Only slightly hungover from the night before, we braved the morning’s smoggy heat and jumped on the BTS train heading towards Siam Square, the city’s retail hub.
Also know as the Skytrain, BTS is cheap, fast and incredibly easy to use. Ticket machines are simple to figure out and all signs have the Thai & English spellings of station names. The only downside is that it doesn’t cover more of the city – the route is a relatively straight line through “new” Bangkok areas such as Silom and Sukhumvit.
Thanks to it’s strict “No food & drink” policies inside the trains and stations it’s also about the only place in Bangkok where you don’t see people eating!
Bangkok has a huge number of shopping malls, selling everything from designer clothing to knock-off DVDs.
Well-known malls include the 8 storey high Central World, Siam Square (popular with teenagers for fashion & stores selling T-pop music) and Siam Paragon, which houses an aquarium & IMAX theatre.
Siam Centre is known for a good selection of Thai boutiques on the 3rd floor, although don’t expect to find Western clothing sizes easily!
We were headed for the MBK Centre – specifically MBK Food Island on the 6th floor.
Lonely Planet listed it as having the “granddaddy” of Bangkok’s food courts as well as being one of the easiest places to get a cheap vegetarian meal, so obviously I had to check it out for lunch.
A mall food court sounds like a bit of a cop-out when trying local cuisine but in Bangkok they’re ridiculously popular for locals and tourists alike, especially on a hot day when the air-con provides a welcome escape!
Both sides of the huge hall were lined with vendors selling every kind of Asian meal you could think of – fresh sushi, chicken satay, roast duck, shark fin soup….the list goes on and on. Obviously the selection of Thai food was never ending, with each counter having its own speciality or regional delicacy.
I made a beeline for the vegetarian stall to see what was on offer. For 55bht (which is around £1) you could chose two varieties of vegetable dish with rice or noodles.
I panic ordered (by pointing at things) and went for a mixed veg stir-fry with a side of Thai greens…
…which I soon regretted! The stir-fry was full of a strongly flavoured mushroom that I really hate and the greens were so stringy that I could hardly eat them.
Martin (after about 20 minutes of deliberation!) returned to the table with a bowl of crab & pork noodle soup and was extremely excited about it!
Disappointed in my first choice I decided to give the veggie stall another try. This time I went for two curries and picked up a fresh coconut to drink too.
Naturally I was much happier after that.
Stuffed – and kind of amazed at how little money we had spent on all that food – we took a wander through the maze-like retail floors.
MBK Centre is known for electronic goods, especially mobile phones. It’s usually one of the first stops for backpackers in Thailand to pick up a cheap SIM card or to have a phone unlocked. The stalls are packed with cheap selfie-sticks, brightly coloured cases and every other accessory you could possibly need.
Good basic English is spoken by most of the shopkeepers and they all try to entice you over before you get a chance to check out their competition’s stall.
The range of stores selling cameras and photography equipment is also among the best in Thailand, although it’s worth noting that I didn’t find anything to be cheaper than in the UK / Europe. That didn’t stop me from spending a long time admiring the vintage Canon collection until Martin eventually dragged me away!
Sadly we did’t have time to explore any of the other malls, but I’d really recommend checking out at least one to get a feel for the Thai shopping culture and enjoy a well deserved snack. You can find more info on the MBK centre here.