A decade ago, my mother lived in Bangkok, and I would receive care packages from the sprawling Chatuchak Weekend Market, where you could buy spring rolls, a baby sugar glider—a ridiculously cute palm-sized marsupial—and as many obviously fake designer bags as you could carry. The brightly patterned but poorly tailored dresses she sent made me look both 10 years old and five months pregnant; I don’t think I wore a single one.
Today, Thailand’s style scene is more sophisticated. Asia’s fashion capitals are less established than in the West, with Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and others vying for sartorial supremacy. Accordingly, the Thai government recently revived “Bangkok Fashion City,” a national initiative (originally launched in the aughts) to turn the capital into a fashion hub by investing in the local textile and garment industries.
The country is famous for its silk, but its designers (aside from Thakoon and Phillip Lim, who were both born there but raised in the U.S.) aren’t major names outside Thailand. Disaya does party dresses, including the cream and red polka-dotted chiffon number worn by Amy Winehouse on the cover of Back to Black. Kai makes couture gowns, and Sretsis is run by three sisters who design girly silk and chiffon pieces—Zooey Deschanel and Katy Perry are fans. (“Feminine” is the watchword for most Thai designers.)
On a recent stay, my base was the swish Siam Kempinski Hotel. Its restaurant Sra Bua serves cutting-edge Thai cuisine: soy meringues, passion-fruit cocktails and frozen red curry with lobster salad. Oh, and the place is connected to Siam Paragon, a massive mall with high-end retailers like Prada, local silk emporium Jim Thompson and Parisian macaron boutique Ladurée.
Opulent malls are ground zero for luxury shopping in Bangkok. In addition to Siam Paragon, there’s Siam Center, Central Embassy (the hippest, with A.P.C. and Isabel Marant outposts) and Erawan Bangkok.
In the evenings, the shopped-out head to Thonglor, a ’hood packed with high-end dining and plastic-surgery clinics. The real action is concentrated on one street: Soi 13. Seenspace is an outdoor mall with bars, restaurants and Monlada, a boutique with sexy evening wear by local it-girl Monlada Pongpanit. For pan-Asian comfort food, tuck into Roast’s crab-cake Benedict or the addictively sweet and crunchy KFC (Korean fried chicken) at BonChon.
After that, hit Moon Bar, an elegant open-air space on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel and try not to spill your Saffron Sunrise (vodka, Malibu, lime, ginger and red chili) over the edge. Need one final bite? Head to Mont Nomsod, which sells buttered toast topped with rich, mint green–dyed coconut custard. The ambience is more fast-food joint than fabulous, but the shoulder-to-shoulder perma-crowd just might make it the hottest spot in town.