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Thailand is known for its lush silks and elaborate textiles, but in Bangkok proper, cheap and trendy clothing abounds. Shopping is a bit of a cultural obsession, one that is highly contagious. You can’t avoid shopping in Bangkok even if you try: opportunities for snapping up all kinds of souvenirs, as well as other temptations like cheap DVDs and well, just plain old quirky stuff, await on every street corner.
It’s tricky to be in Bangkok on a budget, and even harder to cut down on shopping, but you can easily find cute clothing that won’t break the bank. As warned in “What to bring with you to Bangkok” and “What to wear in Bangkok”, both female and male clothing for sale in Thailand is generally made for people with no curves or folds, and is, shall we say, on the short side. But you can still get lucky: look for clothing with elastic, billowy shirts, and “reinvented” vintage clothing. Though do be careful, dear buyer, as even if these pieces were once Western in size, they are often tailored and elasticised to now fit a Thai body.
At most of the stores and stalls that sell cheap clothing, you are not able to try the pieces on before you buy them, but vendors will often have full-length mirrors so you can ever-so surreptitiously check yourself out in your potential new garb. If you don’t have a friend with you to eyeball the size, I have a trick that always works: hold up the waistline of a skirt or trousers around your neck — if you can wrap it around comfortably than it will fit your waist.
Do keep in mind why you are buying the clothes: because they are cheap and have a fashion shelf-life of about an hour. Don’t get too upset if they decompose before you get home. Even so, check your garment for unwanted sequins, inspect the hems for loose threads, and unroll the sleeves of shirts to look for stains.
For the absurdly cheap and convenient, go to Siam Square at exit 2 or 4 at Siam BTS, where the sidewalk transforms into an outdoor shopping mall from afternoon until night. The streets get congested, so watch yourself and your stuff, or slip into a side alley where you may find more independent designers. If mass-produced and poorly assembled clothing doesn’t suit your fancy, you can always walk over to Siam Discovery Mall or Siam Paragon for more upscale apparel with a larger range in size.
Siam pales in comparison to the thousands of clothing vendors at Chatuchak (JJ) Market, which is only open on the weekends and more of a shopping commitment than Siam’s walk-by stalls. JJ Market has more variety and vintage finds, but the prices are not always cheap, at least by Thai standards. If you want more street-stall clothes, head to Victory Monument, right near the BTS stop, for some printed summer dresses and a bowl of boat noodles to go with them.
Further out from the centre of town, you can experience the crepuscular allure of a night bazaar at the On Nut Square directly off the On Nut BTS, which wraps up around 22:00. Or try Huai Khwang Market at Huai Khwang MRT near the Tesco Lotus at Prachasongkhro intersection and Ratchadaphek Road, which serves as a food market by day and a clothing market until the wee hours of the night.
Of course, if you want to build your dharma bum wardrobe with drawstring pants and intentionally frayed shirts, there’s always Khao San Road, lined with clothing shops along with fake Oxford diplomas, and the occasional vegetarian restaurant.
By Emma Rosenberg
Last updated on 2nd March, 2015.