This is an older neighborhood, less crowded, and located along the river just north of the big temples. It's an easy ride by boat to the Phra Athit pier. On Phra Athit Road, you'll find art galleries, charming little gift shops and around the corner, Thailand's National Gallery.
The good news about Chinatown is that it’s cute (in a funky sort of way) and it operates in a fashion known to Old China Hands; if you’ve been to Hong Kong or China you may know how to cope better here than in the depths of Bangkok, which are very different and, uh, foreign. Chinatown is where you go to eat, or find cheap markets and, well, Chinese merchandise. While there are old temples here and places of interest, the shopping districts are Sampheng Lane, which is really an alley and Yaowarat, the main drag.
Sampheng Lane used to be full of opium dens and brothels, but now you won't find anything more illicit than hair clips and rubber flip flops. There's also lotsa cheap clothing (in small sizes) and thousands of Hello Kitty schoolbags...
Yaowarat Road is a neon-lit orgy of juice vendors and satay grillers along with souvenirs of the cheap, tacky kind. Don't stop by on my account.
Note that stores in Chinatown tend to be closed tight by 5pm, when the street scene cracks open .
The 10 minute walk from the Oriental Hotel to the Saphan Taksin skytrain station (via Charoen Krung Road) may take all day, if you’re interested in gems, beads and trinkets. Almost every shop sells jewelry or jewelry supplies – the goods range from fine 18k gold and silver pieces (prices are about the same as in US wholesale showrooms) to strands of semi-precious beads, horn, turquoise, coral, and pearls. The Charoen Krung prices are higher than those at Chatuchak, but the selection is endless, the quality is better and yes, you can politely bargain.
The area around the American Embassy is not actually a shopping district, although it is served by a mall that is attached to the Conrad Hotel. This area is not far from the Erawan area and is home to many hotels used by diplomats and businessmen and is also near the freeway for easy access to the airport.
ERAWAN (MY CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE)
Anchored by the Erawan Shrine, this district can be reached by two different Skytrain stations (Childlom or Ratchadamri) and is a great central location for stores, hotels and fast food. At the crossroads of everything, you’ll find big, western style malls and fancy pants hotels (Hyatt, Four Seasons, Oriental Residence, InterContinental).
Although this is the name of one of the most famous hotels in town, I refer to the neighborhood as that which surrounds the hotel, from the river over to O.P. Place (see below). There is shopping within the hotel itself and on the little roads and lanes in the main thoroughfare under the skytrain. This area leads to the Silom district. It also abuts OP Place, with its antiques shops, art galleries and tailoring shops. Use Saphan Taksin Skytrain. This ‘hood is adjacent to Charoen Krung.
PatPong, as most people know, is the red-light district. The area is not huge and is located between Silom Avenue and Surawong Avenue (Chong Nonsi skytrain). There’s a street market down the center of the main alley between the X-rated bars—this market sells horrible fakes and junk and is not worth anyone’s time. I do not care what you’ve heard or what guidebooks say—this is really junky. The back alley Soi Cowboy is mentioned often in the John Burdett police stories.
The highlight of one visit to this district was the Porn Clinic (honest!), where Dr. Tana Porn gave me $300 worth of Botox to eliminate a few wrinkles over the bridge of my nose. Walk-in Botox clinics are in malls, sidewalks and street corners all over town. I’ve also used Health Avenue for botox; it’s located in the mall just off the lobby of the InterContinental Hotel. I like this clinic better.
This is about a ten-minute walk from Erawan; cross over Ploenchit Road and head north up Ratchadamri Road. Just past the canal is another major junction with Phetchaburi Road. Here, you'll find the legendary Pratunam Clothes market, loaded with knock-off cheapies, textiles, and tiny teen blue jeans for about $10 each
Located across the street from Pratunam, the Platinum Mall is another mecca for fast-talking traders and your teens may find it their cuppa jasmine tea. I recommend ignoring the first four floors and head straight to the jewelry and accessories on five and six where "Cartiere" trinity rings are sold for $3 each, along with other big name inspirations.
Now, head back out to Phetchaburi Road and turn left. You'll soon come to Panthip Plaza. This indoor market is computer geek paradise; I love it. Full of electronic gadgets, some very suspicious software and DVDs, I also found knock-off perfume... Note: I bravely downloaded a $10 Microsoft Office software disk onto my travel laptop with no problems.
If you are between the ages of 12 and 22, you are likely to think of this as the Center of Your Universe. With Siam Paragon on one side of the road and MBK on the other, this is a zoo of shopping packed with kids and families and weekend and night time shoppers. There are alleys filled with tiny stores near MBK that specialize in up and coming designer fashions. Note that you can actually walk to Jim Thompson’s house from this area, although it is about a kilometer. (Siam BTS station.)
Bangkok is a city of trading districts; Silom is a business center of high rises with a large selection of multiples and shopping sources, most of them Western brands with small local stores dotted here and there.
There is the Silom Village, a cutie-pie cluster of tiki huts that looks like what a Trader Vic’s might be if there was shopping involved. It's a small plaza centered strip mall with a handful of little shops including places for silks, fake designer handbags and some start up local designers. There are about two dozen stores here and the theme is “night market light,” with some souvenirs but also some drop-dead, stunning and very sophisticated merchandise. If you need a mani/pedi, the nail salon has a midday special – both for 400 baht. They did a very good job on my nails and threw in a fab neck and shoulder massage. When you walk out of the Village and turn right, you’ll immediately see Anita Silk, one of my favorite sources for silk accessories – handbags, photo frames, scarves… Don’t miss those gorgeous silk flowers to pin on your lapel or hat.
This is the crowded, pushy, crazy, trafficky heart of downtown Bangkok where there are a number of malls and department stores for locals. The main part of the road stretches for several Skytrain stops, although most shoppers here will use Phrom Pong or Thong Lo stations. The department store Emporium is located in the center of it all.
In the evening, street vendors ply their wares on the streets near the big hotels. You'll see some decent jewelry and lots of Thai handicrafts.
Consider Thonburi Bangkok's twin city, just as you think of the US city of St. Paul, the other side of the river from Minneapolis, the lesser known part, the less visited part. This is also where The fab Peninsula Hotel Bangkok stands at river’s edge on the far side of the river. This isn’t really a shopping district as such. While Bangkok is a largely modern city, the canals of Thonburi are a glimpse of the Bangkok of thirty to forty years ago, with fruit orchards, houses built on stilts, and simple shops and grocery stores.
Design district for the Wallpaper crowd, many concept stores including Playground! This is a district partly made up of renovated warehouses; it’s not unusual for a store to be in a hangar like space. Home to fads and fashions and today’s cool which could change by tomorrow. The area is actually in two parts, J Avenue is one part— a mall development--home to various boutiques and galleries. Further down, at Soi 55, is the infamous Playground!—the exclamation point is part of the name, don’t look at me. This destination is sometimes written Tong Lor, which is also a BTS station not far from Sukhumvit.