Bangkok offers some of the best shopping anywhere in the world. From bustling markets to glitzy concept malls, and designer sunnies to silk pashminas and retro sofas, the sky's the limit here for a good dose of holiday retail therapy. Neil Brook checks in with top tips on where to shop for what...
From the ease of fixed price malls to the fun of haggling in markets across the city, shopping in the Thai capital is fabulous fun — and there really is something here to suit every taste, style and budget.
Leave plenty of room in your suitcase when you pack for your trip to Bangkok. Any available space will undoubtedly be filled with tailor-made clothes, soft furnishings and souvenirs. The streets come alive at night so do your sightseeing during the day and leave your shopping until after dark. Just remember — while Buddha heads and images may seem like the perfect calming addition to your decor back home, it’s actually illegal to import and export them to and from Thailand.
Here are ten great places to shop in Bangkok.
1. Head for the markets
Divided into twenty-seven sections, Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the biggest markets in the world. If you can’t find it here you won’t find it anywhere. You don’t have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs from your hotel breakfast buffet to find your way out though. A map from one of the helpful guards will suffice. Along with the usual souvenirs and trinkets this is the place for art by local artists, handmade jewellery and wooden furniture. Vintage clothing is also in plentiful supply. If you go totally wild, DHL are on hand to pack it up and send it home for you.
Rod Fai Night Market is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s trains and automobiles to get there and well worth the trip. Catch the BTS to On Nut, then grab a tuk tuk or taxi for the final twenty-minute ride. This market has the atmosphere of an open-air bazaar and is great fun for bargain hunting. It’s especially good for antiques and vintage.
2. Browse in the city’s concept malls
Any list of tips on where to shop in Bangkok has got to include malls. You’ll find them right across the city. Visit Terminal 21, where amongst the well-known brands, laneways reminiscent of street markets play host to local craftsmen and unique boutiques offering choices found nowhere else.
One of the biggest and best options is Central World, which links to the Platinum Fashion Mall. Clear your credit card before you head in to explore the labyrinth of labels, Thai designers and high street brands. With plenty of quality restaurants and cafes to replenish and refresh, you can spend hours in air-conditioned comfort browsing, shopping, eating, drinking and shopping some more. Central World can be accessed from Chit Lom BTS.
3. Go sidewalk shopping
Bangkok’s street culture is what sets this city apart, especially when the sun fades and the footpath markets come to life. Wire trellises are clipped onto walls and every available doorway and space along Sukhumvit Road between Asoke and Ploenchit BTS is absorbed into one long market. Jewellery, clothing, colourful silk and dubious libido-enhancing concoctions hold pride of place, with a smattering of watches and electrical goods for good measure. You’ll be able to snag your favourite player’s strip, and while bargaining is expected all sales are final. Go after 9pm.
4. Buy blooms at the Bangkok Flower Market
Situated in the Old Town, the Bangkok Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talad Bangkok) covers two whole city blocks. The variety of blooms on offer is incredible. Orchids are a quintessential Thai souvenir that should clear customs (remember to declare them). The market is also an incredibly cheap way to brighten up your hotel room, or make your Airbnb pad feel more like a home away from home. It’s best to visit the market in the evening, so pop in after a day’s sightseeing.
5. Where to shop for discount eyewear
With the price of a pair of quality glasses in Australia close to that of a small car, pack your script and you’ll be rewarded in Bangkok with the latest styles at a fraction of the price. Add a pair of sunnies and your new look will have you totally on trend (and possibly the paparazzi snapping as you sail through to departures on your way home). There’s sometimes a small amount of give in the price. If you have a habit of losing specs, stock up on a couple of sets of basic script glasses from the markets for less than $5 each.
6. Where to shop for silk
Thai silk is renowned for its quality and vibrant colours and you can find an almost unlimited selection at any market or mall in Bangkok. Jim Thompson is famous in Thailand for developing the Thai silk trade and delivering it onto the world stage. His stores are relatively expensive, but the quality is undeniable. Try the outlet store for discounted prices. The Jim Thompson House museum will give you an insight into the man — a one time spy — and his life, until he disappeared into the jungles of Malaysia, never to be seen again.
To really appreciate the work and skill required to produce beautiful silk cloth, visit the Baan Krua Nua neighbourhood, where villagers (the original suppliers to Jim Thompson) still weave using age-old traditions.
7. Where to shop for furniture
OK, so not all of us go shopping for a lounge suite or occasional table while on hols. However, if the mood takes you, Bangkok has you covered. Mod X Mobler is a cool place to buy vintage and retro furniture. Visit their studio to see what’s in stock or have your own piece custom-made. They have incredible clearances too, so check to see if you’re in luck. Think Scandinavian-influenced clean lines with stunning timber and stainless steel. If a reconditioned vintage Mercedes driving seat styled into a leather chair screams ‘buy me’, then this is definitely the place for you.
Speaking of retro, vinyl is making a comeback. Pop on some headphones and relax on the leather sofa at Zud Rang Ma Records and listen to music the way it’s supposed to sound.
8. Where to shop for luxury goods
For those with some serious holiday budget to burn, the EmQuartier and Emporium are linked via the Phrom Phong BTS. Inside the Emporium, stunning centrepieces dangle from the atrium ceiling. This is a great place to buy beautiful Thai soaps and diffusers to bring the scent of your holiday home, along with golden, intricately painted porcelain.
Here you can also enjoy a movie at the Emprivé Cineclub or luxuriate in the Thann Spa. On weekends the courtyard between the EmQuartier Towers takes on a market atmosphere. Themes change from clothing to food and wine fairs and much more.
9. Where to shop for electrical and IT
Pantip Plaza Electrical and IT Mall is set over five levels, and houses all things electrical. You can negotiate, so do your research before you go. The range is huge and if you bargain hard you may get prices down below those offered in department stores. Free covers or accessories might be offered to sweeten the deal, but be wary of fakes. If the price seems too good to be true…
10. Where to shop for tailor-made clothing
Tailors are easy to find in Bangkok, but avoid recommendations from hotel concierges. Instead, just walk into a few stores near your accommodation and see which one feels right. Some are more pushy than others, so be firm with your requirements and fair with your pricing.
Leave plenty of time for alterations too — and always return to the shop for the final fitting and pick up. There’s nothing worse than ending up with a bag of ill-fitting clothes that were dumped at reception on the morning of your rushed departure to the airport. Do it right and you’ll return home looking like a million dollars, at a snip of the price you’d pay for off-the-rack at Myer or DJs. Mr Kenny at Stylo’s Collection on Sukhumvit Road (near the corner of Soi 22) offers great service and quality at reasonable prices.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten great places to shop in Bangkok? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food, and find different angles from which to write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.