by Greg Jorgensen
For most of us who grew up in western countries, the mall is a place you went to hang out when you were a teenager with time on your hands. Adults went there to shop and leave as quickly as possible, but hanging out in malls was done by bored kids and mallrats. Mall culture is quite a bit different in Southeast Asia, notably Bangkok, where large shopping centers are a legitimate part of the lifestyle.
It might seem strange that in a city with so many awesome markets and cool boutiques that a mall would be seen as a destination, but you have to see it as a local does. When it’s 35 degrees outside and the roads are clogged with traffic, a mall is a big, clean, air-conditioned destination that offers food, shopping, entertainment and a fun, easy place to meet friends and hang out. Best of all, it’s free to go inside! As a visitor to the Thai capital, shopping is likely on your list of things to do. Be it colorful outdoor markets or modern world-class malls, there’s a terrific range of destinations and offerings to enjoy. With that in mind, here are some of Bangkok’s top malls if you feel you need to escape the heat in favor of some air-conditioned retail therapy. Luckily, most of them are pretty close together, helping you acquire that ultimate find fairly quickly while having fun.
The grand pooh-bah of Bangkok malls (for now) and arguably the most centrally located, this huge edifice is about as upscale and westernized as it comes. From Krispy Kreme donuts to your friendly neighborhood Ferrari showroom, you can find it all here.
Thing to do: Check out a movie on the top floor – it’s the nicest and biggest theater in town. See if you can catch a flick in Theater #1 (Pavalai) – it’s huge.
Thing to avoid: The food court, which offers very average street food at very inflated prices.
The biggest mall in Southeast Asia, and third largest in the world, you could spend all day walking around in here. Years ago it was a horrible, dark maze of a place, but a major renovation really spruced it up. The focus is on fashion, but there’re tons of food and lifestyle stores to check out as well.
Thing to do: Shop for food in the huge grocery store, which carries all kinds of imported goodies from around the world.
Thing to avoid: The skating rink on the ground floor, which is a small oval of slushy ice with confused kids tiptoeing around on dull blades.
When MBK opened in 1985 it was the largest mall in Asia and dwarfed anything else in Thailand. Things have progressed rapidly since then and while it’s still one of the main attractions for Bangkok’s mall enthusiasts, it’s now a second-tier center that specializes in somewhat less-than-authentic goods, cheap clothes, phones and tourist tchotchkes.
Thing to do: Get some fun business cards printed up – there’re tons of print shops that will help you whip-up some surprisingly high-quality cards at a good price.
Thing to avoid: Please, as a favor to Smiling Albino, don’t get McDonalds. It’s always packed to the gills here and when there’s so much good food around, it’s painful to see!
The newest kid on the block went high-concept and designed each floor with a unique decorative theme – London, Morocco, etc. It’s a bit cheesy but they get points for trying something different, and many of the shops offer some pretty unique merchandise that’s not too common in Bangkok.
Thing to do: The food court on the 5th floor is really good, and has tons on offer.
Thing to avoid: Don’t leave the mall via the BTS rapid train at rush hour on a weekday – Asok station, which connects to the mall and the subway, is packed to overcapacity.
The malls above are pretty centrally located, but there are other options if you’re not in the center of the city. Emporium was the Paragon of its day but despite its age is still a good place for higher-end goods. The many branches of Central scattered around the city are more like big department stores than malls, save for Central Rama 9, which is huge and newly-opened in early 2012. For IT fans, Pantip and Fortune are where you go for all IT-related merchandise. And if you’re way out in the southeast suburbs, head to Mega Bangna, which has a large movie theater, bowling alley, hardware store, and IKEA, just bigger than the usual outlets.