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.