For me, shopping is a meditative experience. I love wandering through arcades, street stalls and malls looking for something serendipitous. And, Bangkok is sheer nirvana! Though most tourists come here to get a taste of the mystical orient, shopping in Bangkok is a unique experience.
There are the gleaming chrome and glass, air-conditioned, futuristic malls and also the colourful, buzzing-with-energy street markets. I am determined to make this an experience of a lifetime! The trendy and opulent Siam Paragon mall, with five storeys of luxury goods, is a mall ‘without a rival’ — on the second floor is a showroom with canary yellow Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Ferraris. Golf carts glide across expanses of marble, acting as free taxis for frenetic shoppers inside the mall and there is a fashion show taking place in the forecourt. This mall is spread over 20 acres and has a 16-screen multiplex! In the basement is the Siam Ocean world, with amazing array of aquatic creatures in seven zones. MBK mall is a must, we’ve been told — it’s very Thai and very bustling. At first glance, the clutter, neon and the crammed market-like kiosks make for a dizzying experience. But soon, the attraction of MBK is clear — the prices! Six floors of shopping, fakes of almost everything, bags, clothes, cell phones and gadgets galore, but at a steal! The next stop is Panthip Plaza, a gizmo geek’s paradise! Despite the crackdowns on piracy, there is a thriving market for duplicates. USB sticks, state-of-the-art laptops and mobile phones, DVDs, MP3 … the sheer variety on sale is mind-boggling. Despite our best intentions, we succumb and embrace the technological feast! Of course, the message is on the wall — buyer beware!
Our guide tells us about the Narayana Phand pavilion, which is the Royal Thai Government’s Handicraft Centre. We hear that their prices are great and the crafts exquisite. We see bone china tea sets, local bags, musical instruments and various other Thai crafts. The Central World Plaza across the road is touted to be the largest mall in South East Asia. It has an ice-skating rink, 50 restaurants and a multiplex cinema. The size and opulence comes as a shock! Pedestrian walkways above the streets linking to the sky-train allow us to flit easily between malls. The food courts in the complex offer a good mix of international cuisine. The malls are a great respite from the brutal Thai heat and the best way to spend an afternoon.
The nadir of our shopping experience is, of course, Chatuchak! A vast chaotic maze of about 8,000 stalls, the largest weekend market in the world has a mood that is simply electrifying! It’s an Aladdin’s cave of goodies that spans about 40 acres! The market confronts me with a riot of colours. It is divided into zones based on the goods on offer. But, there is an overpowering Asian chaos which makes light of such divisions!
The long alleys and by-lanes have rows of shops dealing with carved figurines, ethnic masks, wind chimes, clothes, woven bags and ubiquitous Spirit Houses. Handicrafts reign supreme — the workmanship is painstaking and honed to perfection. We move towards the gem shops offering a bewildering range of stones at unbeatable prices. As we jostle with natives and tourists, the sun is higher up and the inner alleys become claustrophobic saunas. We head towards the pets section now. There is a huge collection of fish, accessories for aquariums, pups, kittens and a special section for the exotic pets such as hamsters, ferrets, turtles, monitor lizards and even porcupines! Chatuchak deserves at least a day devoted to it and the myriad food stalls here provide refreshments and rest for your aching feet! Chatuchak is a sensory immersion that is uniquely Thai. I’m not quite done with shopping yet. There’s the Suan Lum Night market and the Platinum mall … the list is endless. I have to come back to Bangkok soon with an empty suitcase…just in case!
Published in THE HINDU METRO PLUS, 2008