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You have heard about Bangkok's unique shopping culture and now you too want to bag some bargains. Take a minute to orientate yourself with this practical guide, take heed of these useful shopping tips, and you are bound to have a pleasurable experience that will make you want to come back for more :
1. What to wear
Most people love to look fabulous, but the key here is to be practical. Bangkok is hot and sticky, almost year-round. Wear cool clothes. You are going to be doing a lot of walking too, which makes practical shoes essential. Watch where you are walking too, because pavements often resemble obstacle courses with exposed manholes, potholes, vendor carts, the odd beggar and garland maker all spoken for.
Shopping tip: A small hand towel, face cloth or wet wipes come in very handy, especially if you're going to venture around markets.
2. Plan your shopping - timing is crucial
Start by making a list of what you want to buy, and then match it with where to go. Markets are good to visit in the mornings or evenings when it's a little cooler and often less frantic. In the heat of the day, air-conditioned malls is a much better place to be. Simply venturing aimlessly into the city, hoping to find what you are looking for by chance, is not advisable. Plan your shopping around specific areas, say, Chinatown (outdoor) in the morning, and Siam (with its many malls) in the afternoon. Often, places within an area can be reached on foot, thereby eliminating unnecessary travelling.
Shopping tip: Try to avoid travelling around the city during rush hours (mornings from 07:30 - 09:00 and in the afternoons from 17:00 - 18:30).
3. Getting around
Options are plentiful. Taxis, tuk-tuks, public buses (not recommended), canal and river boats, motorbike taxis, the Skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT). Bangkok's traffic is notorious though, which makes the latter two options by far the most viable. Get your hands on a really good map of Bangkok, and plan your excursion well. Though the two BTS lines and MRT do not cover the whole city, you can often work out a route with a combination of the different lines, and leaving just the final stretch to reach by taxi or tuk-tuk. Saving on traveling time will give you more time for shopping. Besides, being stuck in gridlock traffic is nobody's idea of fun.
Shopping tip: Enquire about BTS and MRT travel passes at any station. Avoid Tuk Tuk. They will not take you to your destination easily.The Tuk Tuk drivers will try to make stops at shops that they get some benefit from like jewellery souvenior or tailor shops.
4. Shopping Hours
Most shops open from about 10:00 until 20:00 or 22:00, some even later. So you will have plenty of time to shop 'til you drop. Small shops, even in large shopping malls, usually close on Sundays, while large department stores are open seven days a week.
Shopping tip: It's never nice to end up in front of closed doors, so to check beforehand is worth the few baht a local call costs (shopping hours can be irregular, especially on weekends and Public Holidays.)
5. Shop around and compare prices
Any seasoned shopper will tell you that to buy blindly could mean having regrets later. If your aim is to get the cheapest possible prices, shop around. Also make the most of Tourist Discount Cards and VAT refunds.
Shopping tip: When you come across a one-of-a-kind item, close the deal right there and then. Or make very sure they have stock of that item and that you can find it (the shop or stall) later.
6. Quality Check
Look for flaws, especially at markets and pavement stalls. Highly discounted goods are often 'rejects', of highly questionable quality or inferior standard. Inspect items closely for any visible signs of imperfection.
Shopping tip: Tell the shopkeeper or vendor you live in Bangkok and will return the goods for a refund if it does not work or break quickly. They are likely to tell you if it's not of good quality.
7. How to bargain
The only places where prices are fixed are malls, department stores, supermarkets and large retail shops. As for the rest, bargaining is the norm, and it's almost expected. Merchandise at some touristy places like Patpong Night Market are marked-up heavily, and you can often slash off half the asking price. Your most important 'bargaining tools' are a big smile and polite approach. Never raise your voice. Or lose your temper. And do not offer a price unless you are prepared to pay it. After the seller has offered his price, offer less than you would expect to pay (with a smile of course) and gauge the reaction. A counter-offer will follow, and then it's over to you to make another move, so to speak. Once you have decided on a price, and if there are other items you are interested in, try to get a package price to cut the cost even more for the best bargain you have ever had!
Shopping tip: Your ticket to bargain heaven is a big, broad smile.
8. Be streetsmart and safe
All the basic traveling rules apply in Bangkok. Be aware, alert and safety-conscious. Look after your personal belongings. Pick-pocketing is common in busy areas like markets. Look right (twice) and left (twice) before you cross the road.
Shopping tip: Make sure not to leave any of your belongings and bags behind (in shops or in the taxi).
9. Do not talk to strangers
Remember your mother's warning? Well, mothers are always right. If a stranger approaches you with any kind of story, be it with tales of fantastic jewels or something unusual only he has privileged knowledge of, chances are good you have been targeted for some sort of tourist scam. Do not even indulge that person with conversation - simply walk away.
Shopping tip: If anyone attempts to harass you, reach for your mobile phone or walk to the nearest public phone and tell the scoundrel that you are calling the Tourist Police.
10. Where to shop
11. Useful Thai shopping phrases
Thai is a very tonal language, and it's very likely that nobody will understand you when you use these phrases. Nevertheless, we have thrown these in for good measure and fun...
Sawasdee ka / krub *
I'm just looking
Pom / chan kae duu **
Let me have a look first
Kor pom / chan duu kon **
Seuy dee na ka / krub *
Pang maak na ka / krub! *
Can I have a discount?
Lod dai mai?
Do you have other colours?
Mee see eun mai?
Do you have a bigger size?
Mee yai kwaa nee mai?
Do you have a smaller size?
mee lek kwaa nee mai?
Is this from Thailand?
Tam nai pra ted thai rue plao?
No thanks, I'm not interested
Mai aow ka / krub *
Thank you very much
Kob Khun maak ka / krub *
You are so sweet!
Khun na rak maak!
* 'ka' if you're female, 'krub' if you are male
** 'pom' if you are male, 'chan' is used for both sexes