Thailand is one of South Africa’s top travel destinations and its popularity is undoubtedly connected to its affordability. Not only are airfares and hotel accommodation very reasonable but South African spending money goes a lot further in South East Asia than it does in Europe or North America. While beach destinations like Phuket and Koh Samui are most popular with South Africans hundreds of thousands of us flock to Bangkok every year to catch up on a bit of shopping.
The largest mall in the city is the centrally located, 7 story high MBK centre, which sells everything from electronics to clothing to suitcases and pharmaceuticals. Everything here is ridiculously cheap compared to South African retail prices and a fair amount of haggling is expected to lower the prices even further. If you are looking for designer shoes, clothing and cosmetics then the Paragon and Siam Express centres, located a block away from MBK can easily be explored on foot.
Bangkok is a hot and sticky place and exploring these square acres of shopping mall jungle can be a tiring exercise. Remember to keep hydrated and to wear comfortable shoes as your feet will be sore and swollen at the end of the day. Stores are dotted along the streets selling fresh mango and coconut smoothies, freshly prepared banana pancakes, traditional pad thai noodles and tasty helpings of mango sticky rice which should all be sampled to keep the blood sugar up.
MBK is located a block away from a sky train station and the average cost of a ticket to use this clean and efficient form of public transport is about THB23 which converts to roughly R10. The other advantage to catching trains is that you miss out on the tiresome traffic jams in the centre of town. The hours seem to fly by while you are out exploring though and it can get disorientatingly late as shops in the malls close at 9pm. If you are carrying a lot of bags then catching a taxi home is also relatively very affordable. Insist that the taxi drivers turn on their meter rather than haggle about a set price though. We found that a 20 minute journey by car cost about THB65 or about R25.
The hotels in the Watergate area are also very popular with South Africans as they are an easy walk to the Platinum Fashion Mall and the Central World Shopping complex. The buyer’s wholesale market is also located nearby if you are thinking of turning importer and many of the hotels can arrange affordable shipping of stock if you find you have gotten carried away.
Also worth a mention is the Asiatique market which is located in a restored warehouse district on the riverfront. There are hundreds of good restaurants in the market and dozens of stalls which predominantly sell touristy curios. Muay Thai boxing performances take place here every evening too.
Khaosan Road forms the centre of the backpacking district and the street stalls in this area sell cheap clothing, curios, art and jewellery. There are hundreds of bars that all seem to have Mai Tai and Singapore Sling cocktails on special. Singha beers are lovely and refreshing but beware the infamous Bangkok whiskey buckets unless you are looking for an experience straight out of Hangover 2.
Thai massage shops are dotted along the way wherever you go and at THB300 or about R130 per hour, a relaxing foot rub or a stretchy Thai body massage is not unaffordable. Don’t flinch if you end up with a lady boy as your masseuse though, their strong hands are great at working out the tension in your back. Expect them to be a little cheeky if you are a guy though.