I remember saying that Hong Kong is shopping paradise. But that was until I went to Bangkok. The shopping opportunities are so intense that it's easy to break down and cry and wish you permanently lived in Thailand.
There are endless malls (both high end and low), markets, stalls, and hidden pockets that sell just about anything, its most famous being Chatuchak, the famed weekend market that is 35 acres big, almost as big as the UST campus. It covers 5,000 stalls and roaming the market can be such a dizzying experience. There was some confusion with our visit because we thought that it opens in the early evening and stretches until midnight. Apparently, the schedule changed and is open on weekends from 6AM-6PM. We had already planned our trip and my only weekend left was reserved for Ayutthaya, which I didn't want to cancel. Fortunately, Ayutthaya took only half a day so I still got to visit Chatuchak.
The market is an extensive complex with a main road and millions of side passages and hidden corners that it's easy to get lost. One tip to consider is to quickly buy an item that catches your fancy because chances are, you're not going to see it again until fate intervenes or you have a stellar sense of direction. I was on a limited budget so I had to be frugal, wanting to see what I could and choosing what I will buy. Typical Filipino. I ended up looking for this stall that sold great-smelling soap and a floral-print dress shirt that I saw in passing. I did get some other great buys, too, like postcards, bags, scarves, and tea.
I also got to visit MBK, a futuristic-looking mall that is a glorified Greenhills. The bargains are so unbelievable that I'd advise this to anyone who wants a great deal without the hassle of Bangkok heat. I got two pairs of shoes for ridiculously low prices, a scarf for Nikko, and some postcards. It's more women-oriented but the top floor offers gender-neutral items like knick-knacks and shirts.
Quite interesting is Patpong Market, near MBK. It's this narrow road flanked by strip bars and while bargaining with local merchandisers, you're bound to see half-naked girls on poles beckoning you to empty bars. The items on sale are generic stuff you'd see anywhere but the experience of seeing souvenir shirts and boobs at the same time can be charming. I read somewhere that Patpong is sort of like Bangkok's version of Malate, the haven for the Filipino gay community. I'm considering going back when I return to Thailand.
One thing you must learn about Filipino tiangge owners. They get their stuff in Bangkok, specifically in the Pratu Nam area. The market is right outside our hotel and it's basically their version of Baclaran, except less noisy and dirty. Like MBK, most clothes are for women but the selections are infinite, and are available wholesale. If I may add, the clothes were really lovely and had I been born a girl, I would have snatched up many of the items there. But alas, I was born a guy. Malls also dot the area which offer even more clothes for sale.
By now, you're probably wondering where my commentary is on the famous Khao San Road. That strip of road immortalized in Danny Boyle's The Beach starring a then-hot Leonardo DiCaprio, supposed home for international backpackers and those adventurous enough to try Bangkok on another level. The thing is... we couldn't find it.
The real Khao San Road
Where we ended up
You might want to check this guy out, he makes his own bags
I was really eager to visit the place and maybe pick up some rare items and try the infamous fried insect delicacy, but we found ourselves in a genteel version of what I thought was Khao San. It's full of backpackers all right, but it's not the noisy, grimy, and wild street that I expected. I wanted to continue searching for the street but my companions were tired so we resolved to go home and rest.
I still enjoyed my stay in wherever we found ourselves. There were restaurants, stalls, book stores, and tattoo parlors that caught my fancy. I bought myself a Buddha statue and a tiny painting, but I was still frustrated over not finding the real Khao San. Honestly, one of my major reasons to return to Thailand ASAP is to find the street and lead a semi-bohemian lifestyle if only for a few days.
What I ended up buying:
Scarf and soap from Chatuchak, shoes from MBK, painting from "Khao San Road"
Bags, tea, soap, one postcard, and scarf from Chatuchak, shoes and one postcard from MBK, Buddha statue from "Khao San Road," book from The Grand Palace, two postcards from Ayutthaya
Madonna and Gaga shirts from Pratu Nam Market
'Communism, it's a party!' shirt from Pratu Nam Market, Singha shirt from Patpong Market
Really, it's very important to bring tons of cash and to travel light when visiting Bangkok. We were just lucky our luggage didn't reach the weight limit. But it was a close shave, and it would have been worth it.