Just returned from a week in Bangkok, Thailand! Although I was there for work, I found time to be a tourist on the evenings and weekend.
I have heard Bangkok described as "Southeast Asia for Beginners," a description with which I wholeheartedly agree. As a large city (9 million) in a relatively industrialized nation, Bangkok has all the Western creature comforts + fabulous infrastructure. But it still has a bit of Southeast Asia sensory overload!
Silk & Fabric Shopping
|Jim Thompson House|
|Spirit House at Jim Thompson. Spirit Houses are a part of animist culture.|
The Jim Thompson House Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok. Jim Thompson is widely credited for reviving the Thai silk industry in the mid 20th century. His home, which is now a museum, was designed to his specifications as a hybrid of the traditional Thai wood house + some Western comforts like an indoor staircase. In traditional Thai homes, the staircase is on the exterior.
The museum is accessible by guided tour only and largely focuses on the enigmatic man himself, with a little bit of detail on the silk making process.
What I learned about silk-making: Thai silk is made with yellow cocoons which creates an uneven slob with gold hues. The process of unwinding the silk cocoons to make filament is laborious. The filament of the cocoon is too fine for commercial use, so 3-10 filaments must be separately unwound before being reeled together to produce the desired diameter. The unwinding process takes place over a pot of boiling water. The water softens the sticky gum on the silk, making it easier to unwind.
Many tailor shops/gift shops sell silk yardage. I purchased printed silk at Cotton House and the Jim Thompson outlet, as well as a Thai cotton from a silver shop on Chareon Krung Road.
The Jim Thompson Outlet is the only JT store that sells fabric yardage in addition to housewares and accessories. There are 4 floors and it is worth the trip a bit out of the main tourist area.
|Housewares at the JT Outlet; Prices were slightly better than the JT retail shops|
In 2012, I had two dresses expertly made at Cotton House. This trip I wanted to try a new tailor to copy a much loved dress purchased in the south of France several years ago. On the hotel's recommendation, I made an appointment at Peninsula Tailors but left the store within a few minutes after they quoted me TBH 8000 (approximately USD $235) to make the dress with the Anna Sui fabric I had in tow.
I headed back to Cotton House to get a competing quote. The owner, Mrs. Reed, offered me coffee and kao tom mud and agreed to do the job for TBH 3000 (approximately USD $80). Completed in 36 hours, the dress is a perfect copy.
|Cotton House: Inside the Retail Shop|
|The workshop is around the corner from the retail shop and also houses overflow fabric|
|The copy dress in Anna Sui on the left; Original dress on the right|
While I am no expert on custom clothes, I have learned a few things from my experience with Cotton House and Hoa Fashion (in Hanoi and blogged here) as well as the stories I have heard from colleagues in the region:
- Most tailors primarily work in men's suiting. If you want to have women's clothes made, ask in advance.
- Always look to see if the tailor has their own workers located close to the retail shop. Most tailor shops send out all the work to a "sweat shop" in a lower rent area and any alterations, no matter how minor, will take a half day or more. Both Cotton House and Hoa had their own staff on site and made alterations quickly as a result.
- I had very little success in bargaining at Cotton House and Hoa. Although no prices are listed, both tailor houses did actual calculations before providing a quote.
- If you want to bring your own fabric, ask the tailor in advance. While Hoa and Cotton House were willing to work with my fabric, many other stores will not. In particular, the tailor houses for menswear.
The best street food I had this trip was Burmese. Burmese food has strong Indian influences. It tastes and feels very different from Thai/Vietnamese food.
|On the panga headed to Mona's|
Mona's is located in the Phra khanong market close to the clothing section. It's your typical street food joint with plastic chairs, folding tables, and no menu. Finding this place was sheer luck and involved no less than 10 people, a high speed panga down the canals, taxi, a translation app, a random guy on a motor scooter that scouted the market for us without finding Mona's, and a hefty bit of profiling when I saw a woman wearing a headscarf and correctly assumed that we were close to the Burmese section of the market. (Although Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist, I believe the Burmese in the Phra Khanong market are Rohingya muslims.) Mona served mohinga, a traditional breakfast fish soup, and my favorite khao swe thoak, rice noodles with peanuts, tomato sauce. Here is a great video and interview with Mona.
Directions to Mona's : Take the BTS sky train to Phra Khanong. Exit the station and make a right on Sukhumvit Soi 71. Continue until you see this street sign on the right side of the street.
|Make a right at this street sign off of Sukhumvit Soi 71|
There is a gold jewelry store on the corner. Continue down the street and into the market. Ask for Mona's restaurant (Mona? Myanmar?) It's very close to this market entrance.
|This is the gold jewelry store next to the street sign for the turn to Mona's|