Bangkok, Thailand: Shopping Mecca
For a shopaholic, standing before any of the megamalls in Bangkok is like approaching the pearly gates without a guardian angel. There is a mall or market to fit any purse and with the exchange rate at the time of my visit, my inner voice gave me permission to Go crazy.
Central World PlazaThe Central World Plaza contains several malls including Siam Square, Siam Paragon, MBK, Gaysorn Plaza and Siam Discovery.
Siam Paragon Unabashedly, the most posh shopping in Bangkok, Siam Paragon is like wrapping Rodeo Drive in a Tiffany blue box. This mall is for the fabulously wealthy to purchase what most people can’t. Grab a map from the information desk and roam the gleaming marble floors of five levels of world-class shopping. The spacious, cutting edge design, temperature-controlled mall provides a delightful shopping experience in what is known as “the Jewel of Asia”.
Start on the second floor to visit the car showrooms of Lamborghini, Lotus, Bentley, Jaguar, Ferraris, Maseratis and Porches—yes, in a mall! Then, move down to boutiques such as Dior, Versace and Prada and other luxury designers. On the ground level, visit the Gourmet Food Market and Food Hall that rivals Harrods’s of London, before going to the basement level where Siam Ocean World Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Asia, completes your day.
Walk through a clear tunnel to watch the giant marine life swim all around you. The aquarium has seven themes: Weird and Wonderful, Deep Reef, Living Ocean, Rain Forest, Rocky Shore, Open Ocean and Sea Jellies.
Conspicuous consumption equates to status, which is an important part of Asian culture, and Siam Paragon says it all.
Cinema Splendor My son treated me to a movie in the shopping center at the end of the day. Normal cinemas as well as 'VIP' ones are offered and the most accessible branch is the Grand EGV at Siam Discovery Centre. This was a cinema like no other. We relaxed on red velvet chairs sipping wine in the VIP lounge until informed that our movie was ready. The theater held double designed sofa lounges that stretched out to a bed. We were given plush blankets and pillows and a menu of snacks and drinks. Dozing comfortably and ready for a nap and a show, the national anthem jolted me awake. The entire audience stood up in respect to their beloved king, leaving me in bed. By the time I got untangled from my comfy blanket, they had all sat down again. It took all my strength to stay awake for that movie — whatever it was.
MBK Shopping CenterA favorite of locals and tourists, MBK houses 2000 shops that sell everything imaginable at great prices. This is fun shopping because everything is on sale or extraordinarily inexpensive for knock-offs of good quality.
Here is where I spent most of my money: six pairs of shoes at $3-$6 a pair; Pashmina or silk scarves for $3-5; high-fashion pocketbooks for $5-20. The fifth floor has a new food court with an array of international cuisine.
To get to the shopping center, take the BTS to National Stadium.
Thai TailorsTake the BTS to Nana and find a plethora of tailors who will make a cashmere/silk or wool/silk blend suit for as cheap as $175, but be warned, you get what you pay for. Usually the signs for low cost suits are a lure to bring you in the store. Then they try to sell you a better quality. But how do you know what is a better quality? All the fabrics appear beautiful.
One tailor told me the difference was in burning the fabric. I thought he was joking until he lit small pieces of fabric on fire from two different suits that looked alike, but the smell was different: one smelled like melted plastic, the other smelled like burning hair. Neither was appealing. The plastic smell revealed the cheaper fabric, he said. He pleaded with me not to reveal this insider information and told me no other tailor would show me this trick. So, I guess if I ordered a suit, I would need to set it on fire to determine if I got the better fabric, possibly leaving me with no suit at all. Although they sometimes toss in a few shirts and ties with the deal, I withdrew my order and left the store confused.
Feeling savvy after learning this top-tailoring secret, I thought I would test it on another tailor shop with confidence. I selected two suits and solemnly asked the salesman to burn them. He immediately pulled out his lighter: one smelled like plastic, the other like hair. He proclaimed the hairy one was the cheaper fabric. I left confused, but bought a pure silk elephant tie for $3.00.
Street ShoppingThere are things to buy everywhere. On the walkway to the Sky train, beautiful silk scarves were laid out on the ground and throngs of people were gathering up armfuls for $3.00 apiece.
Exit from the Sky Train at any stop and wander the streets to find amazing products at great prices (if you bargain). I seriously wanted to buy everything: soaps hand carved into delicate flowers displayed in hear-shaped plastic containers; sculptures made of twisted steel; scarves, watches, t-shirts, purses of all sizes and colors; Thai handicrafts; silk boxers and anything elephant.
Along Silom Road, you can find art, crafts, tailors and jewelers.
The BTS Skytrain and MRTA subway is the easiest way to travel throughout the city. However, the buses, boats, taxis, motorcycles and tuk tuks (bike peddled ) enable you to access most of the city easily and all are inexpensive.
Award winning journalist, Karen Hamlin is a native New Englander who moved south to Florida and now lives near Washington DC. Karen specializes in dropping into new situations and taking the reader along for the ride. First prize winner of the 2003 and 2004 North American Travel Journalists Association competition, Karen's peripatetic travels have taken her through most of Europe, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, China and the Middle East. Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, International Travel Writers Alliance, and Washington Independent Writers. Now a veteran world traveler, she writes for national and regional magazines.