Shopping holidays aren’t exactly a new thing; the grand old dames of retail New York, Paris and London have been flaunting their designer names and outlet bargains to lure shoppers for decades.
Fashion-savvy Australians no longer have to venture to the other side of the world for a retail vacation; there’s a new kid on the block.
What was once a backpacker haven pimping cheap designer replicas and souvenirs, Bangkok is today a slick retail mecca boasting more than forty sumptuous malls in the city centre alone. At Siam Paragon, EmQuatier and Central Embassy there are multiple floors of American and European designer labels to choose from. For the electronics and gaming aficionado there is the multistory MBK center. Terminal 21 and Siam Discovery cater to trendy youth fashionistas and niche outlets are aplenty like Amarin, a sportswear one-stop shop. Bangkok accommodates every taste, pocket and style.
For those still to be convinced Bangkok deserves more than just a courteous stopover, time a trip to coincide with the annual mid-year sales. The Amazing Thailand Grand Sale is the city's largest shopping event, equivalent to the Black Friday sales in the US or China's Singles' Day. The sale typically runs from June 15 to August 15 and is heavily promoted by the Thai media, local reality TV stars and social media influencers.
During this time stores run inventory fire sales with discounts of up to ninety percent. The city is awash with the perspicuous red shopping bags used by retailers during the sale, and there are plenty of fashion shows and gimmicks to keep shoppers entertained.
Make the trip pay for itself; for every five hundred baht (twenty dollars) spent, entitles foreign visitors entry into a draw for a free holiday. Win or not, make your baht go further with the heavy discounts on restaurants, resorts, and hotels that happen across the capital during the Grand Sale promotion.
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The Western-style aesthetic and English signage used throughout much of Bangkok may feel familiar, but the prevalence of local designers and tasty Thai cooking smells wafting down from the ubiquitous upper-level food halls ground you firmly in the East. Offerings are simple and reasonably priced - try MBK’s vast food hall for a five dollar lunch - or try the more upmarket Central Embassy’s new Eathai Food Court, a quirky take on Thai street food.
Not a label aficionado? Head to the popular MBK where disposable fashion goes for a song and communal areas have endless racks of bargains. Or the indoor flea market style at Platinum where shoppers haggle for bulk-buy wholesale clothing. Bear in mind that Thai clothing is considerably smaller than most standard Australian sizing and Westerners are regularly offered 'oversized' options.
Retail in Bangkok is a day-and-night activity and there's plenty to do beyond shopping. Many malls have cinema complexes and at Siam Paragon, you can visit the Aquarium or hit the ice-rink at Central World.
Shopaholics can mix mall shopping with Eastern culture at Bangkok’s many markets. There are the colourful Patpong night markets or the melting pot of Chatuchak at weekends. The former dockside warehouse of Asiatique is great for an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, a Ferris wheel and lady boy cabarets.
Another option is to extend a sale-time getaway and tick off a few of the capital’s cultural highlights; the packed Grand Palace and its miniature Emerald Buddha, the mesmerising Wat Pho Buddhist temple or a scenic canal boat tour. Shopping may have gentrified some of the city, but Bangkok retains its beating eastern heart.
With slick malls, bargain prices, vast cultural experiences and tasty food, Bangkok easily rivals the more typical retail capitals.