Since I just mentioned the Pratunam wholesale shopping district in a recent post, I’d be remiss in not providing more details. And if you visited the Baiyoke Sky Tower and failed to spend some time shopping in the area, you’d be remiss in picking up some great deals. Though you will find the general feeling about Pratunam mixed from those who tied a shopping excursion in with their visit to Bangkok’s tallest building, with some amazed at the deals and others claiming the shopping is a rip-off, it really depends on how deeply into the district you wander. Most only hit the shops at Baiyoke or along the drive-through soi fronting the hotel. Owners of those stores know who they are dealing with: bus tourists. There is no need to offer unbelievable deals. Those people will buy anything.
You won’t get the hot prices if you are not a fan of hot weather either. If you insist on shopping in air-conditioned comfort, there are better places for you to spend your money. Someone has to pay for all that cold air flowing out of the tiny stores’ doorways. And it isn’t going to be the store owner. So if you are looking for the bargains the district is famous for, wear comfortable shoes, grab a large bottle of water, and head back into the warren of small lanes that snake their way to god knows where.
Make no mistake about it, there are great deals to be had at Pratunam. The hordes of locals packing the chaotic small lanes and 4,000 shops are proof of that. And since the majority of shops are manufacturers, you’ll not only find rock bottom prices but the elusive larger sizes that the American waistlines demands too. Part of finding those deals is knowing what is part of the Pratunam market and what is overflow shops cashing in on the market’s rep. But even in those you can find some decent deals, and some unique clothing too; many smaller designers have set up shop in the Pratunam area.
Years ago Pratunam Market was easy to identify. It started at the intersection of Ratchaprarop and Phetchaburi Roads and was a sprawling dirty hot open air market packed with locals making a buck out of small store fronts that looked like closets. Today it is a bit cleaner, the street-side shops are more of a come-on, and the entire areas surrounding the market has become a shrine to consumerism. Some include the Platinum Fashion Mall, City Complex, Indra Square, and even Pantip Plaza in their definition of Pratunam. While those neighboring malls also all offer good prices (and deserve posts of their own), the real bargain hunters know they are not part of the market and are not where the best deals are to be had. Ditto for the shops that have sprung up in and around the Baiyoke Towers; for a shopaholic there is still a draw but you pay more for the easy access and slightly better atmosphere.
Regardless of where you set the market’s borders, clothing is the name of the game. You’ll find a bit of electronics and lots of accessories too, but this is where Thailand’s wholesale garment trade began and the market is still true to its beginnings. There is tons of casual-wear available for the jeans and T-Shirts crowd, and formal evening wear and suits for the hi-so crowd too. The area closer to Phetchaburi Road has enough sequins, feathers, and beads to make any drag queen’s heart flutter, and both last year’s and next year’s fashion can be found, often in stores sitting side by side. Several shops along the perimeter of the market sell suitcases at cheap prices too – you’ll undoubtedly need one to pack home all the bargains you find.
Pratunam is first and foremost a wholesale market. So you’ll get your best deal when buying in quantities. Fortunately, three seems to be the quantity you need to hit to get the best price. Though if you are thinking of importing some goods, most of the shops are manufacturers and you can get even better prices when ordering by the gross. But that is not a decision to enter into lightly. You need to be familiar with your home country’s rules on importing clothing. And cheap prices can also mean cheap goods – bad stitching and generally poor workmanship translates into bucks for the shop owner, so beware!
Some shops are manufacturers, others sell seconds from known manufacturers, and a lot more are busy selling knock-offs. If fakes don’t bother you go for it. If they do, note that Gucci is spelled with two c’s, not three. An odd paradox is that not may shops have a dressing room for you to try clothing on, but most have a seamstress manning a sewing machine from the 1950s, ready to make alterations for a song. If you are not an expert at eyeballing sizes, be persistent about the need of trying on what you are thinking of buying. Eventually the vendor will give in and lead you to a neighboring shop that has a tiny dressing room. Or they’ll push you to the back of a counter and assume that’s all the privacy you need. Do not assume the sizes sewn into the label are accurate. In fact, it’s safer to assume they are not.
You can also assume if you need anything larger than an XL in casual clothing you’ll pay more for it. And if you normally wear an XL, you’ll probably need an XXL in Thailand. The vendors’ profit margins are low at Pratunam and they’ll want you to cover the extra cost of the material they used to produce your big guy size. And it goes without saying, though I will say it anyway, that cash is king. You won’t get a discount for paying in cash, but will pay 3-5% for using a credit card. If it is accepted at all.
You’d think at a street market in Bangkok haggling skills would be required. And they are at most markets that are frequented by touri. At Pratunam, not so much. Many shops have signs displaying their price. At those that do, consider it a fixed price unless you are buying in quantities (though it never hurts to try to get a better deal). At those where you have to ask the price, don’t expect the vendor to come down much from his initial price. You’ll find you are haggling over twenty baht at best.
So how good of a deal can you get at Pratunam? Playing follow the price tag is a good way to find out. There is a popular Japanese T-shirt brand called Sure that is manufactured in Thailand. The short sleeved Asian sizes run $30-40 in Japan. In boutiques at Central World, just up the street from Pratunam, they go for the equivalent of $20. Over on Khoasan Road if you bargain hard you can get one for $15. At MBK the price drops to $12, and at Platinum Fashion Mall you can pick one up for $10. The manufacturer has an outlet on Phetchaburi Road on the perimeter of Pratunam market where even when buying a single shirt you can still get one as low as $6. But if you wander back into the market to their main shop they are only $5. Catch them inside the market when they are clearing their seconds out, which have minor and often unnoticeable blemishes, and you can snag one for $3. I picked a gross of them up at wholesale prices and blew them out within a month at $25 each back in the states. Which paid for my air fare and hotel for the entire trip.
Local shop owners do the same without the air fare involved. You’ll see them loaded down with bundles, scurrying across the street or filling a taxi to take their purchases across the street to Platinum or to MBK where they’ll be glad to sell you what they bought at Pratunam that morning for twice the price. Pratunam is where you can cut the middle man out while being kind to your wallet.
Technically, the market runs twenty-four hours. Realistically, your shopping will be between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. Though keep in mind you are in Thailand. Some shops won’t be opened by 10:00 am and many will have closed by 4:00 pm. The air-conditioned stores around the market’s perimeter stay open later, until 9:00 pm, and there is a decent night market that sprawls out and across Ratchaprarop Road that can run into the early morning hours depending on the weather, the crowds, and the mood of the vendors.
Getting to Pratunam is half the fun. At least it is if you consider a root canal an enjoyable experience. Bangkok’s horrendous traffic reaches its peak just where you want to go. And you’ll have a difficult time finding a taxi willing to take you there. The BTS is an option, though all of the closest stations are still several long blocks away. And the MTR isn’t much better. The walk from any station isn’t insurmountable, but since you’ll be spending several hours walking through Bangkok’s infamous heat and humidity while shopping, tacking an extra fifteen to twenty minute walk on to the front of your journey isn’t a wise move.
Many websites suggest taking the BTS to Ratchathewi Station and catching a tuk tuk or taxi from there. Good luck with that. Ratchadamri Road, in front of Central World, looks like a parking lot for much of the day and the traffic moves even slower than in a parking lot. If you can not find a taxi willing to take you into the area, your best bet is to take the BTS to the Chidlom Station, use the elevated walkway to Central World Mall, stroll down Ratchadamri Road in air-conditioned comfort, and then make a mad dash across Phetchaburi Road to the market. Or if you are a true shopaholic, stay at one of the hotels in the immediate area.
Getting out is a bit easier. Unless you were able to resist all of the great bargains, you’ll be loaded down with packages and bags, so take a taxi. You can usually find one around the Baiyoke Sky Tower, but don’t be surprised if available drivers demand a fixed fare. It’s the only place in town where I don’t argue about not using the meter. That the poor drivers have to brave the surrounding traffic elicits pity from even the cheapest or most hardened heart. Besides, with all the money you just saved shopping at Pratunam Market you can afford it.
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