Bangkok can be an ideal destination for shopping, but great style and prices aren't always easy to find. A few extra tips will ensure that you leave Krungthep with a happier suitcase.
Check out the malls, even if you never take out your wallet. Bangkok has some of the most incredible shopping malls in the world-- like the elegant and high-end Gaysorn, hip and funky Central World, and classic Siam Paragon. The shops are a mix of international labels, with some local talent thrown in-- check out Greyhound (at Paragon) for offbeat Thai fashions, Thann (flagship store at Gaysorn) for incredible spa products, and Vanilla Industry (across from Siam Centre toward the back of Siam Square) for great lattes and cupcakes. But perhaps the best part of a day spent among these malls is the people watching-- it's a great way to get a sense of Bangkok style.
2. Give MBK a miss: At some point, the MBK shopping mall developed a reputation for being a great place for cheap shopping. Tourists weren't the only ones in on this secret however, and the vendors caught on. The result is that most of the clothing at MBK is aimed solely at tourists, and is not only overpriced, but severely lacking in style-- you'll see about twenty stalls selling an identical selection of tacky Beer Chang t-shirts.
3. Get to the Platinum Fashion Mall, and give yourself some time: The Platinum Fashion Mall is-- for now, anyway-- everything that people expect from MBK. The selection is staggering, and the prices are terribly low. It's a little harder to get to than MBK, being a bit of a walk up from Phloen Chit MRT Station on Phetchaburi Road, but it's worth the effort. But give yourself time to search-- the shops at this massive wholesale shopping mall are incredibly varied, though not all are worth a browse. Among the aisles and aisles of shops, you'll find hip clothes, particularly some great warddrobe basics, like simple cardigans, sunglasses, belts, and t-shirts in solid colors. It takes searching, but the clothes and their prices are worth it-- especially if you buy more than two or three pieces from a vendor, thereby earning a decent wholesale discount.
4. Hit up Chatuchak Market, but be selective: Spending a day at the Chatuchak Weekend Market (also known as the Jatujak Market, or the JJ Market) can easily go one of two ways: it can be a fantastic day of picking up style from hip Thai designers, or it can be a sensory overload of too much stuff that you have no interest in. The trick is knowing the layout of the market. The vast bulk at the centre of the market is of little interest for most shoppers, and many visitors get tripped up by simply heading inward and getting majorly overwhelmed in the process. For hip clothes, focus on the lane running parallel to Kamphangphet Road (the far left side of the market when viewed from the BTS station)-- it's particularly good for funky t-shirts and boutique stalls, with designers like the local Hey Pilgrim!. Later, head to the far opposite corner, where some small cafes are tucked in among artist's galleries.
5. If you can't make JJ, get to Suan Lum: It's not the same experience, and the prices are higher, but the Suan Lum Night Bazaar is certainly convenient. Firstly, it's right in the centre of Bangkok, being right up the stairs from the Lumphini MRT station. Secondly, it's open every night, so you don't have to time your visit to a weekend. Thirdly, the crowds are not as intense as at Chatuchak. So while the shopping may not be as rewarding, it's perhaps a more relaxed spot to pick up some t-shirts and a new pair of sunglasses.
So enjoy the city, bargain well-- and let me know if you find a local designer particularly worth seeking out.