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Better known as MBK, the Mahboonkrong Centre is probably Bangkok’s most popular shopping mall. Best known for its endless electronics dealers, the eight-floor mall opened in 1986 and, for better or worse, was a pioneer of the mall culture that has overtaken much of the city. Drawing a mix of travellers and locals, the mall covers 89,000 square metres with thousands of shops, a massive entertainment zone, loads of dining options and even a luxury hotel.
“Overwhelming” is one of the first words that comes to mind when we think of MBK. We’ve been lost among the maze of stalls many times, and there have even been occasions when we’ve spent a solid hour just searching for a way out. Broken down floor by floor, here’s everything you need to stay stress-free at MBK.
First off, MBK is notorious for knockoffs. While some name brands run their own outlets, you’re better off heading to Central World, Siam Discovery, Siam Paragon or Emporium if you’re mainly after name-brand gear. When you come across an 800-baht pair of “Diesel” jeans or 100-baht “Abercrombie” T-shirt, you have not stumbled on the deal of the century. With that said, MBK is much more than just a shady knockoff mall — many feel it’s second only to Chatuchak in Bangkok, which is saying a lot, as a fun spot to poke around.
Unless you’re in a restaurant, food court or name-brand store, haggling is the way in MBK. Be firm but polite, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t get a price you like. Many of MBK’s vendors sell identical merchandise and you can often save cash by shopping around.
The first floor gets things rolling with dozens of hole-in-the-wall shops stuffed with shoes, sunglasses, handbags, luggage, basketball jerseys, tailored suits, Hello Kitty gear and more. For a nominal extra charge, denim shops will cut and hem any pair of jeans to the perfect length in around 20 minutes. You’ll also find a few graphic design outfits that will pump out a stack of business cards for 200 baht in under an hour. Fast-food joints, a Tops Supermarket and the first of Tokyu Department Store’s four floors round things out.
The second floor could be dubbed MBK’s forgotten floor, if there is such a thing in this wildly popular mall. You’ll find a few name-brand shoe stores like Reebok and New Balance along with some chain restaurants, more tailors, luggage, toys and quite a few independent clothing outlets. Several Chinatown-style gold shops also do business here.
Probably due to a direct entrance from the nearest skytrain station, the energy level picks up on the third floor. A few electronics and camera shops hint at what’s to come upstairs, while watches, jewellery, cosmetics, belts and funky urban wears are all in abundance. If you’re not into the knockoff DVDs sold upstairs, pop into the reputable Mangpong DVD Store. Though not at the same level as Terminal 21, some interesting indie clothes by local designers can be scored in some shops.
Covering one end of the third floor, a sprawling market-like section bursts with Thai silk scarves, cheap souvenirs, fake “Boss” T-shirts, soaps, suitcases, cargo shorts, fisherman’s pants and plenty of other stuff that you’ll also find along Khao San Road. This is haggle till the last breath territory. While we feel that most of the merchandise sold here is crap, there are some exceptions, including locally designed Soda and Rocky T-shirts.
Boasting a labyrinth of small stands selling mobile phones, SIM cards, adapters, portable chargers, headphones, endless smartphone cases, hand-held battery-powered fans, knockoff DVDs and digital cameras and iPads from the grey market, the fourth floor is one of Bangkok’s go-to electronics centres.
When dealing with the plethora of small stands, keep in mind that product authenticity can be questionable and some vendors may try to pass off used items as fresh from the factory (some may have been unwittingly ripped off themselves). In other words, buy that 20,000 baht iPhone at your own risk, and always get a receipt and business card. These shops are however handy for picking up cheap wires and gadgets, and many have their own technicians who can work wonders with a phone that appears dead. If you’re coming from the US or Japan and need to get a phone unlocked while in Bangkok, this is your place.
Larger and more reputable electronics stores like Power Buy, Sunny Camera and an official Samsung shop are also found on the fourth floor. If you want to set up your newly bought phone with a data plan, AIS, dtac and True (the three main Thai cell providers) all have outlets here as well. One corner hosts several major bank branches along with a few salons. In the “it’s totally out of place but somehow fits perfectly” way that Thailand often operates on, several vendors in a central area specialise on khanom bueang, mini taco-looking sweets that are perfect for a little munch and shop.
All of your photographic needs are met up on the fifth floor, home to flagship Nikon and Canon shops along with several large and reputable chain camera stores like Eastborne and Foto File. Been thinking of adding a drone or $20,000 telephoto lens to your arsenal? You’ll find it all here at normal prices that also get you warranties and clear return policies.
The other side of the fifth floor is dedicated to spacious furniture shops that can make for a welcome breather after the packed third and fourth floors. Keep an eye out for handmade teakwood dining sets inlaid with mother of pearl. Near the furniture sprawls the Avenue Food Court, which is a little pricey but offers a good selection of international foods. To indulge, buy a card for as much baht as you think you’ll spend, give it to the vendors who will swipe it when you order, and bring it back to collect any unused cash at the end of your meal.
You are truly a dedicated shopper if you make it up to the sixth floor. Or maybe you’re just hungry: this is where you’ll find the main MBK Food Court, a more classic grouping of vendors slinging mainstay Thai street dishes for fairly low prices given the squeaky clean air-con dining setup.
Most of the rest of the sixth floor consists of another market-style stable of cheap clothes and trinkets; the vendors here don’t see as much foot traffic as those on the third floor, so there’s a better chance you’ll find a good deal on that silk tablecloth or plastic glow-in-the-dark skull. The sixth floor is also notable for a bag drop where you can pay a small fee to store your stuff. Find it next to the parking garage entrance near the centre of the floor.
Fully dedicated to entertainment, the seventh floor hosts the ticket booth for SF Cinema City’s nine movie theatres, including a plush VIP edition, plus two large and noisy arcades, a bowling alley, karaoke and the Magic Art Museum. This is where you come to see Thai teens looking like zombies amid the flashing lights and ear-piercing sounds. You’ll also find several more chain restaurants like Fuji, MK and Bangkok’s own Sunrise Tacos.
Unless you’re heading to Mahaboonkrong’s fortress-like office in the sky (they own properties of all sorts around the country), you’ll only need to come up to the eighth floor to enter some of the theatres. There’s also the connected MBK tower, home to the five-star Pathumwan Princess Hotel.
Last but not least, be sure to save receipts and other necessary paperwork to get your VAT refund when you leave the country. And if you could use a dose of honest local art after all of that commercialism, pop across the street to Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
How to get there
Street entrances are located at several places along Phaya Thai and Rama I roads, and every taxi driver in Bangkok knows MBK. If coming by BTS skytrain, get off at National Stadium station and follow the signs towards exits 2 and 4. There are two entrances direct from the skywalk next to the BTS station, both leading into MBK’s third floor. The first takes you into Tokyu while the second leaves you in a corner of the floor that’s easier to find later on. If walking here from Siam Square, use the elevated walkway that begins next to Siam Discovery on the northern side of Rama I Rd.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 28th May, 2015.