Award-winning travel writer, author  and Holiday Goddess Editor Julie Miller dives into Bangkok’s amazing shopping, from flea-market bargains to  chic designer labels.

Little black dress shopping in Bangkok (Anna Johnson)

Bangkok is one of the great shopping meccas of the world, attracting hordes to its quirky street markets and colossal shopping malls. And it’s not just tourists who love to break out the plastic and loose baht – the locals are also obsessed with finding a bargain, haggling and bartering their way through the traffic-choked streets, bulging shopping bags in hand.

Determining where and when to shop is dependent on one Bangkok constant – the heat. If you don’t mind sweating it out in overwhelming humidity, there is a plethora of markets that tempt not only with fun and cheap shopping, but also with the delights of people watching and a vibrant street culture. At a Thai market, every sense is assaulted with the concrete-cutting screech of vendors, the push and shove of the masses and the delicious aroma of freshly prepared streets snacks, from deep fried bugs to rotis oozing bananas.

If you’re in town on the weekend, Chatuchak market, the largest flea-market in south-east Asia, is an unmissable experience. To get there, take the cheap and efficient Skytrain to the end of the line at Morchit, then follow the crowds to over 10,000 stalls, split into 26 different sections; homewares, clothing, jewellery, handbags, even pets (although rumoured to be a centre for wildlife trafficking, I saw nothing too illegal or endangered in sight, though the miniature bunnies wearing tiaras did look a little traumatised). Make sure you grab a map to negotiate the maze, pausing for coffee breaks or relaxing for half an hour or so with a foot massage, one of the great delights of Thai street culture.

The polar extreme of shopping in Bangkok is found in its mind-boggling mega-shopping malls. Thais are mall-crazy – and when its 40 degrees Celsius outside, there’s no cooler place than wandering around the cavernous, multi-storied super-shops.

The epicentre of malldom is the Skytrain stop of Siam Chit; jump off here to explore the wonders of Siam Square, Central World, Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery and MBK, all connected by over-road walkways to avoid the traffic. The latter is the place to head for absolute bargains, five levels of electronics shops, clothing, cosmetics and luggage. I recently snagged carry-on baggage for AUD$20; while you can also find fake Prada handbags, dirt-cheap jewellery with Tiffany badging and dodgy DVDs if you are so inclined.

Paragon and Gaysorn are the opposite extreme, luxury malls awash with international designer brands and high-end local fashion; while Central World is Bangkok’s largest shopping centre, recently reopened after burning down during the Red Shirt riots. Massive and with every name brand you can imagine, you could really be in any Westfield mall in the world here – impressive it may be, but soulless is an understatement.

More typical of the Thai shopping experience is Platinum Mall, a block behind Central World on Pratanum (much to the mirth of my taxi driver – “Platinum on Pratanum”, he giggled for a good ten minutes…). This fashion mecca offers six stories of fashion and accessories jam-packed into tiny stalls, shoulder to shoulder with bargain hunters. As many of the outlets are wholesalers, prices are ridiculously low – but the downside is there are no changing rooms, so buy at your own peril. And trust me, most of the fashions are designed with the tiny Asian frame in mind – optimistic Western buyers risk looking like heffalumps squeezed into hotpants. A safer bet are handbags, hair accessories and shoes, of which there are plenty available.