The Bargain Hunter’s Guide to Shopping in Bangkok

I admit it: I am a sucker for a good bargain, and nothing sets my pulse racing faster than being in another country to scour the markets and bazaars for good finds. Nothing makes me go cross-eyed with boredom faster than shopping at a mall. Sure, it’s clean. Sure, it’s air-conditioned. And it’s all so orderly and neat. But where’s the fun in that? For me, the whole experience of bargain hunting calls for some serious haggling in loud and chaotic places that would make a Stepford wife shudder. Add to that some grazing on questionably sanitary but seriously delicious street food while I shop, and you’ll understand the way I roll when it comes to my shopping habits.

bangkok shopping
Go shopping in Bangkok

I am known among my friends as the queen of the bazaar, and I am proud to say that I have never left one empty handed, or without some fascinating tale to share with my pals. Like that one time I went to the souk in Marrakech and got invited to almost every stall to view the goods and drink some mint tea. By the end of the day I walked out of the souk with more than two dozen purchases, among them a tea set, from which I will drink any kind of tea except mint. To this day I can still taste the tea whenever someone mentions Marrakech.

Apart from the souk, I have also shopped in the Marche Bastille of Paris for the best cheese and melons I have ever eaten; in India, where I had to fend off numerous touts and where I scored some saris and kurtas for absurdly low prices; in Guadalajara, Mexico, where I sampled honest-to-goodness Mexican foods while haggling with a good-natured octogenarian; and Portobello Road in London where I got an antique bracelet that has become part of my signature look.

But I know that great things and bargains galore are still to be discovered in Bangkok, which is a shopping destination if ever you’re on the lookout for cheap clothing, accessories, and knockoff goods. Since my wardrobe needs a bit of an overhaul, I decided to take a three-day trip to Bangkok for the shopping alone. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Here are all the places I went to and the amazing finds I got in the top bargain centers and markets of Bangkok:

1. Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak is Bangkok’s local weekend market. With more than 13,000 stalls, it is the biggest market in Thailand. This market sells practically everything, but it’s a great place to look for cheap clothes. The huge size of Chatuchak combined with the stifling heat and bustling crowds make it a daunting experience for many first-timers, but for me, it was perfect. It’s my kind of place.

chatuchak market
Shop for cheap merchandise in Chatuchak Market

The first thing I did was to get a market map from a security guard. Though I like getting lost wandering among stalls and stalls of merchandise, it’s good to know where I can buy, say, knockoff Nike shoes.

I found some beautiful traditional Thai clothing, but I don’t think I’d be able to rock that look, so I moved on to a stall selling Zara-ish ladylike blouses, which is more my style. The blouses were nicely made, and made me think of wearing them ala Princess Kate, so I bought five pieces at $4 per piece. It was originally priced at $6, but I sweet-talked the lady (well, really I gestured) that I would buy five pieces if she gave it to me at $4. Score!

Giddy over my first purchase, I went to a stall that sold knock-off bags. The amounts and brands that were represented by that stall were astounding. Chanel quilted bags were hung alongside Louis Vuitton purses, and even Hermes Birkin bags were there, and in every color imaginable. I peered at the other stalls alongside it and saw the same thing. Looking at the wall of purses reminded me about a recent favorite dream of mine where I was sitting atop a mountain of designer bags.

In a disinterested manner, I casually asked for the price of the quilted Chanel bag in purple. The transvestite who was manning (err, ladying?) the stall told me that it cost $100. Huh. I asked her if she would consider selling it to me for $60 and I would get three more purses from her. She whipped out a calculator, punched in some numbers, and agreed to my terms. So I got four “Chanel” purses in purple, blue, beige, and black. I was also quite fascinated with Ms. Fabulous’s makeup, and I asked her what foundation she used. She got out a tube of Korean BB cream and helpfully told me where I could get some. Beauty advice and four great bags from one stall. Not bad!

Part of the master plan to replenish my wardrobe is to get new shoes. Like, maybe 10 pairs or more. The choice of footwear here was beyond amazing. Imagine stalls and stalls of sneakers, cute flats, and heeled shoes, and you’ll know what I mean. I ended up buying a pair of “Nike” and “Adidas” sneakers, four pairs of flat shoes, and six heeled shoes plus some rather cute oxfords that I could work into my wardrobe, plus some knockoff Havaianas flip flops for when I want to go to the beach. All in all, the shoes cost me less than $150 for everything, which was truly mind-boggling.

2. Siam Square

This market is located near a local university, and everyday students would come here and shop at any time of the day or night. It’s a great place to shop since the market caters to the price range of college students, and they have the latest hip clothing. I was thrilled at how trendy everything was, and surely I could find a lot of things here to fill up my closet back home. There were a lot of jean skirts, shorts, and  tank tops here… and I don’t know, is it just me or does it seem like the clothes here are a lot skimpier and smaller than usual?

siam square
Shop for the latest clothing in Siam Square

Later on I realized that because Thais are petite and these stores cater to young people, most of the clothes could be on the small side. So if you’re above a US size 10 (and there’s nothing wrong with that), it might be hard to find things that will fit. Me, well I’m generally a size 6, but sometimes I fit into an 8, so I too had a hard time looking for stuff in the sea of size zeroes and twos around me. After checking out several shops, I finally found a stall which had skirts in my size. I bought three denim skirts at about $7 each, so even if I had a hard time looking for them, it was worth it.

Though I only bought three pieces of clothing, I was able to score a lot of trendy accessories, and I left Siam Square with scads of bracelets, earrings, and necklaces to complete my wardrobe.

3.  Baiyoke Market

Baiyoke Market is where I went crazy shopping, for several reasons. One, they expect you to buy at least two pieces of each item, like two shirts or two pairs of pants, because they’re expecting you to buy wholesale. And at ridiculous prices such as $1 to $1.50 per t-shirt, it’s hard not to buy multiple items. Another thing is the quality of the merchandise, not to mention that larger sizes are available because this is where exporters to the US and Europe buy their clothing.

baiyoke market
Shop like crazy in Baiyoke Market

This is where I unleashed my inner shopping ninja. By the end of the day, my bags were filled with 20 t-shirts, 10 shorts, and 6 skirts. And I only spent about $50!

Oh indeed, there’s no place like Bangkok for some cheap shopping. Just remember to wear light clothing, arm yourself with cash in small bills, and haggle like mad. And who knows, maybe you’ll get some free beauty advice from one of the locals. You never know!

Now, the question is, should I build a bigger closet when I get home?

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