It used to be the case where well-off Bangkokians would fly to nearby countries such as Singapore or Hong Kong for the ultimate shopping experience, but not so in the twenty-first century. Even well-travelled expats living in the Thai capital will tell you that this city has become something of a shopping mecca in recent times. Today, it is the citizens of neighbouring countries who travel to Bangkok for weekends of retail therapy, and it's hardly surprising when you consider what's on offer.
Most Popular Shopping Malls in Bangkok
Apart from the plethora of specialist shops scattered strategically all over downtown Bangkok and beyond, Thailand has seen some of the finest shopping malls set down their foundations in the county's most populous city, 10 of which include:
1. Central Chidlom Bangkok
2. Central World, Siam
3. Gaysorn Shopping Mall
4. MBK, Siam
5. Pantip Plaza, Pratunam
6. Platinum Fashion Mall, Pratunam
7. Siam Center, Siam
8. Siam Paragon, Siam
9. Terminal 21, Sukhumvit Road
10. The Emporium, Phrom Phong
The above is a mere sprinkling of what's actually on offer, with more new projects constantly in the pipeline. It's little wonder then why people are flying in from India, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma) Laos, Vietnam, Singapore and HK, purely for the shopping. Their cities fall behind Bangkok and simply lack the range of glitzy malls, products, and overall shopping experience found in modern-day Krungthep.
Getting Around is a Breeze
Let's not forget too, that Bangkok's public transportation infrastructure is state-of-the-art and very well-organized, thus allowing shoppers to commute around this bustling metropolis with unparalleled ease, convenience, and affordability. It's probably fair to say that Thailand is now Southeast Asia's luxury shopping hub, and with the recent increase in visitors from Far Eastern nations like Japan, Taiwan, and China, the old Siam's reputation as a retail magnate just keeps on growing.
Bangkok - 'World's Best City' 4th year Running
Of course, it helps that Bangkok won the "World's Best City Award in 2013" for the fourth consecutive year. This is an accolade organised by Travel and Leisure magazine, and last year travellers gave Bangkok over 90% of votes, but that's not all: Bangkok also received the "Best City in Asia" award from the same magazine for the seventh time. This was from 2005 to 2013, with the exemption of 2009. It's hardly surprising then why foreigners are curious to find out what the Thai capital has to offer that their capitals fall short on. It's never too long after arriving before they're able to connect the dots.
Shopping Tourism for Tourists!
Shopping is an important tourist activity and those who travel purely to shop, i.e. the tourist-shopper, is still seen as something of a phenomenon, albeit a welcome one to economies like Thailand. However, for expats looking to move to Bangkok, or those recently settled in, often become overwhelmed by the city's dazzling, and seemingly endless, architectural splendour. For these folks, all they want to know is where to do their weekly shop away from all the glitzy malls, and overpriced attractions.
Living as an Expat
Living as a local expat is actually a lot easier than most people first perceive. All you have to do is start looking around at eye level and it won't be too long before an overabundance of 7-11s, Family Mart convenience stores, and smaller, more affordable cafes and restaurants come into view.
There's also that other Bangkok's spectacle, the place where you will find expats and local Thais enjoying Thai cuisine at give-away prices. These are the city's famous street restaurants (little more than mobile kitchens surrounded by cheap plastic tables and rickety chairs), set up just about anywhere where there's a space. Thai food stalls are particularly evident in downtown Bangkok, and especially concentrated along the low-to mid-Sukhumvit areas. Don't be put off by the seeming lack of hygiene either. Thai street food offers a wide-range of fresh, delicious, healthy meals at just a dollar or two per serving. However, eating out - literally - is not to everyone's liking.
The Everyday Shop
Families with small children, or expats who are not that keen on Thai, or even Asian cuisine, will want to know where they can buy groceries and other household items of their choosing. In other words, they prefer to shop and live a little more akin to how they would do back in the motherland.
Expats in Sukhumvit
Many expats who settle into Bangkok choose to reside along the famous Sukhumvit road, which, by the way, is one of the longest boulevards in the world. For them, it's important to know where they can buy choice foods and household products in the areas close to where they live. Fortunately for them, Sukhumvit Road has the widest range of shops and specialist stores catering for expats than any other part of the capital. There is even a good choice of supermarkets and retailers right the way up to the relatively new BTS stations of On Nut and Bearing (the easternmost edge of Bangkok).
Some of the better known food retail outlets along the expat residential areas of Sukhumvit include:
• Fuji Super
• Krungdeb Co-operative Store
• Lemon Farm
• Tesco Lotus Express - BTS Punnawithi
• The Gourmet Market - The Emporium
• Tops Market - Sukhumvit
In the Udomsuk area - a popular district where many young and single people choose to reside in condominiums like the @City Condo - there is a TOPS supermarket, plus many other global retail stores at the Piyarom Place Shopping Mall. TOPS Supermarket offers both local produce and internationals brands from Australia, America, and the UK. British expats are often pleasantly surprised to find some of their favourite Waitrose branded items on the shelves; something they find a great comfort, especially those new to the city and feeling a tad homesick.
Tesco-Lotus, Central Sukhumvit
Moving along the line towards central Sukhumvit is another huge hypermarket called Tesco-Lotus which is located close to On Nut BTS station. This is one of the largest retailers in Thailand serving over 11 million customers every week in over 1,400 stores nationwide (at the time of writing). Here they sell almost everything a western expat could need to live comfortably in Bangkok. And the best thing about this superstore is that it's linked directly to the BTS via a skybridge, so there's no need to hire a taxi or drive a car to help bring home the bags from a modest shopping trip.
Expats living in the very center of Sukhumvit are without doubt the most spoilt for choice. They have everything at their fingertips, ranging from a Big-C hypermarket at the end of Soi 26, to Villa Supermarkets found in Thonglor Soi 33 and 49. These stores are a short distance from nearby popular condominiums like the Plus 49, Noble Reveal, and the Quattro Condominium by Sansiri, to name but three. There is also a TOPS supermarket in the area and even Gourmet supermarket for those looking for extra luxuries and fresh delicatessen.
Away from Sukhumvit
Obviously not everyone wants or chooses to live in and around Sukhumvit Road, but that's okay because other areas of the city now cater for expat tastes too. Those residing in locations like Ratchada also have an excellent choice of shops to choose from. The Esplanade Shopping Plaza on Ratchadapisek Road houses a number of great retail outlets, one of which includes a well-stocked supermarket. There is also a Big-C and a Tesco-Lotus close by.
Combine the national and multinational stores with the fresh local markets and street food dotted around the Ratchada and Huay Kwang districts, and it's almost impossible for anyone to be dissatisfied with the wide range and never-ending choices on offer in this part of town.
Bangkok's Central Business District (CBD)
For those who choose or need to live in the CBD areas of Silom and Sathorn, worry not! There are still plenty of choices to be had there too. Once again, hypermarkets such as Tesco-Lotus are nearby, plus the Central Rama 3 shopping center is not too far away. The Sathorn area also has a huge Makro (known for offering wholesale value to both businesses and consumers). Originally a chain from the Netherlands, Makro is perhaps more familiar to Dutch or Belgian expats.
That said, word is getting out now of how these Warehouse style businesses stock a large range of products, especially meats, available for retail purchase in huge portions, which is great for expats families who have a deep freezer at home.
Despite the immense size of Bangkok and the dreadful traffic at ground level, it's safe to say that if you live anywhere near the central areas of this city, you will be pretty close to a substantial retail area, either by foot, or by a short, convenient journey on the BTS or MRT. If it's creature comforts from home that you desire, then there's very little you can't find in twenty-first century Bangkok.
Westerners living in the capitals of neighbouring countries like Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Yangon and even the bigger cities of China and India, will all tell you that those capitals fall well short on catering to European American, and Australisian expats. Bangkok's retail market, on the other hand, is truly international and therefore highly convenient and satisfying. It wasn't always like this, but it is now, in fact for many, "Ye Ole Krungthep" has become a real home away from home!
Living Close to Bangkok's Shopping Mega Malls
If you would like to find out more about the types of accommodation that are close to some of the best shopping areas in the city, then take a look at our miniseries on "Accommodation Options Close to Bangkok's Popular Shopping Districts," which starts off at Siam Square.
Neil McDonough is a Director of EasyHomes Property Services Co., Ltd. which specializes in renting and selling Bangkok residential and commercial property to expats. You can contact him directly with any questions or queries relating to Thai real estate