Whether you want to fill your stomach or fill your shopping bag, Asia’s king of retail knows how to keep its loyal subjects happy.
by Duncan Forgan
Other Asian cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong occasionally lay claim to its retail crown, but Bangkok continues to prove itself the shopping king of the region. Quite simply, the Thai capital has it all.
From glittering temples of consumerism where world-renowned luxury labels rub shoulders with unique pieces by the current golden generation of Thai designers to hip, atmospheric flea markets, retail junkies are spoiled for choice.
What is most enticing about the shopping scene in Bangkok is that it continues to evolve at such a breakneck pace. Political strife may have engulfed Thailand at various points over the past decade or so, but it has had a negligible impact on the capital’s retail sector.
Indeed, exciting new developments are popping up around the city with the regularity of a ticking metronome. This blend of fresh retail concepts, perennial favorites, and characteristically Thai options imbued with traditional character makes the city a potent elixir for shopaholics seeking an urgent fix.
Mega malls and bustling hipster-focused markets may define modern Bangkok’s shopping options, but the city has been a paradise for consumers for well over a century. One of Asia’s trading hubs, with one of the most sizeable Chinese populations of any city outside China, the Thai capital has long been a favorite for those seeking an authentic slice of the Far East.
This legacy lives on to the present day. Fine silks, precious antiques, and Buddhist paraphernalia such as woodcarvings and amulets can be purchased at colorful markets where the atmosphere is as timeless as it is compelling. Prime locations to pick up unique mementos such as these include Itsaraphap Lane in Chinatown, or the world-famous Chatuchak weekend market in the north of the city. Other quintessentially Thai retail experiences include the city’s array of floating markets, a legacy of a bygone era when an extensive network of canals provided a conduit to much of the trade passing through the city.
These ageless attractions are never anything less than fascinating and are a must-visit stop on any Bangkok itinerary. That being said, for those in search of a contemporary retail experience to match anything on the planet, it is the city’s mind-boggling array of malls that provide the most convenient and comprehensive consumer experience.
There’s no time like the present to succumb to the shopping urge. The Amazing Thailand Grand Sale 2014 is currently in full swing, and amazing discounts of up to 80 percent are available at department stores and malls around Bangkok until the end of September.
High rollers are extremely well looked after in the city. Existing malls such as The Emporium (www.emporiumthailand.com) and Gaysorn Plaza (www.gaysorn.com) cater primarily to the chic and sophisticated set. As if these weren’t flashy enough, the city now boasts its first ever “ultra-luxury lifestyle mall” in the guise of the new Central Embassy (www.centralembassy.com). This sharply packaged new kid on the block positively oozes style and panache, with a selection of names guaranteed to set the pulses of designer label fans racing.
The exclusivity is apparent upon entering the mall, with outlets such as Gucci, Prada, Givenchy, Chanel and Versace lining the broad concourse. Prestigious names can be found throughout the mall, with other international brands of high repute, including Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, and Michael Kors, for handbag lovers. Don’t let the high-end packaging scare you, however. The presence of high street brands such as Zara and Fred Perry means that the mall need not be the sole preserve of the super rich.
The new mall goes beyond mere retail to provide a full spectrum lifestyle experience. Those seeking an extra special cinema-going occasion will love the mall’s Embassy Diplomat Screens—a VIP theater complete with giant sofa-style seats and complimentary snacks and drinks. Other highlights include a large food market called EATHAI, which serves up Thai regional dishes, a seafood market, and Issaya Cooking Studio comprising a cooking school and an open pastry kitchen.
Slightly less exclusive, but still with an emphasis on high-end retail, is Siam Paragon (www.siamparagon.co.th). Considered by many as Bangkok’s de facto city center due to its location hard by the teeming Siam skytrain station, Siam Paragon has established itself as one of the most popular of the city’s temples of consumerism. With its easily navigable layout and tremendous range of shops, its elevated status comes as no surprise.
Premium brands to be found here include Jimmy Choo, Versace, and Rolex, while high street fashion is represented by the likes of Uniqlo, Gap, and Zara. As well as style, the mall also has plenty of substance. It is home to the city’s biggest branch of Kinokuniya, the famed Japanese bookstore chain, while other draws include luxury car showrooms and a dedicated IT floor where all your gadget needs can be satisfied. Like Central Embassy, Siam Paragon is home to a VIP cinema where you can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters in supreme comfort.
While most of Bangkok’s premier malls are located in the city’s main commercial areas, there are gems to be found farther afield. One such option is Megabangna (www.mega-bangna.com) on the southeastern side of the city, toward Bangkok’s Suvarnhabumi Airport. Indeed, the mall is ideally located for those with a few hours to kill while transiting through Bangkok. Unique for its unobtrusive low-rise design, the mall is one of the biggest of its kind in Asia. Although it has plenty of high street names such as Clarks, Uniqlo, and Zara, perhaps its biggest draws are its branch of IKEA, the Swedish home furnishing giant, and its Mega Cineplex. The latter is a leisure attraction in its own right, with 15 digital cinemas, 24 bowling lanes, 28 karaoke rooms, and a 1,000 square meter ice rink.
Everyone knows that shopping can be hungry, not to mention thirsty, work. Bangkok’s status as a retail paradise is matched only by its reputation as one of the world’s great gastronomic cities, and places to fill up in between exercising your credit card are plentiful.
One of the most exciting new food and beverage developments in the city’s main shopping districts is Groove at Centralworld (www.centralworld.co.th/groove). Bangkok’s largest shopping mall prides itself on having something for everyone, and this egalitarian ethos extends to its latest addition.
Spanning a sizeable 20,000 square meters, Groove is conceptually futuristic. It has an innovative roof, which provides a sheltered outdoor dining area and there are interesting art installations dotted around the two-story complex.
Dining options are both varied and impressive. Seasoned Bangkok foodies will no doubt wax lyrical about 1881 by Water Library, a bar/tapas venue that complements the city’s two existing fine-dining restaurants under the Water Library umbrella. The new venue is more down to earth than its siblings. Expect simple dishes such as ricotta ravioli with roasted tomato and duck rillettes with quince to complement an outstanding drinks list featuring tailored cocktails by celebrated mixologist Mirk Gardellian.
Other exciting names at Groove include Cicchetti, a celebrated Italian franchise that originated in London; S’Mores, an American-inspired venue specializing in hearty U.S. classics such as burgers and Philly cheese steaks; and the Thailand debut of FAUCHON, the internationally renowned French culinary store.
Another new addition to Bangkok’s shopping and dining scene is Mercury Ville Living Mall (www.themercuryville.com). Even those with minimal interest in noting the ever-evolving face of the commercial district between the skytrain stations at Siam and Ploenchit would be hard pressed to miss this boutique mall. For a start, it is immediately accessible from Chidlom station. Even more strikingly, the five-story mall is housed in a bright red asymmetrical building.
The mall was beset by delays during construction, and there was some doubt as to whether it would appear at all. Therefore, its recent unveiling has given shoppers good reason to celebrate. At present, the mall’s potential outstrips its current limited spectrum of outlets. However, there are several exciting dining options (with a strong emphasis on Japanese), including K agonoya, which specializes in shabu shabu (beef hotpot); Jousen, an excellent yakinuku (a grilled meat restaurant); and a franchise of the American salad restaurant, Dressed.
Both Central Embassy and Siam Paragon are no slouches in the dining stakes either. Among the mouth-watering names at Central Embassy are dessert bar Chikalicious from New York and Japanese ramen franchise Ippudo. Siam Paragon also hosts a breathtaking range of food outlets, including gems such as Four Season, a specialty duck restaurant, and Café Chilli, a modern Thai bistro.
Whether you want to fill your stomach or fill your shopping bag, Bangkok has you covered. Asia’s king of retail knows how to keep its loyal subjects happy.
A New National Landmark to Rise in Thailand
The owners of the largest investment ever made by the private sector in Thailand in a property endeavor (THB 50,000 million), presented the first details of its mega-development’s key components, and announced that the new riverside landmark being constructed in Bangkok is to be named ICONSIAM.
The development, for which piling has begun, promises to be a new landmark of national pride for Thailand. It will include two retail complexes, two world-class waterfront residential condominium buildings, as well as seven attractions that will be the first of their kind in Thailand, and will be called the “Seven Wonders at ICONSIAM.”
ICONSIAM is being developed by a partnership between Siam Piwat, owner and operator of prestigious retail developments, including Siam Paragon, Siam Center, and Siam Discover; Magnolia Quality Development Corporation, the high-profile developer behind a number of holistic innovations for top-end residential developments, including Magnolias Ratchadamri Boulevard; and the multi-national conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group.
The completion of the project is scheduled for 2017.
Shopping at Asiatique The Riverfront
(2194 Charoenkrung Rd., Wat Prayakrai, Bangkoleam, 02 108 4488,
Located by the Chao Phraya River on what use to be a pier that started international trade between the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand’s former name) and European nations back in the 1900s, Asiatique The Riverfront has shops that offer Thai handicrafts, fashion accessories, and furniture, among other products, and it has bars, restaurants, and entertainment.
Open daily from 5 p.m. until midnight.