Shopping is a real adventure in Bangkok. The big markets are a visual onslaught (don't miss the Sat-Sun Weekend Market, see below) and there are great upmarket gift and antique dealers as well as small souvenir stalls scattered about town. Below is a breakdown of some of the best areas.
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Nancy Chandler's “The Market Map and Much More” is available at bookstores throughout the city for 160B ($3.90) and has detailed insets of places like Chinatown and the sprawling Weekend Market.
On the Water — One of the finest collections of art and antique dealers anywhere in the kingdom is set at River City in a large convention hall at riverside just alongside some of Bangkok's finest accommodations (the Oriental and Peninsula). Sticker-shock is the rule, but you get what you pay for and what you get at River City are artful copies and stunning original art and antiques. All shops arrange shipping.
Riverside Charoen Krung/New Road features lots of high-end shopping venues, from jewelry to antiques, carpet and fine tailoring.
Lek Gallery, at 1124-1134 New Road (tel. 02639-5870), is not far from the River City Shopping Complex and has new decorative items and furniture that is just downright sexy.
Both the Peninsula Plaza arcade and the Oriental Hotel arcade have some of the finest shops in town. Don't miss the Peninsulas luxury Prasart Collection (tel. 02253-9772) of fine Benjarong porcelain.
Sukhumvit Road — This area is lined with shops from one end to the other as well as some of Bangkok's biggest shopping malls.
For fine silk, stop in at T. Shinawatra (94 Sukhumvit Soi 23 tel. 02258-0295), a large chain and close rival of Jim Thompson silks. For antiques, try L'Arcadia (12/2 Sukhumvit Soi 23 tel. 02259-1517) where you'll find fine Burmese and Thai furniture and carvings. Celadon House, on 85 Ratchadapisek (near Sukhumvit; tel. 02253-9237) carries fine displays of attractive celadon ceramic. Siamese D'Art (264 Sukhumvit Rd.; tel. 02253-9237) carries similar fine pottery stock.
For gems, try Uthai's Gems down Ruam Rudee, a busy short-cut soi parallel to Wireless just south of Ploen Chit (28/7 Soi Ruam Rudee; tel. 02253-2993).
For fine tailoring, try the many shops along Sukhumvit Soi 11. Most ship your order off to have clothes made in a factory, but you can get good deals if you bargain. Ambassador Fashion (28-28 Sukhumvit Soi 19; tel. 02253-2993) has been in the business for years and provides affordable, reliable, friendly and efficient service from their large showroom near the Asok BTS skytrain station.
Silom Road — This area is packed with outdoor shopping and there are any number of fine jewelry shops, silk retailers and tailors. Try Chartered Gems Ltd. (92 Silom Soi 24; tel. 02233-9320) for fine jewelry and the famed Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company (9 Surawong Rd, just behind the busy Night Market area and Patpong; tel. 02234-4900), a famed Bangkok institution offering fine silks based from the legacy of Bangkok's most famous businessman.
Visiting Bangkoks many markets is as cultural as it is a consumer experience; the markets are where the Thai economy happens, where goods come in from all corners of the kingdom and where the bargaining is fast and furious. Smaller markets with fewer tourists are great for wandering. Try these: Bangrak Market is behind the Shangri-La Hotel, a compact and unique little meander. Pratunam Market, at the intersection of Phetchaburi and Ratchaprarop roads, is a big wholesale center, with a vast array of inexpensive clothing. Pak Klong Talaat is home to Bangkok's cut-flower market, with huge bushels of cut flowers and vegetables passing through here; it's near the Memorial Bridge, on Chakrapatch Road along the Chao Phraya at Luk Luang.
Department stores and shopping plazas
Bangkok's downtown looks more and more like urban Tokyo these days, particularly near Siam Square, the hub of the two BTS skytrain lines and an area chockablock with shopping. The size and opulence of Bangkok's many malls and shopping areas are often a shock to those who imagine Bangkok an exotic, impoverished destination. Sipping cappuccino at a Starbucks overlooking a busy city street may not be what you've come to Asia to find, but to many it's a comfort (especially after long trips in more rugged parts of the kingdom). The truth is, Thai malls are where the rubber meets the road with old and new in Siam and closer to the pulse of the nation than the many temples and ancient history that foreign visitors are keen to experience. You're sure to visit Thai mall culture if only briefly in your travels in Thailand, even in real rural parts. Below are just of a few of Bangkok's many malls:
The Emporium, (622 Sukhumvit Soi 24 tel. 02664-8000), Bangkok's finest shopping area has all of the designer outlets of similar places in big cities the world over, from Gucci to Prada, Sony to Walt Disney (there's a big cinema on the top floor). They've got it all and this place attracts expats with a yearning for the familiar: the food court on the top floor just about covers any craving.
Siam Discovery Center (on Rama 1 Rd.; tel. 02658-1000) is opposite the Siam stop on the BTS skytrain and adjoins Siam Center for some of the largest acreage of high-end shopping in Bangkok. The top-floor cinema plays current Western films.
Mah Boon Krong, or MBK, and Tokyu Department Store (444 Phayathai Rd., at the intersection of Rama 1 and Phayathai; National Stadium BTS station; tel. 02217-9111) is a real trip to teenie-bopper Thailand and supports lots of more affordable local shops. This is more an exercise in "how Bangkok shops" than for finding great merchandise.
World Trade Center, on the corner of Rama I and Ratchadamri roads (tel. 02255-9400) is like your average mall in the U.S.
Phanthip Plaza is a mall dedicated to computers and electronics. It's located on Petchaburi Road about a ten minute walk east from the Ratchathewi BTS Station. Panthip used to be where you'd find lots of bootleg software, but a sincere crackdown means that software is sold surreptitiously and can result in problems with the police. Best to be avoided. You can, however, find very affordable computer components and great services. For troubled laptops, stop in at the Notebook Center on the 3rd Floor (tel. 02302-0270); these guys work magic and charge very little.
For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed stores, visit its online shopping index.
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