If you are in a long trip in Asia, the moment when some shopping is needed will arrive. Bangkok is not a bad place for that despite that you won’t find first class European quality there; nonetheless, Bangkok is always an exciting city to visit.
by SeenThat on October 16, 2007
Missing this huge building at one of Bangkok's central junctions - where the two Skytrain lines meet - is difficult; especially since its massive renewal. The old and dark structure was replaced by huge amounts of glass and offers now a river of light.The old World Trade Center is called now Central World Plaza and is owned by the same group operating the Central shopping centers and Big C supermarkets in Bangkok. Located near Siam Square and Siam Paragon, it opens its doors everyday at 10am. The biggest Thai shopping mall includes six shopping zones and two department stores. At its four corners are offices, a 55 floors high hotel, and the Zen and Isetan stores facing the Central World Square, shops and restaurants occupy the space between them. The Thai kindness is evident everywhere here, at the Isetan Department Store I fixed my sunglasses which were bought in a different continent and they refused to charge me with a huge and disarming smile. All the main brands are represented at the Central World Plaza; it would take more than a day just to explore its 500 world-class stores and at least twenty restaurants of varied styles. If arriving in a shopping spree mood, then it is recommended to get a Tourist Privilege Card that gives a 5% discount and a 7% VAT refund at participating shops and restaurants. Money changers compete for space with jewelries, movie theatres, designer clothes, electronics, home shops, antiques, watches, an ice skating ring, English books stores and an awesome array of restaurants.Duty FreeThe top floor hosts the Power King Duty Free; if shopping there the goods are picked up at the airport before the departure, a passport and a valid flight ticket are essential for shopping there. Unfortunately, the same products can be found elsewhere in the city at much better prices - even considering the taxing differences. FoodFusion and international food can be enjoyed at MIXT, Hou Yuu, Fondooz, China White, Fuji, Le Casbah, Sizzler, MK Restaurant, See Fah, Coca Suki, and Triple O; the meals are attractive and surprisingly good. Thai food is offered mainly at Daidomon, which is the perfect place for experiencing the popular mookata meals so favoured by locals. Coffee and snacks are offered at Sun Moulin, the Cream & Fudge Factory, Ms.Sasa, Baskin Robbins, and Blue Cup. Starbucks has a branch on the "Balcony on 3rd." Black Canyon Coffee is a Thai coffee shop with an interesting menu of local snacks.PayingIn Thailand it is better to pay in cash with local Money, any other option is more expensive. Many places add the commission to the credit card company to the product's final agreed price, i.e. after the bargaining. The commissions are usually surprisingly high if compared to the European ones, since credit cards are far less popular here. The Baht exchange rate changes daily and each bank sets its own buying and selling prices.
by SeenThat on November 4, 2007
Lacking the shiny glamour of Bangkok’s biggest shopping malls, the three arches at Panthip Plaza’s façade may get lost among other attractions. Even if tempted by the snacks and coffee shops at its entrance, it takes some time to understand what’s going on there. As soon as it opens at 10am, the place gets crowded mainly with young Thai men. Most of them look anxious and in a big hurry, an atypical Thai state of mind. Others look furtive and carry around opaque plastic bags. Big signs warn visitors not to take pictures.By now, the suspicious visitor is imagining all kind of semi-atrocities inspired by Thailand’s strange dichotomy between reality and image. Is this its seedy epicenter? Would a short visit corrupt a redeemed soul?The more a traveler stays in Bangkok the harder he finds to comprehend the source of its negative image; the more one spends in Panthip, the easier it is to see this is an electronic gadgets paradise peppered up with traditional Thai food stalls.LocationPanthip is just about one long block from Petchaburi Road junction with Ratchadamri Avenue.ProductsThe best electronic gadgets in Thailand are concentrated in its six floors, and include computers, laptops, cellular phones, music players and all the last model electronic gadgets.MusicThe place doubles as a centre of pirate software and music as well, with prices of 100 to 130 Baht (three to four USD) per disk and a very small (if any) discount for bulk. A few years ago, international software and music companies, leaded by Microsoft began putting pressure on the Thai government to stop the business. The local government claimed the companies cannot expect from Thais to pay western prices; as a result, the companies lowered the prices of the products for the Thai market and the government cracked down on the industry.The results were immediate, today there are fewer locations selling illegal software and music, and they have a soberer approach to the business. They hold only empty envelopes; the client shows the desired envelope to the dealer and pays immediately. Following that he gets a small note specifying the buy and a pick up time, usually ten minutes later.Electric socketsThailand has electric sockets similar to those in China; most western gadgets would need an adaptor. At the south western tip of Khaosan Road – Bangkok’s backpackers’ centre – there is a stall selling them for 120 Baht, roughly four dollars. However, there are better ways of contributing to the tourism industry than buying there; all household shops in Bangkok’s neighborhoods sell them just for five Baht.ComparisonIn my last visit, I had arrived from the USA and had the opportunity to compare prices and merchandise. There was no doubt the merchandise in Panthip was more modern, more varied and better priced than the one in the USA. However, Singapore and Hong Kong offer slightly newer models for roughly the same price at Panthip.
by SeenThat on November 5, 2007
Two for the price of one!This timeless gimmick was improved by the Thais, who gave it gargantuan dimensions.Two malls for the price of one!The one is the oldest mall in Bangkok, it offers sober shops and the best cinema in Bangkok, while the second is aimed mainly for youngsters; in such a way the whole family is kept entertained.LocationSiam Center and Siam Discovery Center are twin shopping malls in Pathum Wan district, west from the Siam Square Skytrain junction and joined together by an elevated bridge. SurroundingsAcross the junction is Mahboonkrong, or MBK, considered among Thais as the best place for buying cellular phones; it is connected to Siam Center with an elevated bridge. Nearby is the Siam Paragon, the most up-market shopping mall in town, and maybe in South East Asia.Buy a cellular and get free a flashy antenna!Built in 1973, Siam Center is one of the oldest malls in Bangkok; despite that and its low and wide four stories structure it still keeps its attractiveness. It hosts international fashion shops, cellular phone stores, cafes, fast food joints and any other shop capable of attracting youngsters to a myriad of shops.Watch a movie while we prepare your new suit!The Siam Discovery Center was built in 1997 and occupies seven narrow stories. The place is finer and soberer than its neighbor and features the EGV cinema at its top floors.The Grand EGVAfter shopping for a whole day, there is nothing better than a movie to forget aching feet; the Grand EGV is the most luxurious and comfortable theatre in Thailand and is located on the 6th and 7th floors of the Siam Discovery Center. It features seven theatres divided in two Gold Class theatres with a seating capacity of forty, and five Deluxe cinemas with a stadium style seating, allowing the viewer to sit anywhere. The more interesting option is the Gold Class, which sells movies at New York’s prices in Bangkok; the price in local terms is so high that international credit cards are accepted without a blink. Movies in Thailand are preceded by the Thai royal anthem and viewers stand quietly and respectfully for its duration. Foreign films are censored for nudity and violence, but the original soundtrack is usually kept; a Thai translation is added at the screen’s bottom. The theatre itself has a huge screen and a good surround sound system, but that’s a secondary feature. The few spectators enjoy private, huge coaches; the nearest neighbor can hardly be spot. A waiter can fetch snacks and beverages; the place is so comfortable that the featured movie is irrelevant.The YardThe yard connecting the two malls hosts special events – from local rock groups to displays of new cars - almost on a daily base.DetailsThe shops in Siam Discovery Center open daily between 10am and 10pm; in Siam Center between 9am and 9pm. At the information booth discount cards for tourists are available.
by SeenThat on January 7, 2008
Pratunam Market is an exceptional market; not only for being the largest clothing one in Bangkok but also since few traditional markets have managed to survive at the very center of vibrant metropolises. Surrounded by modern shopping malls and supermarkets, Pratunam retains the looks of a traditional Thai market; moreover, no other place in Bangkok compares in variety and prices.The narrow and dark alleys - almost collapsing under the unforgiving pressure of the shops - are covered by improvised roofs, which provide protection from the weather and the noisy streets.LocationPratunam is north of the Central World Plaza, on the junction with Petchaburi Road and in front of the Fashion Mall. Panthip Plaza is nearby, as well as water canals giving access to water-taxis and emphasizing the closeness to Thai traditions. Baiyoke TowerPratunam is just below the Bayoke Sky Hotel, which is the tallest building in Bangkok; visits should be planned during clear days. There is an observation floor (77th) and a revolving open deck at the 84th; both can be accessed between 10am and 10pm, the entrance costs 200B. The Sky Restaurant completes the tour there.AroundThe market is surrounded by many street stalls - some of them ambulant - selling similar merchandise; actually T-shirts are slightly cheaper just outside the market. The Bayoke Tower low floors are also occupied by clothing shops, as are all the locals in the small streets surrounding the market.Reaching PratunamEvery vehicle reaching the Central World Plaza is perfect for getting to Pratunam. See details in my Roaming Bangkok journal.VarietyPratunam offers a big variety of basic clothing for men and women, mainly of cotton and silk. Related items are also available, like typical triangle and elephant pillows, backpacks, luggage, belts and others. Everything can be purchased by the unit; however, the market functions mainly as a local wholesale outlet.BargainingBargaining is the rule while visiting a Thai market. After spotting a worthy item, relax and show your best smile. Point at it and a price would be announced. Now, take your time to show shock and offer twenty percent of the mentioned priced. After enjoying his shock, continue the ritual until an agreement is reached. Forty to fifty percent of the original price can be reached with a bit of patience and humor. A good negotiating tactic is learning the Thai numbers; the sellers would enjoy so much the tones mispronunciations that a better price is guaranteed.A Gate in TimeBy crossing Pratunam gates the traveler is transferred a few centuries back in time. Gone are the Skytrain and the Metro; cars and buses become a distant memory. Yet, anxiety is superfluous; the nearest Starbucks is less than five minutes away.
by SeenThat on January 11, 2008
A magical gate into the Thai culture, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the most enjoyable attractions in Bangkok.AccessFew spots in the city are so accessible: the Skytrain, the subway and practically all the buses reaching Mo Chit - Bangkok's accessible bus terminal - reach the market. Activity HoursThe market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 7am until the last customer leaves; during the weekdays, only counted stalls in the central structure are open. TimingDue to the crowds and the narrow alleys, the place can get unpleasantly hot; hence, arriving early in the morning is recommended. Despite that, the place is completely safe; the only danger is loosing a friend in one of the endless alleys.The MarketThe market is one of the world's biggest ones and offers practically every good produced in the kingdom, from high quality silk, through birds waiting to be free in the Buddhist fashion, and ending in wooden carvings. Even jewels - especially the colored stones so favored by the Thais - can be bought here.With around ten thousand booths, it is impossible to cover the market in a single visit, but that vast richness is what makes this market unique and worthy. An entertaining aspect of the market, are the endless variation of tactics used by the stalls to call the attention of potential buyers, from making unusual noises to wearing strange clothes.The crowds filling the narrow alleys are as varied as the merchandise, ranging from merchants from far away Thai provinces to "farangs," the long nosed visitors from all the globe's corners. A good place to socialize with the locals is the many food stalls selling everything from typical Thai snacks to beverages of strange colors and tastes.PricesThe prices here are substantially lower than elsewhere in Bangkok, but higher than in the provinces where the goods originate. However, the opportunity to compare and choose among vast quantities of similar products more than compensates for that.BargainingBargaining is an expected and enjoyable part of the experience. After spotting a worthy item, relax, and show the shopkeeper your best smile while pointing at it. A price would be announced. Now is the moment for showing a respectable state of shock and asking for twenty percent of the mentioned price by the shopkeeper.After enjoying the vendor's shocked face, continue the ritual until an agreement is reached. A forty to fifty percent of the original price can be reached with a bit of patience and humor. A good negotiating tactic is learning the Thai numbers and bargaining afterwards like a local; the sellers would enjoy so much the tones mispronunciations that a better price is guaranteed.
For a professional traveler taking too seriously a trade which is misunderstood by most humans, traveling across the world in order to visit a shopping mall and buy items from international brands available everywhere is almost a crime.While perpetrating such a scandal, he would have a handy excuse for the case an acquaintance would recognize him in his moment of weakness. A fake moustache would cover the embarrassing possibility of an innocent article on the New York Times front page featuring the incriminating photograph of the event.However, reality is more complex. While traveling for long periods of time, renewing stocks is unavoidable; after being for a while in places unheard of and eating insects until tiny wings begin growing on his back, a triple cappuccino at Starbucks is imperative. After trekking until the last hyper-technology shoe soles get holes the size of the Himalayas, resting for a while in a glitzy shopping mall is human.Fooling myself with such silly excuses, I ventured into Bangkok's shopping malls. I really needed to fix my brandish sunglasses, a good cup of coffee and, maybe, new jeans. Trekking shoes with an integrated, multi-dimensional GPS combined with a cellular phone would be a nice addition to my backpack; the latest English books; a sushi dinner in that fancy restaurant with the tiny floating boats. Lush luxury.Soon I discovered a new world. Visiting the Central World Plaza wasn't like visiting Harrods in London or Lafayette in Paris; the Thai culture permeated into the malls and most visitors were Thai. The same charming Thai culture of Ruam Thai and Nong Khai was present here, interacting with a hybrid, international environment. I took out the fake moustache, gave my sunglasses to a clerk with a smile wider than her face and took a long look at this part of the Smiling Kingdom.Central World Plaza (formerly known as World Trade Center) has recently emerged from a massive renewal; the old and dark structure was replaced by huge amounts of glass and is now a river of light. The biggest shopping mall in Thailand includes six shopping zones, a hotel tower and two popular department stores (Zen and Isetan). All the main brands are represented here and it would take more than a day just to explore its 500 world class stores and countless restaurants.Across the junction, is the crowded and plain looking Sogo Department Store; just next to the Erawan Shrine and connected to Sogo with an elevated bridge is the Amarin Plaza. Amarin is the perfect place to search for traditional Thai products, many shops sell silk and silk-clothes are placed here. To increase the feeling of having entered a Thai space, the restaurants on their upper floors are mainly local and there is even a traditional stall place serving traditional Thai filtered coffee. In front of Amarin is Gaysorn a relatively small shopping mall packed with stylish, exclusive shops.A few blocks east along Ploenchit is the Central Department Store, which includes the best Thai-food plaza in Bangkok at its basement. A good book store occupies the top floor together with a mini-branch of Starbucks, the perfect combination for a tired traveler. Another Starbucks faces the street by the entrance and is pleasantly styled as a street facing bar. Before buying there something of value, it is recommended to check prices with the nearby Isetan and Zen.At the corner Siam Square Skytrain station, is the Siam Discovery Center, which is connected with an elevated bridge to the Siam Center and hosts the most luxurious cinema in Bangkok. Across the Siam Square junction is Mahboonkrong, popularly nicknamed MBK, which is considered among knowing Thais as the best shopping mall for cellular phones, despite being less stylish and having less expensive merchandise than the other malls mentioned here.East of Siam Square is the sparklingly new Siam Paragon, the most up-market shopping center in town, and maybe in South East Asia, with 250 stores and endless luxury items.North of Central World Plaza, on the junction with Petchaburi Road, is the Fashion Mall and the Pratunam clothes market across the street; before buying clothes anywhere else it is worth visiting them, no other place in Bangkok compares to them in variety and prices.A block west, along Petchaburi Road, is Panthip Plaza, the biggest computer's shopping centre in Thailand. The best electronic gadgets in Thailand are concentrated in its six floors; whole products as well as single parts, both new and used, are available at prices similar to Singapore's low prices, but usually one generation behind those. Last year I arrived there from the USA and could compare directly; Panthip was better in variety and prices than any similar place I visited in the USA.Other shopping centers are scattered along the city and are worth exploration if the time and the stamina needed are available. The Robinson department stores are worth mentioning, there is a handy branch at Silom's eastern end, near the Lumphini Park. The Oriental Plaza, within the famous hotel with the same name, is one of the most exclusive shopping plazas in the city.Supermarkets are rare and scattered along big distances; the Big C is the best of them, in quality and prices, and has a new and very comfortable branch in front of the Central World Plaza. Pharmacies occupy almost any free space in town, but the British Boots chain is recommended if searching for western products.OrderBangkok department stores are arranged in a similar fashion that arises from Buddhist beliefs: the floor dedicated to children products is below the one for women, which in turn is below the men's floor. How do I pay for my new and stylish backpack?While in Thailand, the best is to pay in cash with baht, any other option is more expensive. If paying with a credit card, most shops add the credit card company's commission to the product's final price. The commissions are surprisingly high if compared to the European ones, since credit cards are far less popular here. The baht exchange rate changes daily and each bank sets its own buying and selling prices.
by SeenThat on November 28, 2007
Few cities seem to be better positioned for earning the title of capital of the Multipolar Global Village than Bangkok. The cosmopolitan population, the myriad of visitors it hosts every year and the lack of imperial connotations, make it an ideal candidate. Beyond that, it's a shopping paradise which will keep troublemakers busy for eons.Shopping what? A Wat? Crossing the world and shopping the same brandish jeans available at my neighborhood's shopping mall? Here is my list of the seven best items to shop for while in Bangkok. 1. Thai SilkThai silk is the flag product of the Thai economy; a timeless product, it is renowned for its beauty and quality. It is considered one of the finest fabrics in the world, and it certainly provides unique patterns and colors.Recognizing the original item is easy; it burns like hair and into dust while synthetic fabrics smell and drop like plastic while burning. It is admissible to ask burning a little bit of the fabric being purchased.Thailand's Agriculture Ministry certifies the product quality using a peacock emblem. The best quality is marked with the Gold Peacock, while the others are, in decreasing quality order: Silver, Blue and Green Peacock. 2. A Tiny BuddhaUbiquitous, Buddha's tiny statues are a good souvenir from Thailand; care should be taken to ensure that taking it out of the country is permitted. The most popular designs include the Seated, Reclining, Standing and Emaciated Buddhas; usually, they include a protuberance on the top of the head (symbolizing his intelligence) and long earlobes (symbolizing his perception). The statue poses (asanas) and hand-gestures (mudras) give an additional meaning to the item; the most popular one are the Varada (Wish Granting) and Abhaya (Fearlessness and Protection) mudras. 3. Electricity Socket AdaptorsThailand uses electricity sockets similar to the ones in China; they are incompatible with western ones. Sturdy and compact adaptors - which conveniently split the connection into three - are available for a fraction of a dollar. Moreover, they have served me in three continents, proving to be an excellent investment for travelers. 4. Rubies and EmeraldsCambodia and Laos are important producers of colored gems. However, the best place for buying them is Bangkok. Care should be taken to authenticate the merchandise; the big shopping malls in the city host reliable jewelers. 5. Thai Cuisine and Massage CoursesFew cuisines have been so extensively recognized for their quality as the Thai one; bringing its secrets back home is the perfect way to prolong a cherished vacation. Its massive use of fresh vegetable ingredients balancing the flavors (hot, sour, salty, bitter, sweet and pungent) creates a rich kaleidoscope of flavors able to dazzle the most sophisticated tastebuds. Using rice as the staple carrying upon its flexible back complex flavors, Thai food is easy to reproduce once its secrets are discovered. Many schools in Bangkok provide intensive courses on the art.Thai massage is a must experience while in Thailand; luckily, it is possible nowadays to learn the art and bring it back home - no customs' officer can yet confiscate knowledge. Nuat Phaen Boran involves stretching and deep massage techniques and is best studied at Wat Pho in Bangkok. The technique makes use of the hands, feet, elbows and knees of the practitioner and requires at first a lot of trust from the customer. However, these professionals are worthy of complete trust; few massage techniques are so capable of fixing small motoric problems of the body. 6. T-shirts and Starbucks China MugsStamped T-shirts featuring the best sites in the country and stylish china mugs sold by Starbucks in Thailand and featuring logos of the main cities make good, light souvenirs. 7. Thai Fisherman TrousersA friend from Santa Fe asked me to bring her an impressive amount of Thai fisherman trousers back from Thailand. This item is a long time favorite of Thai massage practitioners, as she was. I couldn't refuse and the event almost caused me troubles with the customs. "You don't smell like a fisherman," the officer dryly remarked while contemplating the colorful package.
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