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Though shiny spankin’ newness is the preferred Bangkok ascetic, vintage-chic has become a popular new look, especially in the Thai hipster crowd. But unfortunately, new is still godly, and clothing is mass-produced to only appear like it was made in a past era. This ageing clothing effect often backfires to emphasise its cheapness, like a bad nose job.
For the brave ones looking for authentic vintage clothing, or those who would like to practise recycling even with their fashion, Union Mall in Lad Prao is the perfect find. Open every day and easy to get to from the Phahon Yothin MRT, Union is an air-con, convenient, and almost empty alternative to the vintage clothing shopping experience at Chatuchak Market.
Union Mall, which is opposite Central Lad Prao shopping mall, is smaller and less assuming than its giant neighbour, with cheaper street-stall style stores catering to a young Thai university crowd. Even those who often frequent Union might easily have missed the vintage section, which is hidden on the fifth floor of the shopping centre. While the second and third floors are lively and full of shoppers, the fourth floor is boarded up, and the fifth is largely bypassed to get to the movie theatre on the sixth floor. On the fifth, each of the vintage stalls has slightly different hours, and many of the spaces remain permanently unoccupied, giving the whole floor an empty feeling.
Don’t let the abandoned warehouse ambiance fool you, though: you will go home with more than one shopping bag filled with vintages goods, even with designer brand names that would go for 600 times the prices elsewhere. Skirts and dresses are around 100 to 200 baht, though the vendors are open to negotiating, especially if you buy more than one. If you’ve bought out the fifth floor, you can also ride the elevators down to the third floor, where there are even more vintage finds on “2nd hand street”, though these stalls seem to sell more of a hybrid of retro, high-quality clothing and cheap modern goods.
Prefer steamy streets to air-con malls? Even if you don't agree that vintage clothes are best discovered while sweating it out in the heat of the open tropical air, do head across town (and across the Chao Phraya River) to Talaad Naew Naew.
Situated just off the Chao Phraya Express boat stop Wang Lang, Talaad Naew Naew is a maze of alleys dedicated to vintage clothing and newer trends. At the heart of the maze are stalls devoted to vintage wares with the most promising finds requiring a bit of a dig. Also in the market are a few interesting jewellrey stalls selling ethnic and hill-tribe inspired jewellery, fabrics and purses. The majority of the clothing is not in mint condition but the market will be a treasure hunt for collectors and vintage lovers.
At Naew Naew we've found intricately crafted hill-tribe earrings for 600 baht and deliberated over dozens of floral print and linen blouses, all selling for about 150 to 300 baht. Finer pieces, such as well-made jewellery and designer purses, are pricier, with real items selling for up to 3,000 baht. The stalls however, are chock full of cheaper buys with vibrant dresses, vintage T-shirts, elaborate costume jewellery and bedazzled headbands all priced at less than 500 baht. Bargaining (politely) is accepted but prices are pretty fair so don’t expect more than a 100 baht reduction.
The market is most popular among Thai university students and do note that the ambiance is nothing pleasant. The winding maze of tiny sois makes for close quarters and the numerous food stalls alive with sizzling woks and fired up grills add an added heat factor. Or course, the plethora of street food at Wang Lang Market (more or less part of the same sprawling market as Naew Naew) is another reason to go.
At either Union Mall or Naew Naew, wear an outfit that is easy to slip things over, as there are no dressing rooms and stripping down is not appropriate in Thailand. Vendors will have mirrors and elasticised skirts, which closely resemble shower curtains, for you to use to cover up your bottom half while you change.
How to get there
Union Mall is opposite Central Lad Phrao mall and can be easily reached from Phahon Yothin MRT station. Talaad Naew Naew is located just off the Wang Lang pier in Thonburi, and is stop number 10 on the Chao Phraya Express boat. The market is open every day but midday seems to be the time when the majority of the vendors are open for shopping.