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Shopping in Bangkok

Though not as well known for shopping as Hong Kong or Singapore, Bangkok is actually a great shopping city, with everything from international retailers offering haute couture to street vendors selling "antique" opium pipes and phony Rolex watches (that may be confiscated -- with no compensation -- by customs agents). Bangkok's most popular exports are its lovely silks and silk products, jewelry, celadon pottery, lacquerware, masks, carvings and antiques. If a price seems too steep, chances are you can talk it down. The language barrier isn't a problem: Every street vendor carries a calculator, and without a word spoken, the calculator passes hands sometimes six or seven times before a settlement is reached. Treasure hunters won't want to miss the Weekend Market at Chatuchak Park, on the north end of the city. Silom Road, near Patpong Road, is a hive of activity every night.


You'll find an especially large concentration of shops up and down Silom and Suriwong Roads. Small shops abound in Chinatown, north of the Grand Palace.
Note: Be very cautious when buying antiques. Thais are not only famous for their excellent fakes, but government regulations are very strict concerning the exportation of genuine antiques, especially religious items (the export of Buddha images, old or new, is forbidden). If you do find something you like and it is authentic, be prepared for a mountain of paperwork. Before you can take the item out of the country, you'll need approval from the Fine Arts Department, which can take up to a month to obtain. Some reputable shops provide this service. The government agency called The Fine Arts Department is on Na-Pharathat Road, phone 221-7811.

Erawan Antiques, near the river, sells quality antique furniture, religious artifacts, bric-a-brac and reproductions. They're always willing to discuss the price. Monday-Saturday 9 am-6 pm. 148/9 Surawong Rd., phone 235-8981.

Krishna's Asian Treasures is a delightful shop where snarling lions, serene Buddhas and erotic ladies peek out of every corner. Four floors of antiques, semi-antiques and reproductions. Balinese wood carvings, Burmese wall hangings, Ceylon masks, Indian and Nepalese jewelry, plus quirky things from local artists. 137/6-7 Sukhumvit Rd., between Soi 9 and 11, phone 253-7693 or 251-6867, fax 253-5792.

At the River City shopping complex, many of the shops on the upper floors specialize in antiques and bronzeware. It's on the riverside, between the GPO and the Royal Orchid Sheraton, on Yotha Road. Phone 237-0077.  

Art Galleries

Many of the finer art galleries are located in upscale malls, big hotels (where exhibits come and go) and foreign embassies. Check the daily English-language newspapers, The Bangkok Post and The Nation, as well as Metro Magazine, for current exhibits.

Akko Collectors' House can usually be counted on for paintings of good taste and accomplishment. Monday-Saturday 10 am-7 pm and by appointment. 919/1 Sukhumvit Rd. (between Soi 49 and Soi 51), phone 259-1436.

About Cafe & About Studio concentrates on photography -- the only gallery to do so. Exhibitors are Thai and resident foreigners. On occasion, this is a setting for performance art and alternative bands. Monday-Friday 9 am-6 pm and by appointment. The cafe is open later and on weekends. 402-B Matreejit Rd., Pomrap (near Hualampong Railway Station), phone 623-1742 or 623-1743.

Carpe Diem Galleries mainly showcase foreign artists -- Western, Asian and Westerners who are working in Asia. Daily 10 am-5 pm. 806/1-2 Sukhumvit (Soi Thonglor), phone 714-9903.

Ruang Pung Art Community provides space for the most fringey, dissident artists -- installations, performance art, sculpture, whatever. Not members of the academy. Sometimes there's alternative music. Saturday and Sunday only, 11 am-6 pm. Opposite Section 13 in the Weekend Market, Chatuchak Park, phone 513-7225.  

Department stores

SOGO Department Store, an outlet of the Japanese chain, is near the Erawan Shrine, Amarin Plaza and the Ratchadamri Road intersection. McDonald's at ground level. Brimful of quality goods and apparel. Pleasant restaurant, too. Daily 10 am-8 pm. 494 Ploenchit Rd., phone 255-0831.

Robinson Department Store, near the end of Silom Road, past Patpong, combines a supermarket (with garden-fresh vegetables), a restaurant and an extensive dry-goods area. It's a popular local hangout as well. Daily 10 am-10 pm. 2 Silom Rd., phone 235-0471.

Narayana Phand isn't quite a department store, but it's large, government run and sells every type of traditional handicraft, from nielloware to basketry. Daily 10 am-8 pm. 127 Ratchadamri Rd., across from the World Trade Center, phone 255-4328.

Central Department Store is a popular shopping center in the heart of the Silom Business district. Good quality merchandise with good prices. Silom Complex, 191 Silom Rd.

Big C is relatively new store, found all over Thailand, with very cheap prices.


Oriental Plaza is exclusive, with international fashions, art galleries and jewelry. Daily 10 am-6 pm. 301 Charoenkrung 38 New Rd. (next to the Oriental Hotel), phone 236-0411.

Chao Phraya Tower Shopping Arcade offers designer boutiques, leather shops, Thai silk shops and art galleries. Daily 10 am-7 pm. 23 Rongnamkhaeng Lane (next to the Shangri-la Hotel), phone 237-0077.

On the other end of town, near the Siam Inter-Continental and Siam Square, is Siam Center, a huge complex filled with restaurants, flower shops and such names as Gucci, Lanvin and Polo. Daily 10 am-10 pm. 965 Rama I Rd., phone 251-1890.

Mah Boon Krong Center (MBK), also next to Siam Square, is a window on popular culture. (Not that you'll find much to buy, unless you're looking for plastic shoes, polyester dresses and counterfeit watches.) But it's very Thai and always bustling, while the upscale malls seem to echo. On the upper floors, dozens of shops are dedicated to the second-most important status symbol: the mobile phone (the first being Mercedes). We recommend the new and used camera shop, Fotofile, on the ground floor. Daily 10 am-9 pm. Southwest corner of Phyathai and Rama I roads, phone 217-9111.

Seacon Square. Few will want to waste an entire day battling traffic in order to visit this remote, American-style mall. It's not far from the BITEC convention center, though, and bibliophiles will enjoy DK Books, reputedly the biggest bookstore in Asia. Seacon Square is the only city structure that's wheelchair accessible. 904 Srinakarin Rd., Prawet, phone 721-8888.

Pantip Plaza is the ultimate source for electronics -- a five-story mall with shop after shop selling computers and electronic gear. Usually there's nothing (except pirated software) that can't be gotten cheaper in Hong Kong and much cheaper in the U.S., but due to the baht devaluation, computers and printers are temporarily at bargain prices. But you must know precisely what you want; salespeople know nothing about their products. No demonstrations.

Take a taxi there. Most shops open around 10 or 10:30 am; and although they're open to 8 pm, don't go later than 3 pm unless you want to spend hours in a traffic gridlock. New Petchburi Road between Phyathai and Ratchaparop Roads (close to Pratuunam Market and Amaari Watergate Hotel).

The World Trade Center encompasses many shops, restaurants and an ice-skating rink. On the sixth floor are two movie theaters with six screens, a vegetarian restaurant and Pam-Pam -- a quiet Internet cafe in a fast-food shop. The Japanese department store in this center, Isetan, attracts few shoppers, but its supermarket bears investigation. Daily 10 am-9 pm. 4 Rajdamri Rd., phone 255-9400.  


Teck Heng Bookstore is a great place to browse: good selection of English- and foreign-language books on Asian affairs, art, culture and religion, as well as old maps, prints and European and U.S. periodicals. Monday-Saturday 10 am-8:30 pm. 1326 New Rd. (between Oriental Avenue and Silom Road, close to the Oriental, Shangri-La and Sheraton hotels), phone 234-1836.

Look for English-language books at the numerous outlets of Asia Books and DK Books. Headquarters shop for Asia Books is at 221 Sukhumvit Rd., phone 252-7277; outlets invariably crop up in glossier shopping malls. Headquarters for DK Books is at 904 Moo 6, Srinakarin Road at Seacon Square, phone 393-8040. Yes, it's remote, but it's enormous and boasts books in many languages and on many Asian subjects.

Foreign-language books are expensive in Thailand. If you want to grab one or two good secondhand ones, go to Elite Book House. They also carry lots of English-language periodicals. Monday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm. Past Villa Supermarket, near Soi 33, 593/5 Sukhumvit Rd., phone 258-0221.

A half-dozen shops and stalls on Kaosan Road in Banglampoo are good sources for used books, mostly paperbacks. Buy, sell or exchange books in English, Japanese and European languages. Open daily roughly 10 am-9 pm.

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