Hop on the sleek city Skytrain to the bustling markets to combine serious retail therapy with delicious street food.......
BANGKOK is a shoppers' paradise.
From side-street tailors to seething night markets crammed with fake designer handbags, racks of rustling silk, glinting jewellery and exotic carvings, you'll find them all here for the picking and at great prices.
Bangkok is also the hungry traveller's heaven. Most malls have bustling communal seating in a hall of kiosks offering all manner of dishes. Snack vendors line the streets, boiling pots of spicy noodle soup and grilling fish skewered on bamboo sticks over charcoal braziers.
Unfortunately, Bangkok is also known for its impossible traffic.
But the sleek, safe, cheap and super-clean Skytrain can whisk you in air-conditioned comfort, almost door to door for some of the best retail therapy the city has to offer. It runs from 6am until midnight, with signs and announcements in English as well as Thai.
SAPHAN TAKSIN (Silom Line)
The starting point for anyone staying along the River Phraya, with excellent street-food vendors around the station and along the Silom Road. Robinson department store (1522 New Road) is the place to stock up on Calvin Klein underwear (from £3), locally-made cotton-silk blouses (£12. 50) or a tough Camel Active men's outdoor activity shirt (£11). Prices are fixed, though sales staff will often offer a discount as an incentive.
NATIONAL STADIUM (Silom Line)
At Southern Star in the MBK mall (corner of Th Phra Ram and Th Phayathai) you can buy a genuine pair of Wranglers, slip them on for a nip and tuck, then return 45 minutes later to pick up your perfectly-tailored jeans (about £13).
While you're waiting, the marketstall-style shops offer cell-phone accessories, shoes, glitzy fashion and fake designer handbags, including Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. You'll pay £15 to £30 for a good one, £60 for excellence.
SIAM (Silom Line/Sukhumvit Line)
Over a walkway and you're in the new Siam Paragon, reputedly Asia's largest shopping complex.
Here you can buy anything from a computer mouse to a Maserati.
There's a men's floor (fashion, as well as the Maseratis), a children's and computer level, a floor for home décor and equipment, and two levels for women's fashion, shoes and bags.
All the big names are here - Cartier, Gucci, Zara, D&K - with prices an average 20 per cent lower than in the UK. There's a food hall in the basement serving curries, sushi, grills and Vietnamese dishes (around £2. 50 a meal). A wing is given over to contemporary Thai design and antiques, with shops such as the Golden Triangle where you'll find stunning hill-tribe textiles (body wraps from £57) and antique silver jewellery (bracelets from £172) - all the real thing, not market fakes.
CHITLOM (Sukhumvit Line)
Five minutes' around the corner is Narayana Phan (127 Th Ratchadamri), a government-run crafts centre where silk and crafts from around the country are sold at fixed prices (men's silk dressing gown, £40; carved coconut saladspoons, £1. 50). The prices are slightly higher than at a regional market, but are a godsend for those who hate haggling and want quality.
NANA (Sukhumvit Line)
Almost any tourist publication in Thailand will carry ads for miracle tailors who can produce made-tomeasure suits in 24 hours. The surprise, however, comes when the arms fall off as soon as you get home. Good bespoke clothes need at least two fittings, time and effort - and it's worth paying extra for top quality fabric. Favoured by local diplomats and visiting army officers, Majestic Tailors (110 Sukhumvit Road) can be speedy if needed, but the emphasis is on a good fit and stitching that lasts (gentleman's wool fabric suit, £98; men's cotton shirt, £10; women's tailored suit, £89).
LUMPINI (MRT Route)
Forget the sleazy, touristy Patpong night market and head to Suan Lum Night Bazaar (directly by Lumpini station).
As well as the usual knick-knacks (such as carved wooden croaking frogs, 65p), you'll find wonderful ceramics and décor stalls run by Thai artists and designers.
There's a central beer garden where you can watch live bands.
GETTING THERE:Kuoni Travel (01306 747008/ www.kuoni.co.uk) offers five nights room only at the Peninsula Bangkok from £1,015pp (two sharing), including return flights from Heathrow.A Skytrain day ticket costs £1. 70.Maps of the rail system - superimposed on a city map - are available from the ticket office.Tourism Authority of Thailand: 0870 900 2007/www.tourismthailand.co.uk.