In Bangkok, Leisa Tyler puts vintage clothing, emerging designers and luxurious trinkets on her shopping list.
Tired of tuk-tuks and temples? Dedicate some of your Bangkok holiday time to filling a few suitcases. Artistic and trend-conscious, with thriving fashion and craft scenes and some of the most sought-after designers in Asia, Bangkok is a shopper's seventh heaven.
The following shopping meccas are enough to get you started. All are easily accessible via the SkyTrain, or BTS, which means less time in traffic and more time unearthing bargains.
Bazaar shopping: Jatujak Market
Pronounced "chat-u-chak" and nicknamed J.J. Market or the Weekend Market, this behemoth mother-of-all markets on the northern outskirts of Bangkok crams about 15,000 stalls under 11 hectares of tin-roofed sheds. Hot and heaving, about 500,000 people flock to J.J. Market each Saturday and Sunday, snapping up vintage clothes and antique ikat silk, handcrafted silver cutlery, Japanese comics and live animals, including, sadly, some endangered ones.
J.J. Market is arranged roughly in sections: collectables, clothes, pets, rattan furniture and so on, and there are free maps to guide shoppers. Or pre-pocket a Luxe city guide to Bangkok, which has a whole section dedicated to J.J.'s best buys and locations. But don't think you'll find the same stall twice - each laneway and shed is almost indistinguishable from the next.
Don't be afraid to haggle but J.J. Market is principally for wholesalers, so prices are not grossly inflated like some tourist-trap bazaars. Proprietors will generally knock off 10 per cent to 30 per cent if you partake in some friendly negotiation or are buying large quantities.
Fabulous finds include never-worn corduroy Levis that have been boxed since the late 1970s for about 600 baht ($19), genuine Converse shoes for 900 baht and heavy, hand-woven cotton runners from the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos.
Take care of your belongings; this market has become notorious for pickpockets - most of European descent - who work in gangs and prey on vulnerable-looking tourists.
Try to arrive by 9am and leave before noon to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day.
Open 6am (although many stalls won't open until 8am) until 6pm Sat-Sun; the market is 100 metres from BTS station Mo Chit or subway (MRT) Chatuchak Park; see chatuchak.org.
Neighbourhood shopping: Thong Lor
A busy thoroughfare off Sukhumvit Road, Soi Thong Lor (pronounced tong-lore and also known as Sukhumvit Soi 55) was once the domain of wedding studios, noodle shops and secondhand car dealers.
Reinvented as Bangkok's epicentre of style, sleek furniture shops displaying Italian sofas now sit alongside fashion designer studios and, a characteristic feature of the street, glitzy mini-malls.
H1 kick-started Thong Lor's mini-mall craze in 2004. The boxy, white complex was designed by architect Duangrit Bunnag and its book, furniture and restaurant tenants were the height of coolness. These days, J Avenue and Penny's Balcony opposite - low-rise complexes filled with posh boutiques selling techno gadgets, handbags and pricey beers - have the spotlight.
Kitsch-cool Grass Mall has fake lawn walls and a swag of restaurants such as Fat Gut'z (fatgutz.com) serving fish, chips and rum, where "scoundrels and scallywags are not welcome!"
Next door, Eight Thonglor is the pick of the mini-malls, with designer shops such as Klar (klar.in.th) for slinky evening dresses and Dancing Riot (+66 8 9770 3301) for groovy made-in-Thailand street attire. Montra Sense (+66 8 1312 4813) sells diffuser oils made from local herbs; try lily for its subtle flowery fragrance or lemongrass for freshness.
As Thong Lor gets cooler and rents head skyward, stand-alone shops are harder to find.
Hip haberdashery GEO (+66 2 3814324; geo.co.th) is a spacious studio mid-way along the thoroughfare overflowing with old English china, floor rugs and garden trinkets.
There are whimsical house-of-cards notebooks from 300 baht and cute budgie book stands from 1250 baht. On Soi Thara Rom nearby, Shades of Retro's owner, Anan Tatutlo, sells 1960s and '70s Danish collectables: vintage furniture, vinyl records and reconditioned Bang & Olufsen audio kits (+66 2714 9657).
Soi Thong Lor can be accessed from Thong Lor BTS station. A little red bus runs up and down the soi for 6 baht.
Fashion shopping: Siam Square
No longer just a haven for brand-name knock-offs, Bangkok has been busy reinventing itself as a hub for fashion.
The city has its own fashion week and many of its designers regularly show their apparel on the catwalks of Paris and Milan.
The best range of Thai fashion can be found at Siam Centre. Built in 1973, this low-rise mall sandwiched between heavyweights Siam Paragon and Siam Discovery Centre has long been in the vanguard of the industry. In the 1980s, Siam Centre helped emerging home-grown designers Greyhound and Baking Soda set up shop here; these labels are now favoured by the kingdom's jet set.
Led by an all-Thai team of stylists, including Greyhound's Bhanu Inkawat, the top two floors of the four-storey Siam Centre reopened recently as a hub for "New Thai Style", as the flourishing industry is being dubbed.
The third floor stocks 37 of Thailand's pre-eminent clothing, shoe and accessory designers, including the flagship shop of rock'n'roll Baking Soda (+66 2251 5968). Stop by Madam Tango, known for its whimsical leather handbags (+66 2252 1773; tango.co.th) and Flynow for its folksy, ready-to-wear street clothes (+66 2880 0831; flynowbangkok.com).
On the fourth floor is Mob.F, a multi-brand store of emerging talents such as Nattanun, whose colourful Fairtrade handbags help support leather-makers in Thailand's north-east.
While in the neighbourhood, duck in to the lanes crammed between Phaya Thai and Henri Dunant roads, where hole-in-the-wall shops reveal fresh-out-of-design-school tailors and their latest creations.
Siam Centre, Rama 1 Road, Siam Square BTS station.
Shopping-centre shopping: The Skywalk
Bangkokians have always loved shopping centres. Clean and orderly, the centres are a cool respite from the sweltering and hectic streets outside. Then, in the mid-noughties, a duo of colossal shopping centres super-sized Bangkok's shopping.
The first was Siam Paragon - a joint venture by Siam Piwat, which also owns Siam Centre, and The Mall Group - which opened in 2005. A glamorous and, on weekends, agonisingly crowded mall, Siam Paragon set a new benchmark for over-the-top ostentatious precincts in Asia: Lamborghini and Maserati shops on the second floor, south-east Asia's largest marine park in the basement, the usual line-up of luxury-brand boutiques (Chanel, Tod's, Jimmy Choo), Thailand's biggest bookshop and an entire floor of cheap eats and gourmet restaurants.
In 2006, rival retail mogul the Central Group opened CentralWorld next door. With 550,000 square metres of shopping space, CentralWorld is twice the size of Siam Paragon. The mall came under attack by Red Shirt protesters last May, who burnt down part of its Zen Department Store. The store has since been rebuilt and reopened.
Linking these two shopping complexes is the Skywalk. An elevated footpath stretching between Chidlom and Siam Square SkyTrain stations, it gives pedestrians some respite from the traffic-plagued Rama 1 Road below.
The one-kilometre Skywalk links six of Bangkok's biggest malls and a handful of smaller ones, giving access to more than 1.5 million square metres of retail space. There are plans to extend the Skywalk another 50 kilometres to span the entire Skytrain network.
Each of these six malls have department stores, international brands, food courts and cinemas - except for upmarket Gaysorn, which is wonderfully quiet because of it. Stock up here on home-grown THANN spa products at its boutique (+66 2656 1424; thann.info) or head to the fifth floor for British-born designer Alexander Lamont's gorgeous Asian-inspired homewares assembled from local bronze, ceramic, shagreen from stingrays and lacquer (+66 2913 8218; lamont-design.com).
The Skywalk can be accessed from Chit Lom and Siam Square BTS stations.
Thai Airways has a fare to Bangkok (9hr) for about $1090 low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney including tax. Jetstar also has flights to Bangkok out of both cities; British Airways and Qantas fly non-stop from Sydney only.
Save your pennies for the shops at Four Points by Sheraton. It has 268 stylish rooms with four-star facilities — flat-screen televisions, wireless internet, rain showers, a cool rooftop pool and beer bar — for three-star prices. Doubles from 2942 baht ($92); see starwood.com.
The Grand Hyatt Erawan has 380 rooms just steps away from the Skywalk. Splurge on one of the five spa cottages with butler service, daily massages and evening canapes included in the price. Doubles from 6160 baht; spa cottages from 23,300 baht; see hyatt.com.