak palace, Vimanmek was built in 1900 but was only used as a royal palace for five years. It is beautifully preserved and now serves as a museum to the Thai royal family.
MBK (MAH BOON KRONG)
The high street has never been so colourful and so much fun as at MBK. Mah Boon Krong Center, as it’s more formally known, is 330 metres long and eight floors high. Its main shop is Tokyu, a department store specialising in men’s and ladies’ fashions and cosmetics. The different floors in the centre are themed. The ground floor has stalls and shops with an abundance of handbags and flip-flops in every shape, size and colour. The fourth floor is the place to head for electricals, while other floors feature local crafts and rows of jewellery shops (gold and precious stones are a good buy in Thailand, but there are plenty of fakes around, so take care that you are buying quality goods).
Don’t forget to pick up a centre-wide tourist discount card at the information counter for even more savings at MBK’s shops.
High-street fashions, electricals, jewellery, shoes and bags.
Not far from MBK is Jim Thompson’s house. Thompson, an American, is heralded as being the founding father of the Thai silk trade, before he mysteriously vanished in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in 1967. The house, formed from parts of six antique Thai houses, is set along one of Bangkok’s many canals and details the history of the silk trade and Thompson’s life. The on-site gift shop has some beautiful silk fabrics, scarves and accessories.
KHAO SAN ROAD
The famed backpacker quarter of the city doesn’t just have cheap accommodation, restaurants and bars. Shopping here is among the cheapest in the city, with a huge variety of items such as light cotton shirts and trousers, beachwear, shoes, and jewellery from a number of wholesale shops. Fancy a light snack? Then try a Bangkok speciality from one of Khao San Road’s street stalls: deep fried cockroaches, scorpions and locusts. If that’s not your cup of tea, there are plenty of great restaurants to choose from and you can follow this up with a relaxing Thai massage for around £3 from one of many massage parlours.
Fisherman trousers and backpacker essentials.
A trip to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, should top every visitor’s list. The 15m-high, 46m-long golden Buddha lies gracefully and serenely in a building built simply to house it. When you’re finished there, hop on the ferry across the Chao Phraya River and visit Wat Arun, otherwise known as the Temple of the Dawn. This fabulous temple is covered in porcelain plates and saucers, which had at one time been used as ballast by Chinese ships visiting Bangkok. It’s quirky and beautiful.
CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET
Forget the tourist-fleecing stalls of Patpong night market and head to Chatuchak: at 35 acres, and with around 15,000 stalls, it’s possibly the largest market in the world! Naturally, you can get just about anything here, from designer fakes in clothes and shoes to gifts, furniture and even household goods and pets. The market is so vast that maps have been developed to help navigate row upon row of stalls, but if you just want to wander, you’ll find lots to keep you interested, and some great restaurants for very cheap eats.
Silk shirts and ties.
Hop on the Skytrain (the only way to travel in hectic Bangkok) to Ratchadamri and head to Lumphini Park for a break from the frenetic pace of Chatuchak. The park is Bangkok’s lungs and is home to the city’s first public library. The gardens and boating lake offer a rare chance to completely relax and pause for breath in a frenetic city. In the winter months, the park plays host to classical music festivals.
Where to stay
Pathumwan Princess: a modern four-star right inside MBK – you don’t get any closer to the bargains.
Sofitel Silom: a sophisticated five-star hotel that is a peaceful haven in the chaos of Silom Road.
Buddy Lodge: one of many great cheap hotels in the Khao San Road area.
Siam City Hotel: a quality, centrally located four-star with some great rates.
The Oriental: history, elegance and class all come together at this riverside hotel.
Dream Hotel: one of the cool new kids on the block in trendy Sukhumvit Road
Where to drink
V9, Sofitel Silom: classy bar for the cool crowd, on the 39th floor.
Bamboo Bar, The Oriental: not a cheap choice but its old-world charm and fabulous cocktails more than make up for the prices.
Vertigo, Banyon Tree Hotel: an open-air bar on the 69th floor? Make sure you don’t have one too many!
Where to eat
Wild Orchid: fantastic cheap meals and cocktails close to Khao San Road. This is also a popular hostel.
Silom Village: take a table at any one of the restaurants in this small shopping and nightlife village and you’re assured a good meal.