Fans of Platinum Fashion Mall in Bangkok will all agree that as popular as Pratunam is as a shopping district, it is not for the fainthearted. Massive crowds, pushy pedestrians, parking lot-like traffic, motorcycles using the sidewalk as a dedicated traffic lane, and Bangkok’s sweltering heat combine to make it an unappealing area to anyone who is not a diehard shopaholic. And that’s just during the week. Come Saturday afternoon it can be too much even for those born to shop.
But the deals to be had, especially on clothing, are a Mecca to bargain hunters, both touri and what often seems to be half of Bangkok’s population alike. Experienced visitors know you can go mano y mano with the shop dealers who line the narrow, stifling aisles of the Pratunam Market if you prefer a little sweat with your shopping (okay, lots of sweat). Or you can step into the air conditioned not quite as sardines-in-a-can-like aisles of Platinum Fashion Mall. You may pay a bit for the comfort, but prices are so low anyway it may well be worth the financial sacrifice.
I’ve always wondered if Platinum was purposely named, or if it was a case of Pratunam being lost in translation into English. Grab a taxi to either and no matter how carefully you enunciate your intended destination there’s a good chance you’ll end up at the other. But then that has more to do with traffic than it does with your accent. And since the two are but a block – and a death-defying crossing of a street – away, it doesn’t really matter. You may even decide to take a local’s approach to life and just shop where you land. If you have good karma, that’ll be at Platinum.
Platinum Fashion Mall is like an indoor version of the Chatuchak Weekend Market. While it specializes in wholesale fashion clothing and accessories, with six floors of shopping space you’ll find someone selling just about whatever it is your heart desires. That is provided you can find them. Because Platinum too shares that characteristic with the Weekend Market. It is confusing as all hell. Despite each floor supposedly being devoted to a specific genre of merchandise. Thais aren’t big on following rules, and a floor devoted to a specific type of consumer goods is just a bit too close to sounding like a rule. Therefor it’s best to just ignore it. You’re better off browsing anyway. Whatever it was you were looking for is probably in the other building in the first place.
Thai aren’t big on reading maps either, no more so than women are. Or at least they are not big on the skill that entails. Which may explain why the mall is laid out in zones. Because while that would normally confuse the issue, for the already flummoxed it has zero effect. And for the small population of farang men in the mall, it levels the playing filed allowing them to feel just as lost and helpless as the rest of the crowd. Whoda thought shopping would provide you with a glimpse into the Thai collectivism culture where it’s all for one and one for all?
Fortunately, stumbling over a real bargain is the rule rather than exception at Platinum. And that’s a rule everyone can get behind. Primarily a wholesale market like the open-air Pratunam Market across the street, with very little effort you can walk away with a great deal. The trick is to buy in quantity. And since a quantity of 3 will usually land you the wholesale price, that’s not a difficult thing to do. Most of the stores are more stall than store and none carry what could be called an extensive selection of merchandise. But there’s always enough available to easily pick out three items – they do not have to be the exact same item to qualify as a bulk purchase. And when you can pick up a pair of jeans, cammies, or cargo pants for $15, why wouldn’t you stock up on a few pair?
The selection at Platinum is overwhelmingly geared toward women, but there are plenty of places selling clothing for men too. Many are small local designers; you can find some truly cool T-shirts that may cost you a bit more than the knock-offs available at street markets but which will not have some large corporation’s logo emblazoned across the chest either. There are even high-quality 100% cotton Ts without graphics, suitable for those who realize they are too old to be strolling around in Hollister’s or Aeropostale’s advertising. And if you want to upgrade to clubwear, you’ll find a nice range of duds that’ll keep you from looking like a dud. Or a dude. Or a rube.
You can of course find many of the same lines of clothing at MBK, a more manageable and traditional shopping mall popular with tourists and locals just a few minutes away. But the majority of small shops and stalls at MBK buy their merchandise from Platinum; come early and you can watch local divas in high heels manhandle massive bags filled with clothing down the aisles and out to the street to a waiting taxi. Not that you’ll realize the same prices they do, but you will avoid much of their mark-up by shopping at the source. Just like they do.
I’m always hard pressed to decide at what point during a trip to make a pilgrimage to Platinum. Especially when I have first-time visitors with me. On one hand it’s good to sneak a visit in early, before everyone blows their money elsewhere, paying a higher price for what they could get at Platinum. Which tends to piss some folk off. On the other hand, it’s good to make the trek to Platinum later during a trip when everyone is totally fed up with having to haggle over the price of every damn thing they want to buy. Negotiating is not necessary at Platinum. There’s the retail price, the wholesale price, and the give me a dozen price. And the store clerks will volunteer the discounted prices without you saying a word. The only problem with the first choice is that invariably means another visit before everyone hops back on the plane. And that’s more dangerous to your wallet than being tagged as jai dee by your boy du jour.
You may as well go ahead and leave home without it when it comes to credit cards though, cash is the name of the game at Platinum. And if you do find a stall that takes plastic, expect to pay a 3% surcharge for using your card. Many of the stores do not have a dressing room, most will walk you to the closest store that does. Even if that is nothing more than a small corner you’ll barely fit into with a curtain that may or may not provide you with a sense of privacy. Guys, who seldom try on clothes assuming they know what size they need, should exercise caution. A ‘L’ can be anything from a ‘S’ to a ‘M’. Though I do recall one vendor proudly telling me her L would fit because it was “America Size”. Which meant twice the size any other nationality would need for a comfortable, loose fit. (But she was right.)
Luggage – in case you buy more than what will fit in your suitcases – souvenirs, knickknacks, bedding and sheets, bags that work great for your camera or as a day pack, and lots and lots of silk are all available at Platinum too. What you won’t find are computers, electronics, or porn dvds. Those you’ll have to go next door to Pantip Plaza for. This being Thailand, you’ll find plenty of knock-offs and counterfeit goods at both malls.
With hours and hours of shopping on your agenda, you will need sustenance and Platinum Fashion Mall has you covered with that ever popular shopping mall standard, a food court. Platinum’s – often overflowing with hungry humanity – has 28 different booths offering a wide variety of mostly Thai and Asian food at low, low prices. It’s on the top floor. Platinum also has some of the standard American fast food joints splashed across the front of the mall (KFC is well represented, but I’m hoping your taste in food is better or at least as good as your taste in clothing).
A better choice to satisfy your hunger pains is across the street near the corner of Soi 30 where you’ll find one of the city’s best and most popular, chicken and rice stalls/restaurants. Kaiton Kao Mun has been around for 40 years. Affectionately known as the pink shirt chicken rice place, it draws huge crowds from early in the morning into the late afternoon. And then again all night long (Um, it’s closed from around 3 pm to around 5 pm). There is an imitator – because there always is in Bangkok – just a few yards away, but they wear green shirts. It’s one of those local places where you’ll just have to point at what you want, but everything on the menu is top-rate and unlike at KFC it’s all real chicken. And lunch will run you around 80 baht. Just look for the crowds. Or follow your nose.
Many recommend an early visit to Platinum to avoid some of the crowd. The mall opens at 8:00 am on Wednesdays and weekends, at 9:00 am on the other days. But that too is a suggestion rather than a fixed rule and many of the shops don’t open their doors until 10. Or later. Ditto for the other end of the work day. The mall officially closes at 10:00 pm, but you’ll be lucky to find anything other than the KFC open after 9. Or 8. You can also scope out your plan of attack by visiting the mall’s website, most of its 2,228 stores are listed and have pictures on-line of the type of merchandise they carry. The only danger in visiting their website first is it is almost as much of an ordeal as hitting the actual mall – you may have little energy left to do your shopping in person.
Getting to Platinum Fashion Mall is easy. Take a taxi from your hotel, or take the BTS to Chitlom Station and a taxi or tuk tuk from there. Due to the 24/7 gridlock, don’t be surprised if your taxi driver demands a fixed fare. Fortunately when your shopping jones has been sated and you are laden with bags full of all the hot deals you found, there is an amazingly organized taxi queue in front of the mall. Wait your turn, hop in, and tell the driver to take you to the nearest massage spa. You’ll need it.
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