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Department stores and tourist-oriented shops in the city open at 10 or 11am and close at about 9pm. The Central department store (two branches: one on Thanon Silom, the other on Thanon Ploenchit) is probably the city's best, but Robinson's (on Sukhumvit Soi 19, Thanon Rajdamri and at the Silom/Rama IV junction) is also good. The massive Chatuchak Weekend Market is a marvellous shopping experience .

The government souvenir centre, Narayana Phand, 127 Thanon Rajdamri, stocks a huge assortment of reasonably priced handicrafts from all over the country; Silom Village, 286/1 Thanon Silom, just west of Soi Decho, has some classier stuff, but for more unusual crafts, go to the pricey Rasi Sayam (Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm), a ten-minute hike down Sukhumvit Soi 23, opposite Le Dalat Vietnamese restaurant. Come Thai, second floor of the Amarin Plaza on Thanon Ploenchit (no English sign, but has a carved doorframe), holds an impressive range of unusual handwoven silk and cotton fabrics, much of it made up into traditional-style clothes.

Thai silk is noted for its thickness and sheen; prices start at about B350 per yard for two-ply silk, B500 for four-ply. Jim Thompson's Thai Silk Company at 9 Thanon Suriwong is a good place to start looking. Inexpensive silk and tailoring shops crowd Silom, Sukhumvit and Khao San roads, but be wary of places offering ridiculous deals - when you see a dozen garments advertised for a total price of less than $200, you know the quality will be poor. If you can't decide, try the reputable Ambassador Fashions, Sukhumvit Soi 11.

Bangkok has some excellent English-language bookstores : Asia Books has branches on Thanon Sukhumvit between sois 15 and 19 and between sois 4 and 6; in Peninsula Plaza on Thanon Rajdamri; in Siam Discovery Centre on Thanon Rama I; and in Thaniya Plaza near Patpong. DK (Duang Kamol) Books has branches in MBK shopping centre, on the corner of Rama I and Phrayathai roads; at 244-6 Soi 2, Siam Square; and on Thanon Sukhumvit between sois 8 and 10. Also recommended is Tek Heng Books on Thanon Charoen Krung, just north of the turn-off for Thanon Silom. For second-hand books, you can't beat Shaman Books, which has two branches on Thanon Khao San, Banglamphu; all books are displayed alphabetically and logged on the computer, but don't expect bargains.

Bangkok is the place to buy cut and uncut stones such as rubies, blue sapphires and diamonds. Recommended outlets include Johnny's Gems at 199 Thanon Fuang Nakhon, Merlin et Delauney at 1 Soi Pradit, off Thanon Suriwong, and Uthai Gems, at 28/7 Soi Ruam Rudee, off Thanon Ploenchit. Be extremely wary of touts and the shops they recommend: it's common to charge a lot more than what the gem is worth based on its carat weight. Get the stone tested on the spot, and ask for a written guarantee and receipt. Unless you're an experienced gem trader, don't even consider buying gems in bulk to sell elsewhere: many a gullible traveller has invested thousands of baht on a handful of worthless multi-coloured stones.

 

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