South by Southeast: In Bangkok? Head to the mall!

Bangkok means many things to travelers. The backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road. The sublime temples of Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew. The seedy go-go bars of Patpong. But after visiting this crazy Southeast Asian capital for the first time, I’d like to suggest a new highlight in Bangkok: the malls.

You’re probably going to tell me I’m a spoiled Westerner, too acclimated to the comforts of home to get my hands dirty with some authentic Thai culture. But, perhaps it’s time we all take a closer look at what Bangkok is really like these days. The famed “anything goes” destination of old is still there, hiding down back alleyways and puttering along on Bangkok’s diesel spewing tuk tuks. But there’s also an entirely new Bangkok under construction. An emerging city of modern mass transportation and shiny new temples of capitalism.

So what is it about Bangkok’s malls that makes them so special? Like many malls back home, they’ve got all the usual amenities – the department stores, the food courts and the electronics boutiques. But there’s also plenty that makes Bangkok malls entirely unique: outstanding and inexpensive food courts filled with authentic Thai cuisine, special events and top-notch cultural institutions. Sound interesting? Here’s three reasons why you should head to the mall during your next visit to Bangkok. Click below.

The food courts are amazing
When I think of a mall food court back in the U.S., my stomach starts to churn. Greasy Sbarro pizza, unappetizing McDonald’s and gluttonous portions of Cold Stone Creamery. Bangkok food courts are a completely different animal. In fact, one of the best places to experience affordable, delicious Thai cuisine is at the mall.

Whether you want egg noodles with pork and dried shrimp, a big glass of Lemongrass juice or some Thai sticky rice dessert, the food court is where it’s at. Average price for your meal? About $3 U.S. per person. In addition to all the Thai favorites you’ll find plenty of great Japanese, Korean and Vegetarian cuisine, along with a few good old American favorites.

Air conditioning is your friend
Spend more than five minutes outside in Bangkok, and you will be attacked. Your fresh clothes will be drenched in sweat. Motor scooters, tuk-tuks and huge buses belch smoke from all directions. Monsoon rains deluge down from the heavens. Angry and persistent mosquitoes buzz and itch in your ear. It’s enough to make even the most hardened travelers beg for mercy. Bangkok malls will become your oasis from this chaos. The cool chilled air feels like a gift from above. Even if you have no intention of buying anything at the store, Bangkok’s malls offer an easy, cheap way to chill out.

Surprising attractions
Bangkok malls aren’t just for shopping. They boast top-notch culture, special events and surprising creativity. A great example is the Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC), located in The Emporium Shopping Complex in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit area. The center boasts rotating modern art exhibits from Thai artists, typography exhibits, film screenings and a huge library of design books and magazines. On a recent Sunday, I found myself hanging out in TCDC’s slick coffeeshop, enjoying the stellar Bangkok city views while a live jazz band jammed out onstage. Cheesy mall this is not.

The next time you find yourself in Bangkok, take a closer look at what this amazing city has to offer. In addition to awe-inspiring temples and cheap backpacker street food, you’re likely to find a city that has “come of age” on the world stage.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.