The centre of the Thai shopping universe
Published/Last edited or updated: 23rd March, 2017
Trains swoosh by overhead, music thumps from promotional stages, college students browse boutiques and travellers lug their bounty from one mall to the next. Bangkok’s Siam Square shopping district is the centre of fashion and consumerism in Thailand. Whether you’re after a fly T-shirt, a handbag that costs more than a car or even a car that costs more than a house, you’ll find it here.
The term Siam Square specifically covers a centrally located area of shops, cafes and night spots clustered between Chulalongkorn University and Rama I Road. “Chula” was Thailand’s first university and remains the most prestigious, so it’s no surprise that students have so many chances to part with their cash. In the heart of the square, the Scala and Lido theatres have been entertaining for nearly 50 years.
But the Siam Square label has grown over time to include a dozen shopping malls that mostly stretch along the north side of Rama I from the Pathumwan to Ratchaprasong intersections. All of them are accessible directly from National Stadium, Siam or Chitlom BTS stations. One mall blends into the next, making it easy to get lost in this mass of consumerism. Of course, that’s exactly how they’ve planned it.
Right next to Siam BTS station looms the glossy Siam Paragon, a massive upscale mall that’s the most Instagrammed place on earth. Paragon hosts mostly high-end names like Armani, Prada and Chanel to go with up-street brands like Lacoste and standard shops from the likes of Nike and Adidas. Lamborghinis are even sold here, and prices generally won’t be any less than in your home country. Paragon also hosts Siam Ocean World, a luxury movie theatre, a bowling alley and Kinokuniya’s flagship book store. Dozens of Western-priced restaurants are on the ground floor.
To the west of Paragon sits Siam Center, a recently revamped mall with a more youthful and less pretentious vibe than Paragon. A few quality skate shops are found amid the midrange, brand-name stores selling sporting goods and clothes. West of Siam Center lies Siam Discovery, a straightforward shopping mall with a wide variety of name-brand stores and Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.
Across the road and accessible directly from National Stadium BTS station, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre adds a needed splash of culture amid the materialism. The galleries are always worth a peek, but there’s some decent shopping to be done here as well. Unique gift shops feature coffee-table books, postcards, journals, T-shirts and jewellery often made by local artists. Don’t miss Gallery Drip‘s fab coffee on the ground floor.
A stone’s throw from BACC looms the tinted-blue glass facade of MBK. Filled with everything from trendy clothes to modern furniture to tacky souvenirs and an entire floor of cellphones, MBK pulls you in and doesn’t easily let go. Many of the “Nike” shoes and “Diesel” jeans are knockoffs and the cameras and iPads often come from the grey-market, so consider wisely before making a pricey purchase. On the ground floor, several print shops whip up business cards fast and cheap. The maze-like mall also boasts restaurants, two food courts, a bowling alley, movie theatre and Magic Art Museum.
Heading back east, a skywalk takes you past Wat Pathum Wannaram, a royal-grade temple in the shadow of one of the biggest malls on earth. That would be CentralWorld, a silver behemoth that looks more like a football stadium from outside. With a huge variety of mostly name-brand goods amid eight sleek floors, the mall strikes a balance between Paragon’s snobby feel and MBK’s cheap-market atmosphere. CentralWorld also boasts an ice-skating rink to go with a movie theatre and large outdoor plaza.
Cross over Ratchadamri Road and you’ll reach Gaysorn Plaza, another pricey mall that feels like an extension of Paragon. Beyond that is Central Chidlom, a seven-floor department store that’s the flagship offering of the Central empire, which runs stores all over Bangkok and beyond. Bargain hunters will find sales on name-brand clothes, perfumes, jewellery, electronics and home goods. On the top floor, an excellent food court churns out good, hygienic eats for cheap.
Just across Ratchaprasong intersection lies Amarin Plaza, a more reasonably sized shopping centre known for its artist-run shops. You’ll find picture framers, music stores, crafts shops and vintage silks at Come Thai. Neighbouring Erawan Bangkok is yet another upscale mall, while nearby Peninsula Plaza specialises in diamonds, crystal, silk and antiques. Right next to Chitlom BTS station, Erawan Shrine‘s thickly spiritual atmosphere is placed curiously amid the swish buildings.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the endless air-conditioned malls while forgetting all about Siam Square itself, but that would be a huge mistake. Directly south of Siam BTS station is a tangle of side streets and alleys with countless funky shops and closet-size boutiques. While places like Chatuchak and Terminal 21 have joined in, Siam Square remains the pinnacle of fashion culture in Thailand.
While there’s no shortage of name-brand sunglasses, cameras and more, Siam Square mainly hosts shops run by independent entrepreneurs and local designers who set the city’s latest trends. The wears here are usually cheaper and more interesting than what you’ll find over in the malls. Quality can be hit or miss, but this is the place to be if you’re looking to make a statement.
You’ll find several tiny skate shops, custom tailors and cheap clothing stalls peppered amid the trendy cafes, restaurants and salons. Some of the shops are so small that no more than one person can browse at a time. Business is brisk thanks to the many students who run home quick after class to change from their uniforms into the freshest styles. A fun place to people-watch, some of Bangkok’s most eye-catching street art pops up around every corner.
Larger shops on main streets like Siam Square Sois 2 and 3 are well worth a poke through, but also don’t miss the hidden side lane markets. Here you’ll find vintage (or at least, vintage-style) clothes along with slick collared shirts, glittering handbags, Roaring ’20s-style hats and a dizzying array of shoes at typically affordable prices. One lane hosts several womens’ tailor shops where you can help design your own formal wear. Come on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
An even wider selection of dirt-cheap clothes, iPhone covers and earrings materialise in a tightly packed night market that takes over the footpaths near Siam station each evening. It’s the cherry on top of what is the biggest shopping district in one of the world’s greatest shopping cities. If, for some insane reason, your inner-shopaholic is not fully satisfied by Siam Square, head over to Pratunam for more.
All of the malls are open from around 10:00 to 22:00, while some of the boutiques close a little earlier. The night market runs from around 18:00 ’til late. Parts of the Siam Square area have been periodically occupied by long-running protests staged by groups on both sides of Thailand’s political divide. The opening of Siam Square One shopping mall next to Siam Square proper in mid 2014 marked a complete recovery from the widespread fires that erupted during a crackdown on protesters in 2010.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Bangkok