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A quick tuk tuk ride from the glitzy malls of Siam Square, Pratunam is the place in Bangkok to score clothing, accessories and electronics on the cheap. With wholesale goods packed into alleys and labyrinthine malls, approaching this entire neighbourhood of shopping mayhem can be daunting at first, but a little know-how goes a long way. Let the bargain hunting begin.
The backbone of Pratunam is Phetchaburi Road, which shoots east from Ratchathewi BTS sky train station and gets busier as you approach Ratchaprarop Road. On the north side of Phetchaburi you’ll find City Complex, a shopping centre that serves up trendy women’s clothes, handbags, cosmetics and jewellery. It’s especially popular with women who are keen on dressing fashionably on limited funds — as well as those looking to impress said women with a gift that won’t take a year to pay off.
Our favourite aspect of Pratunam are the many side streets that diverge north from Phetchaburi Road to reveal a lively yet hidden collection of shops, street food and restaurants, including several serving Indian fare. In the shadow of Thailand’s tallest building, the Baiyoke Sky, tailor shops rub shoulders with locally owned outlets selling everything from wholesale belts to luggage to football jerseys. Also in this vicinity, the Garment Centre and Indra Square are both air-conditioned shopping centres stuffed with hundreds of clothing shops catering to male and female bargain hunters.
A tad further east towards Ratchaprarop Road, slip into any of the narrow alleyways to experience what was once the heart and soul of the area — Pratunam Market. With many vendors focusing on the wholesale trade, this sprawling collection of open-air roofed stalls connected by a maze of concrete footpaths is where you’ll find the cheapest of the cheap.
Along with the usual inexpensive wears, the market features unexpected items like beauty pageant crowns, traditional Thai outfits, glittery bikinis and wigs made from real human hair. Over the years, the market seems to have lost its edge to the malls — it now has a rather dark and depressed feel — but it’s still worth a wander if it’s the dirt cheap or quirky you seek.
If you see light at the end of one of Pratunam Market’s many “tunnels”, it probably means you’ve found Ratchaprarop Road, a busy thoroughfare where the flee market atmosphere continues along the footpaths. Although this stretch of Ratchprarop continues with the garment theme, hole-in-the-wall newsstands and food shops sporadically emerge from the clutter.
Spread over two massive buildings on the south side of Phetchaburi Road, Platinum Fashion Mall is home to more than 1,000 shops selling mainly (though not exclusively) women’s clothing, including Western sized wears. Forget the often gaudy “luxury” of Siam’s malls; Platinum is a tight, crowded, no-frills conglomeration of clothing that seems to stretch into oblivion. Bargain hunters swear by Platinum, though keep in mind that those “Louis Vuitton” handbags and “Diesel” jeans are definitely not the real thing.
A short walk west of Platinum brings you to Pantip Plaza, the king of all electronics centres (at least in Thailand). Here you’ll find endless stacks of computers, both new and from as far back as the 1990s “dark ages”, along with mobile phones, stereos, cameras, remote-controlled helicopters, all sorts of parts and accessories and pretty much any other tech-related item you can imagine. If your screen goes blank, Pantip’s small army of electronics technicians can probably save the day.
If all that shopping works up an appetite, Pratunam also boasts some excellent street food in front of Pantip and Platinum, including an exceptional spread of classic Thai sweets. Further east along Phetchaburi Road lies a cluster of khao man kai (chicken and rice) shops, including the famous Kai Ton. They all stay open late-night to handle the “we’re drunk and hungry” crowd in and around Phetchaburi Soi 30.
A few practicalities to keep in mind while in Pratunam: Always guard your valuables as pick-pockets and purse-snatchers are relatively common, beware that the intellectual-property-thieving and illegal-smuggling black and grey markets are prevalent here, and remember that it’s always best to haggle with a smile. If you’re buying large quantities of anything, most shops will deliver direct to your hotel, and countless international shipping companies have offices towards the east end of Phetchaburi Soi 15.
How to get there
Petchaburi Rd, about a km east of Ratchathewi BTS station.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 10th December, 2014.