868/75-76 Soi Vanich 2
Bangkok 10100 Thailand
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ON LOCATION: BANGKOK
Get more bang for your Bangkok buck: The best mall meals, innovative Thai
designs and fantastic outdoor market
By Jennifer Gampell
Ms. Gampell, a peripatetic
American writer based in Bangkok, began her freelance career after a motorcycle
crash put her in a provincial Thai hospital for a life-changing month.
She much prefers her current life to the San Francisco desk job she held
for 15 years.
Im known for my wacky second-hand-clothing statements, and in my
ongoing search for wardrobe additions Im more likely to visit flea
markets and thrift shops than big, conventional stores. However, I cope
surprisingly well in Bangkoks upscale malls, because even there
the fun-loving Thai ethos tends to create pockets of the market-like chaos
and cacophony I adore. Take the ground-level food court at Siam Paragon,
whose stalls run the gamut from cheap and cheerful to ultra posh, with
a daunting array of options in between. Using prepaid coupons (one person
can easily eat for 150 bahtless than $5 USD) you can buy simple,
single-dish Thai meals from one of the outlets and carry your tray to
the cavernous aquarium-themed dining area. At the other end of the spectrumand
the mallis Crystal Jade, a swanky Singaporean restaurant chain famous
throughout Asia for freshly made noodles and buns. Food-loving Chinese-Thai
families fill the round tables downstairs; the quieter booths upstairs
provide a formal backdrop for exotica like Buddha Jumps over the
Walla dish of shark fin, abalone and sea cucumber that costs
more than $38 USD and must be ordered two days ahead.
To Market, To Market
In Bangkok, the term market encompasses anything from haphazard vendors
selling trinkets on the sidewalk, to markets named night, thieves, farmers,
cloth, flower and amulet, as well as various indoor and outdoor arcades.
But for me, the only market worth the name is the Chatuchak Weekend Market,
whose narrow, labyrinthine lanes sprawl over 30-plus acres, with stalls
offering almost everything under the sun. Youll need time, determination
and comfortable shoes to explore properly. (Remember to drink waterand
hang on to your purse!) Expect a huge range of take-away or sit-down Thai
dishes, cut and potted plants, dogs, cats, snakes, lizards, chickens,
new and used clothing, furniture, antiques, handmade souvenirs (jewelry,
statuettes, incense, baskets, pottery, and Thai-style knick knacks), textiles,
books and home decorating items. Those who love markets but hate heat
(and occasionally claustrophobia-inducing crowds) might prefer the smaller,
saner and less anarchic Suan Lum Night Bazaar.
When I first visited Bangkok 15 years ago, Thai design meant incoherent
displays of unrelated and old-fashioned artifacts crammed onto shelves.
But gradually, as a young generation of Thai designers returned from studying
in the West, Thai style became a byword for cutting-edge objects,
often made from natural materials. Some items, like Kachamas silk
weavings sold at Golden Triangle, reflect their ethnic origins. Otherssuch
as the modern furniture made from plants and roots at Pantaare resolutely
contemporary. Thai artisans are fabulously attentive to detail, which
youll notice in the packaging of locally made bath and spa products.
Portable, scented and beautifully wrappedcould there be a better
memento to tuck in your bag?
© 2008 Jennifer Gampell