Forget elephant key-chains and fridge magnets—Thailand’s capital has an exciting retail scene and plenty of local designers whose creations will make worthy additions to your home and wardrobe.
With new shopping centers opening up almost every other month and one of the world’s largest weekend markets, Chatuchak, within city limits, Bangkok makes it dangerously easy to part with your bahts. But you have good reason to: recent years have seen a host of independent local designers and entrepreneurs showcasing Thai creativity in malls and crumbling shophouses. Plot the following stops on your itinerary to shop for quirky crafts, envelope-pushing fashion, and homewares you won’t find anywhere else.
A quartet of heavy teakwood doors on the fifth floor of the ritzy Central Embassy mall lead to Siwilai, which reflects the street-style trends of Bangkok’s young, hip, and well-heeled. The design bigwigs of Yabu Pushelberg developed the space as a luxurious rendition of a Thai market square, complete with wooden shutters, woven straw floor covers, and rattan poufs lined with colorful Thai silk. The merchandise on its racks is of a similar design caliber: smart shirts, handbags, and sneakers from international it-brands such as Simona Rocha, JW Anderson, and Stussy. It’s the homegrown labels that command the most attention, though. Keep an eye out for uber-cool shirts emblazoned with Russian, Thai, and Arabic scripts by The Only Market, and swimwear in a multitude of eye-catching patterns by Timo.
The signature leather buckle bags by Boyy can be spotted dangling off the shoulders of fashionistas from Tokyo to Paris. Launched in New York by Canadian designer Jesse Dorsey and Bangkok native Wannasiri Kongman, the brand’s aesthetic hits the sweet spot between feminine and macho. Its highly coveted bags can be found in several boutiques around the city, but the flagship store in Gaysorn Village stocks the biggest collection. Here, a mélange of powdery pastel colors and sand-colored marble plays backdrop to leather bags, loafers, and sunglasses in a multitude of hues. Next door, the Boyy & Son terrazzo-covered café is a popular meeting point for Bangkok’s fashion insiders and snap-happy café hoppers.
Short for Objects of Desire, O.D.S. takes up much of the third floor at the Nendo-designed Siam Discovery mall in the thick of Bangkok’s prime shopping district. On its long display tables, you’ll find a cross-section of contemporary Thai design, providing visitors with more insight into the local design landscape than many museums are capable of. From colorful framed photo collages by Bangkok-based Pariwat studio to cheeky handmade ceramics by ZXXG, goods on sale span all ends of the design spectrum—and then some. The gallery space at the heart of the store often hosts exhibitions from up-and-coming Thai artists (Gongkan and Jirayu Koo among them) and is worth a visit in its own right.
Thai Home Industries
In business for more than 60 years, this homewares store just a few doors down from the Mandarin Oriental hotel has grown into one of the most respected names in the Thai craft scene. Behind a shimmering temple-like facade (the building once served as monks’ quarters), teakwood vitrines display woven bamboo fans and baskets alongside thick cotton pajamas and mother-of-pearl combs—all handmade by artisans in the shop owner’s network. The best sellers are the heavyweight silver cutlery pieces. Meticulously shaped by hand, they’re made to last a lifetime. These can be found on the tables of Bangkok’s top restaurants, and have even inspired knockoffs in markets from Chatuchak to Chiang Mai (35 Soi Oriental, Charoen Krung Soi 40).
With its rustic wooden furniture and muted Kinfolk-esque color scheme, Aoon Pottery seems to have come straight out of an artists’ village in the Chiang Mai countryside. Taking over three stories of a renovated shophouse on the fringe of Chinatown, it’s the studio of ceramicist Pollasate Lohachalatanakul, who specializes in pieces that are raw and rustic in style. Guests can visit his workspace on the second floor to pick up beautifully glazed plates, cups, and bowls, while also seeing every step of the production process. Downstairs, the ceramics serve their purpose at the small café, where home-cooked family-style meals (pork satay, garlic chicken) and teas from Northern Thailand dominate the menu.
Whether you desire retro items that are sold by the kilo or highly curated, Bangkok is arguably one of the best places to seek out vintage goods in Southeast Asia. Case in point: (Un)Fashion. As part of a cluster of sleek boutiques and cafés in the hip Ekkamai neighborhood, it’s the address of choice for fashionistas on the hunt for one-of-a-kind leather boots, backpacks, and belts mostly imported from Italy and Japan. Visit on a Wednesday, when new items come in, and you might just uncover a vintage Celine wallet or a pair of Jimmy Choo pumps in mint condition. And while many vintage boutiques of a similar caliber charge prices almost matching the new stuff, the goods here are remarkably affordable—with leather pouches starting from just RMB 70.
Also in Ekkamai, this is a choice spot for vintage furniture and old-world industrial Americana. Tucked away in an alley just off Ekkamai’s main drag, the warehouse space is filled to the brim with brown leather sofas, taxidermy, and weathered metal chairs. Most of the furniture dates back to the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, but occasionally, the owner digs up items from as early as the 1800s. And while heavy furniture predominates, you’ll find plenty of suitcase-friendly stuff on display: vintage signboards, brass ornaments, and even cast-iron toy soldiers.
This all-white concept shop on tourist-thronged Phra Sumen Road (just around the corner from the infamous backpacker hub of Khao San Road) serves as the perfect antidote to the nearby stalls hawking dime-a-dozen trinkets and ill-fitting elephant pants. Set up by Korean native Kim Jinyoung and her Thai husband, Something About Us aims to bring in the best of both countries. Locally sourced highlights include stationery from illustrators Ease Around, cutesy soy wax candles by Summerstuff Marine, and all-natural wellness products by Vera, while the clothing racks are mostly filled with pastel-tinted Korean imports reflecting Seoul’s latest street-style trends.
From the team behind TCDC (Thailand Creative & Design Center), which moved into the historic Grand Postal Building in 2017, Warehouse 30 further cements Bangkok’s riverside area as the city’s de-facto creative district. Leading Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag took the lead in renovating the row of World War II–era warehouses and fitted them out with an indie cinema, restaurants, and multiple retail spaces. It’s a one-stop-shop for the best of what Bangkok has to offer, such as the locally sourced coffee at Li-bra-ry café or the foraged Thai fare at The DAG. On the shopping front, seek out Lonely Two Legged Creature for sharp, understated attire spearheaded by Bunnag himself, Horse Unit for expertly curated vintage military paraphernalia, and the building’s own Warehouse 30 Market for sustainably produced soaps and cosmetics by independent local brands.
On a mission to preserve the rich, varied cultural heritage found between the country’s northern hills and its southern shores, the Thai-British owners of the ThaiCraft social enterprise work closely with artisans from around the kingdom to produce homeware and accessories with traditional techniques. From their office-cum-retail space in a crumbling shophouse just a stone’s throw away from the street food bonanza of Sam Phraeng, they sell the fruit of these collaborations, including woven storage baskets from Rayong Province, silver jewelry made by Karen tribes around Chiang Mai, and organic spa products from a disadvantaged community in Bangkok’s suburbs. There’s a small café to boot, with cakes and coffee following the same fair-trade credo.
This article originally appeared in the first print issue of DestinAsian China magazine (“Buying Time in Bangkok”).