Founded by a family of antiquarians in the 1970s, this atelier and shop has become a major outpost for Asian furnitures and decorative items. The inventory here is peppered with the occasional antique but most pieces are in fact truly impressive reproductions. While there’s a lot of historical stock to choose from like colonial-era side tables and paintings of black elephants from Siam, Agal’s artisans create contemporary designs, too, like lacquered nesting tables and symmetrical teak desks.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Known as JJ, this is the largest market in Thailand, sprawling across more than thirty acres and featuring vendors selling everything from silk, crafts and orchids to pythons, old silver and massive Buddhas. It makes substantial markets, like the Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris, feel like organized, quaint shopping experiences, and buyers should come prepared for heat, crowds, noise and tiny alleyways overflowing with goods. The stands are organized in sections, and the best vendors are found deep in the fray, so don’t get distracted by the outer stalls, those selling cheap mementos. The clock tower near JJ’s center is a good place to meet. Indagare members can contact the Bookings Team to arrange for a shopping guide.
If you see something you love, bargain and buy it immediately. Bring a hat and water, but don’t drink too much, as toilets are not easily found. For a break, head to Doi Tung, an air-conditioned café (Thailand’s answer to Starbucks) located near Gate 1. A fabulous place for an authentic lunch is De Thong Dee, in the home décor section.
Indagare Tip: Nancy Chandler’s Bangkok map, for sale in most hotels, includes an excellent guide to JJ; if you’re going without a (human) guide, it’s your best bet for not getting lost and for finding the goods you want other than hiring a guide to accompany you.
Along with the Siam Paragon, Gaysorn is one of the more upscale department stores in Bangkok. With global luxury brands, international flagship stores and high-end Thai fashion and accessory boutiques, Gaysorn is an excellent one–stop- shop for the serious buyer. Here you will find all of the international luxury labels. (For Western visitors, buying Prada or Hermès in Bangkok affords no discounts, as the import tax on luxury goods is extremely high in Thailand.) It’s worth stopping by Gaysorn if for nothing else than to shop at the gorgeous home décor boutique Thann, located on the third floor. Besides designer chairs, ultra-soft throws and smaller design accents, look for beauty line Harnn & Thann, which is sold all over the world but is available in its entirety here. After shopping at Gaysorn, head to the third-floor Thann Tea shop, where you can sip organic brews and snack on pretty little cakes.
It’s Happened to Be a Closet
No longer the secret it once was, It’s Happened to Be a Closet remains charming, and not just because of its melodic, grammatically faulty name. The two floors of the tiny sliver of a boutique, on Soi 3 in Siam Village, are stuffed from floor to ceiling with fashion and accessories. Designed by Siriwan Tharananithikul, the clothes are vintage-inspired and come in myriad textures, materials, colors and styles. Browsing among the immense collection (most of it literally piled on the floor and on shelves) can be exhausting: luckily the store also hosts a teeny Italian café upstairs and a small “spa,” i.e., foot-massage corner, on the ground floor. The original branch was such a hit that there’s now a second Closet on Khao San Road.
There are thirty-three Jim Thompson branches in Thailand (there’s even one at the Koh Samui airport), so this is one of the only places in Bangkok where you can take your time deciding on a purchase, since chances are you’ll find another outlet. The uncontested king of Thai silk, Jim Thompson carries a huge range of products and raw materials.
True aficionados make time to visit the Sales Outlet (153 Soi Sukhumvit 93; 66-2-332-6530), in outer Bangkok, a twenty-minute taxi ride from the city’s center (if there’s no traffic; otherwise you can also take the BTS to On Nuch station). Prices are slashed up to 70 percent and some items sold there are not available at retails shops. Those looking to shop Jim Thompson without such a commitment will find him in many of the city’s hotel’s shopping arcades, including the Anantara, the Mandarin Oriental, and The Peninsula.
This tiny twenty-year-old jewelry store near the Mandarin Oriental is highly recommended for sterling silver, all of it made in Bangkok.
Lotus Arts de Vivre
Run by the Van Bueren family, this high-end company, which has been called the Faberge or Bulgari of Thailand, carries jewelry, home items and accessories; its products can be found in the Mandarin Oriental and in the Anantara arcade. Expect expert craftsmanship, top materials and designs, and high prices. Many pieces are one-of-a-kind and collectors from all over the world have made this the cult luxury brand of Thailand.
Those with extra time might chose to get lost in the shopping chaos that is the MBK Center. With eight floors and over 2,000 shops, restaurants and outlets, this department store has every chachki, trinket and souvenir you can dream of. The best part about the MBK Center is that you can bargain in most of the stores, making it an excellent choice for deal-seekers.
Located right by the river, this four-story antiques, crafts and jewelry emporium is on every first-time shopper’s Bangkok list. It’s co-owned by the Mandarin Oriental, so expect prices to be high.Note that most of the river hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental, the Peninsula and the Shangri-La, offer free boat shuttle service to River City.Riverboat stop: Si Phaya; Sky Train stop: Saphan Taksin (there is a free shuttle service to River City)
Bangkok’s massive department stores are clustered around the Siam Sky Train station, making it an accessible and easy one-stop-shopping enclave. The Siam Center, located directly next door to the more upscale Siam Paragon, offers a new kind of shopping as a self-proclaimed arena, not only for fashion, but also for art and lifestyle. With an aim to revolutionize the shopping sector, the Siam Center integrates digital media and technological innovation in its three floors of both globally and locally recognized fashion brands, turning shopping into an experiential endeavor. While bright lights and digital advertisements may not be for every shopper, the Siam Center takes a futuristic approach to shopping which, if nothing else, serves as an experience in its own right.
Siam Center, Third floor
The Siam Center is the younger, smaller and somewhat dated version of upscale, massive Siam Paragon. It attracts loads of teenagers and twentysomethings, especially on the weekend. Most of the floors are cluttered with inexpensive Western brands, but the third floor offers a slew of boutiques specializing in Thai designers, and it’s a great place to get a feel for local fashion. Don’t miss Tango, Baking Soda and Theatre.
Tip: To avoid disappointment, tall shoppers should be warned that you may find mostly Thai-petite sizes.
Siam Paragon is one of the largest shopping centers in Asia; in addition to five floors of shops, it encompasses fifteen large movie theaters (including Enigma, which is members-only and has its own lounge), Ocean World, several restaurants and a sprawling food court where everything from French baguettes to Chinese stir-fry is sold. Don’t miss the large variety of Thai beauty products on the mezzanine floor MF; they make great gifts. You can find Thai crafts and antiques stores throughout, but it’s better to make those purchases at the markets or at antiques-specific malls, like River City.
Founded by three sisters (Sretsis is ‘sisters’ spelled backwards) in 2002, this label is all about quirky, feminine aesthetics of flirty silhouettes adorned with vibrant patterns. The flagship boutique at Central Embassy is the perfect whimsical setting for these designs — a mansion-esque space decorated with silk-covered walls and velvet couches. Pieces for sale range from white denim overalls with floral motifs to bell-bottom pants in berry prints and cameo necklaces featuring anime characters.