Shop Bangkok


Retail therapy in the Thai capital doesn't need to be confined to street markets. As Natasha Hong discovers, the best finds are in the air-conditioned malls

Central Chidlom
Located in the Chidlom area of Central Bangkok (a new moniker the Bangkok government is giving to its CBD), Central Chidlom is no stranger to the guide books, or the seasoned shopper to the city, with its 86-year history as Thailand's first department store. Given its reputation, we're pleased that the mall has set aside a valuable row of real estate to stock Thai designers. The brands, which span one wall of the second floor, represent the higher end of local fashion in keeping with Central Chidlom's prestigious address, with brands like Thai fashion superstar Flynow, the elegantly whimsical Tawn C and minimalist Vickteerut occupying retail space alongside international brands.

Homegrown couturier Somchai Kaewthong's label, Kai, holds a corner unit here too, catering to the ladies-who-lunch set who frequent the mall in search of a statement piece for their next big soiree. The designer's signature embellished pieces start from a hefty THB32,000 ($7,950) for a cocktail dress and peak at THB300,000 ($75,000) for the wedding dresses so loved by Thai society – certainly, he's shaping up to be Thailand's answer to Vera Wang.

1027 Ploenchit Rd, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 (+66 2 793 7777, BTS: Chit Lom. Daily 10am-10pm.

CentralWorld & Zen

When CentralWorld was torched beyond recognition during the 2010 red shirt protests in downtown Bangkok, the mall took the setback as an opportunity to rise out of the ashes, shinier than ever. Now one of the biggest shopping centres in Southeast Asia, the mall and its department store, Zen, appeal to a more mass-market shopper looking for a one-stop destination – and achieve it, it does. Zen, in particular, seeks to capture the attention of the hip shopper with an in-house mall DJ (spinning hip-hop and pop hits from a cashier counter on the first floor) and a design-driven edit of fashion, cosmetics and home goods.

While the ground floor offerings tend to showcase the luxury brands one might find in just about every shopping capital around the world (think Coach, Dior and Prada), there's also a selection of local designers scattered throughout its seven floors, particularly in the sectioned-off Asian Designers Gallery on the second level. Of note is accessories label RougeRouge on the first floor by Thai designer Duang Poshyanonda, who's also the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar Thailand. Her collection of incredibly fun bags, which are shaped like eyeballs, lips, hand grenades and moustaches, are often found on the arms of the 'it' kids of Bangkok.

Trash Palace on the second floor takes things in a grungier, street-led direction, and Wonder Anatomie – another bright young label on the Thai fashion landscape – appeals to the intrepid dresser unafraid of skeletons and bold, patterned separates, which have earned the brand much accolade in fashion weeks in Copenhagen and Vienna.

Within CentralWorld, local brands are in the Atrium and Beacon zones of the mall. Beer brand Singha goes full-on into fashion with its Singha Life boutique, which ditches the backpacker staple wife-beater for a more contemporary aesthetic for men and women, while the aforementioned Flynow hosts its quirky Flynow III diffusion line that has a stronger graphic design aesthetic for the hip dresser.

A few doors down, local fashion darling Disaya Sorakraikitikul's pretty range of Boudoir lingerie is also served up in a charming French dressing room-like setting, with a window display that sets it apart from the sheer array of stores offering everything from air tickets to spa products in the shopping centre.

4 Rajdamri Rd, Patumwan, Bangkok 10330 (+66 2 640 7000, BTS: Siam, Chid Lom. Daily 10am-10pm.

This store never quits, though operations have downsized from three levels to just one in recent years. Nightingale-Olympic in Bangkok's Chinatown/Little India area close to the Chao Phraya River is a retail legend in this day and age of fast fashion and fleeting trends. The first and only operational level displays a conflicting mix of lingerie alongside sporting goods and expired cosmetics by creepy toy dolls. The owners of the department store – reportedly a brother and sister duo now in their 80s – have certainly never heard of a sale, as we spot evaporated perfumes still going for a mean THB1,500 ($370) and tarnished silver-plated brooches also at an optimistic THB1,500 ($370). Despite the general yellowing of their products, you can't help but imagine that its owners had a peek into the future when they first opened the mall back in the 1960s.

The international mix of brands like Fred Perry, Puma and Merle Cosmetics no doubt enticed locals clamouring for the glamour of owning an international brand or two back in the day, but the pair must have known that after enduring a fruitless 20-year wait, they would be relevant again – this time to a new customer: the hipster. The 1960s-era wigs, Madonna-esque pointy bras and wooden badminton rackets are perhaps reason enough (despite the high prices) to make the trip out towards the river to score a vintage treasure or two.

70 Triphet Khwang Wang Rd, Phahurat, Bangkok 10200. Take a taxi. Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-6pm.

Terminal 21

Taking the idea of the themed mall and running wild with it is Terminal 21, which looks a bit like a modern airport terminal from Bangkok's main Sukhumvit thoroughfare outside. Inside, the mall plays up the quirk, modelling the different levels of the nine-storey mall into renowned shopping districts around the world. Second floor, for example, is where London's Oxford Street has been recreated for the youthful Terminal 21 customer to get acquainted with its icons like the red double-decker buses and telephone booths, and the fifth level emulates the magic of Hollywood with statues of Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story, and a huge Oscar statuette that peers into the floor above.

Terminal 21's massiveness is certainly intimidating for the leisure shopper to take in, so we recommend entering the mall from the walkway linking the mall from Asok BTS station, which lands you in the recreated Champs-Élysées of Paris. The Thai Designers Zone on the far end of this Mezzanine level offers a more streetwear driven collection of designers, including Indigoskin (unit M044) by local jeansmaker Tuchawee Sonthirati who uses premium Japanese dry selvage alongside Thai buttons and fabrics by Khomapastr and Jim Thompson. Common T (M017) offers a range of locally-designed graphic tees and accessories for the hipster man, and the too-cool-for-school Adhoc & Simon's Sister's (M020) for the goth-wannabe with its dark, monochromatic palette.

88 Sukhumvit Soi 19, North Klongtoei, Bangkok 10110 (+66 2 108 0888, BTS: Asok. Daily 10am-10pm.

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