You don't have to look far
Thailand is known for its lush silks and elaborate textiles, but in Bangkok, cheap clothes abound. And while cheap once equated with not-very-fashionable, these days young Thai designers produce hip clothes that are absolutely worth seeking out. Here's a selection of places to head if you've got a bag or two to fill up with the city's affordable, fashionable threads.
But first: Be warned that clothing for both men and women in Thailand is generally made for people with no curves or folds, and who are, shall we say, on the shorter side. But you can still get lucky! A lot of tourist-oriented places now go up to larger sizes, though it's true that these items of clothing may well have "I Heart Thailand" or cartoon elephants plastered across their fronts. Treat it as a treasure hunt though, and you may well strike gold.
Know, too, that at most stores and stalls selling cheap clothing, you will not be able to try the pieces on before you buy them. Vendors will often have full-length mirrors on hand though, so you can sort-of check yourself out in your potential new garb. Do keep in mind that cheap clothes are often cheap for good reason: quality will not be that great. Check your garment for surprise sequins, inspect the hems for loose threads and unroll the sleeves of shirts to look for any stains.
If price tags are not dangling from the clothes, this means you'll need to haggle for your purchase. As a rule of thumb, offer half of what the vendor's starting price is, and work it upwards from there. Your position is always stronger if you're buying multiple items. Keep it lighthearted, stay polite, and enjoy the game.
So, where exactly to head? It will partly depend on where you are staying, as plenty of local markets or street stall areas will have at least some stalls selling bargain-basement-priced clothes. Ask at your guesthouse or hotel, and do try where they suggest. But then Bangkok offers some tried and true destinations that serious cheap clothes shoppers always make an effort to check out.
First up are the thousands of clothing vendors nestled together at Chatuchak (JJ) Market. The Chatuchak main market is only open across weekends and is quite a time commitment thanks to the crowds and its sheer size, but if you're a dedicated shopper you won't want to miss it. You'll find loads of variety, including both new and vintage options, starting from super-cheap and going up to rather designer-fancy. Allow at least a half-day but ideally a day to properly explore Chatuchak. And there's way more than just cheap clothes here: Bags, shoes, hats, scarves, jewellery... you could easily walk away with an entirely new wardrobe.
Crack shoppers should definitely head to relatively central Siam Square to browse its absurd array of choices. Head to exit 2 or 4 at Siam BTS, where the footpath 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 will find independent designers selling via proper shopfronts. You can always pop over the road to Siam Discovery Mall or Siam Paragon for more upscale apparel—proper shops are likely to have sizes that run to the larger end of the spectrum, too, but they definitely won't be cheap.
Just a hop, skip and a jump from Siam Square, the best mall for its sheer range of cheap clothes is Platinum Mall, with, they claim, 2,781 shops. They call themselves "Thailand's largest wholesale and retail shopping destination" and while Chatuchak must come close, they could be right. A lot of the stuff is similar, but as elsewhere, it's a treasure hunt, right? It's air-con here, which makes things easier. Just across the road is Krung Thong Plaza, which feels a little more down-at-heel; the main reason you'd pop over the footbridge is to check out the dedicated plus-size section, a rarity in the city. Also nearby is Pratunam Market, a sprawling collection of open-air roofed stalls connected by a maze of concrete footpaths. This is where you'll find the cheapest of the cheap. Over the years, the market, once the heart and soul of this area, 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.
Of course, for backpacker-style classic fisherman's pants and all the tie-dye cliches, there's always Khao San Road, which is lined with clothing stalls along with fake Oxford diplomas and other contraband. You might even find something stylish! Victory Monument, right near the BTS stop, is another fairly central option. We've not yet checked out Bo Be Tower Market, mainly because we've been told it's wholesale, but it's quite convenient to MBK, which has plenty of clothing stalls itself.
Do remember that not everything that seems glitzy at first is expensive in Bangkok. Asiatique is the rather glamorous successor to the old Suan Lum night bazaar, and while we still wouldn't miss Chatuchak for real bargain-hunting, there are options here worth browsing. Terminal 21 offers some great clothes stalls set up by local designers; this is one of our fave places to browse. Prices are competitive, and the clothes here particularly stylish (well, we think); and it's air-con, so you won't be jostled by sweaty crowds and lose your shopping mojo an hour in.
There are plenty of night markets aside from Asiatique worth exploring while on the hunt for clothes too. Talad Rot Fai in Bangkok’s eastern reaches off Srinakarin Road, and its second Ratchada location, is more hipster than tourist, and you'll find plenty of interesting stuff here aside from clothes. You can also check out the clothes shopping options at the night market in On Nut Square, which lies directly off the On Nut BTS. It wraps up around 22:00. Or try Huai Khwang Market at Huai Khwang MRT near the Tesco Lotus, which serves as a food market by day and a clothing market until the wee hours of the night.
Another off-the-tourist-radar spot is Wang Lang Market, across the river in Thonburi, which has a small but quite delightful section of clothing stalls (some call this section Talart Naew Naew). It's not as out of the way as it might feel—just jump on a cross-river ferry—and you can tie in a browse before or after visiting say, the Siriraj Medical Museum or Baan Bu bronze village.
Finally, it's not cheap compared to market shopping, but if you love Jim Thompson, you should know that they have a factory outlet worth seeking out on Sukhumvit Soi 93. Even the normally priced clothes here aren't cheap, but the sales rack: Ah, another story! We picked up a great dress at half-price from the rack here. Good luck! If nothing grabs you on the clothes front, there are plenty of homewares, accessories and even a little cafe (but we do like the roast duck at Rosdee, just near Bang Chak BTS station, the one nearest to here).
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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