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It's A Mall World

I’m pretty sure peo­ple in Bangkok suf­fer from a hoard­ing prob­lem. How else can you explain the dozens of malls and mar­kets, scat­tered across the city?

We stayed around Siam Square, home to three huge and inter­con­nected malls. Once you go in and after you show your bag to the secu­rity guard (no, I do not carry a gun with me), you will get hope­lessly lost for at least a few hours.

Asian malls and mar­kets are some­what of a sur­real expe­ri­ence to most West­ern­ers. Upon enter­ing the maze of shops, peo­ple usu­ally go through sev­eral stages, notably “oh my God every­thing is so cheap”, “oh my God I have to bring that back home” and “oh my God I need to buy another suit­case to bring all that back home”. But take a deep breath and think it twice. There is a catch. Well, three catches actually.

First, even though the mall looks huge and even though there are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of stalls, you will soon notice that they all sell the same stuff. Prod­ucts are usu­ally groups by cat­e­gory: level one of the mall could be all shoes, level two all bags, level three elec­tron­ics and so on. So yes, malls are huge but once on a spe­cific level, there is a very lim­ited range of prod­ucts. Have a look around and check out the prices (they will likely all be the same) and then pick a stall. Any stall. In Bangkok, sales­per­sons were much less pushy than in Beijing’s Silk Mar­ket and there was very lit­tle bargaining.

Sec­ond, most clothes won’t fit, unless you are Asian and/or have very small feet. Even petite women may have trou­ble find­ing clothes because of the shape of their body. Oh, and you can’t try the clothes on, at most you may be able to check if a t-shirt fit but that’s about it. And don’t think for a sec­ond you can return the goods if they don’t fit. Get real. And yes, I’ve heard peo­ple try­ing to return a $2 shirt because it was too small. So when it comes to clothes, t-shirts may be your best bet but you may want to pass on jeans and under­wear. Feng tried to tempt me into buy­ing some cheap jean shorts (“it’s only $2, come on!”) but frankly, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to get my knee through (I guess love is blind because Feng actu­ally thought they could fit).

Finally, not every­thing is a bar­gain. The malls can be divided into two kinds: posh malls that sell West­ern fash­ion and local malls that also sell sou­venirs and cheap goods. Louis Vuit­ton in Thai­land or Malaysia is still Louis Vuit­ton, don’t think for a sec­ond it will be cheaper. So unless you are really dying to buy stuff you could get at home for the same price, don’t even bother (although these malls usu­ally have good air-con and clean bath­rooms, so it may be worth a stop). Cheap goods, such as sou­venirs (hun­dreds of plas­tic ele­phants in Thai­land), t-shirts, embroi­dered scarves etc. are usu­ally between $2 and $30. But you usu­ally get what you pay for and like I said before, there are only so many Singha Beer t-shirts you can buy (two for me, mostly because I was too lazy to do some laundry).

So when I see West­ern­ers car­ry­ing huge suit­cases and shop­ping bags in these malls, I can’t help think­ing “what on earth did they buy?”. I guess in a way it’s a shopa­holic dream but really, there are only so many plas­tic ele­phants you can bring back home… right?

You can see the com­plete set of pic­tures taken in Thai­land on Flickr.

Chatuchack Mar­ket

Lit­tle Glass Animals

Pig Head Offer­ing at the Market

Chatuchack Mar­ket

Bas­kets

Twenty-Meter Long Queue for Donuts

MBK Mall

11 comments

  1. So, you went to mall sell­ing clothes for hob­bits then? I guess “a con­sum­ing being will always be a con­sum­ing being” but I can’t but shake my head in dis­be­lief think­ing West­ern­ers try­ing to carry all the things they don’t really need home:). Well, as a fel­low guy in love I totally “get” Feng’s atti­tude, but I sup­pose when you need a mag­ni­fy­ing glass to see the jeans you are about to try on, bet­ter steer clear or you won’t be able to steer at all wear­ing it, LOL!

    Good to know you are still around:).

  2. Ha yes, some­how there’s this urge to buy things when­ever one trav­els, to the point that almost every guide­book I encoun­tered had a “shop­ping” sec­tion in it. I mean, aside from sou­venirs, why would one shop in a for­eign coun­try, espe­cially when air­lines are tight­en­ing their check-in lug­gage requirements.

  3. I think the best present you can bring back is a selec­tion of awe­some pho­tos shots. :) Very inter­est­ing! I have tried to adopt the notion that if I can’t put it some­where for good use, I can­not buy it.. Try­ing at least!

  4. When I trav­eled I tried to limit myself to one T-shirt for each of my kids (4) and some­thing for my wife that would fit in my pocket. The excep­tion to this was choco­lates or other good­ies that I could con­sume before going home.

  5. Still pre­fer flea mar­kets. Missed Chatuchak last time though, as it only opened dur­ing the day when I had other plans.

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