MBK Center is Bangkok’s notoriously frenetic, 8-story mega-mall that attracts more than 90,000 shoppers a day. Both loved and hated by budget travelers, MBK is the go-to shopping mall in Thailand for people who are more serious about buying than looking.
Frankly, there are nicer malls for strolling in Bangkok. You go to MBK to score good deals among the 2,300 shops. Unless the Chatuchak Weekend Market is open, MBK is probably your best bet for finding souvenirs and gifts to take home.
When MBK opened in 1985, it was the largest mall in Asia. Since then, many malls in Thailand have outdone MBK in size. Nearby CentralWorld is one of the largest malls in the world. But MBK’s legacy and reputation carry on. Locals still cram into MBK every day of the week, mostly because prices are lower than other malls that focus more on luxury shoppers.
MBK Stands for Mah Boon Krong
“MBK” is a hint of the mall’s full name, Mah Boon Krong. It is named in honor of the chief developer's parents, Mah and Boon Krong.
The statues you see on the ground floor near the center are of Mah and Boon Krong.
Although "MBK Center" is official, people more often just say "MBK."
The Best Way to Get to MBK Center
MBK Center is located at the intersection of Rama I Road (Sukhumvit Road turns into Rama I Road) and Phaya Thai Road, very close to Siam Square—the home to Siam Paragon and Siam Center. If walking from Siam Square, an elevated pedestrian way allows entrance into MBK on the second floor.
A taxi (with driver who agrees to use the meter) from the Banglamphu area (Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri) will cost between 60–100 baht, depending on the mood of your driver and traffic. Taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, particularly the ones parked at the ends of the street, love to fleece travelers going from Khao San Road to MBK. Be prepared to fight for the meter or negotiate a fare. You're actually much better off walking a short distance to the main road and flagging a passing driver down than dealing with the transportation mafia parked outside tourist areas.
If staying near the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, you’ve got it made. Just get yourself to the nearest BTS Skytrain station by foot or taxi then take the train to the National Stadium stop. Follow the signs to MBK as you exit the station. To avoid needing to transfer trains at Siam Station to go one stop, you could just alight there and walk 10 minutes west to MBK.
You’ll have to pass through a security bag check every time you enter MBK. Don't worry: The search is pretty lackadaisical. Just in case, leave your lucky travel machete at the hotel.
Scam Alert: Police often give travelers on-the-spot fines for smoking in the wrong places outside of MBK. Tuk-tuk drivers may be tossing cigarettes on the ground just a few feet away as the fine is being written. Tourists get targeted. If you smoke, stay near the handful of ashtrays, and don't wander out of the designated area.
MBK Center Isn’t Always Cheap
MBK has a reputation for being one of the cheapest malls in Bangkok, but that isn’t always the case—particularly for local souvenirs. Fortunately, there is enough competition inside of MBK for the same items that you can negotiate and shop around to score good deals.
In general, haggling prices isn’t always a comfortable process for Westerners. Negotiating for a discount in a proper shopping mall seems even more awkward. Get your game face on: Some good-natured haggling is the only way to avoid getting ripped off in MBK.
Not all items are negotiable, but many are. You’ll have to rely on instinct. Asking if a shop can discount something never hurts. Be ready to walk away. Don’t believe that a sign denotes a fixed price. Many sellers, particularly on the upper floors, have already priced items to allow for some negotiating room. On the other hand, trying to negotiate prices in Tokyu, the four-story Japanese department store with proper checkout lanes, isn't going to work!
Tip: Don’t buy at the first place you see something. Rent is more expensive for shops on the lower levels, particularly those nearer to the entrances. You may see the same item later for less on higher floors. One effective strategy is to shop by starting on the sixth floor then working your way down.
If you plan to grab something you saw on your way out, get a card or write down the store coordinates. Finding places again isn't always easy.
Some good deals can be had in MBK, but only if you’re patient enough to run the gauntlet of fakes and overpriced goods spread over a 2,300-shop indoor labyrinth. Put on your shopping game face—you’re going to need it!
You’ll Need to Be Very Patient
MBK Center, particularly on weekends, can be summed up with one word: madness.
Between 90,000–100,000 shoppers frequent MBK each day. Sometimes pop-up events such as Muay Thai bouts and fashion shows add to the frenzy, especially on weekends.
Get into the right mindset, embrace the experience, and bump your way through the fray. That’s part of the fun of MBK. If you’re looking for some elbow room in a more “civilized” setting where blood pressure levels don't soar, head over to Siam Paragon or IconSIAM instead.
If on a serious shopping mission, get to MBK earlier (doors open at 10 a.m. but not all shops will be open) on a weekday to avoid some of the crowds. The mall always becomes busier in the late afternoon. It gets absolutely inundated on weekends by locals who come to eat, shop, and socialize.
MBK Is for More Than Just Shopping
Seeing the “real” Thailand doesn’t always entail pointing a camera at water buffalo in a rural setting. Although MBK attracts plenty of tourists (an estimated third of the customers are tourists), the primary clientèle is still local. A mega-mall may not fit the postcard paradigm tourists often have, but this is a slice of real daily life in the capital city.
Check out the arcade or bowling alley on the top floor to watch local teens having a blast competing at the dancing games. Ask to join in if you’re brave enough. You’ll see sharp-dressed businessmen talking shop in the food court, couples on dates outside the cinema, and plenty of students “malling” with bubble tea drinks in hand.
If you need a break, the SF Cinema City on the top floor shows movies in English. Unlike at home, tickets to new releases are only around $5 for premium seating!
With good timing, you can catch one of the free Muay Thai fights or cultural shows occasionally held at MBK. Upcoming events are usually announced on the MBK website.
There Are a Lot of Fakes
Forget the idea that everything for sale is authentic just because you’re shopping in a mall rather than some anything-goes street market—that isn’t the case. From shoes and fragrances to iPhones, MBK Center is fraught with fakes being peddled sometimes just slightly below the price of their authentic counterparts.
Figuring out what is authentic and what is a knock-off isn’t always easy. Look over items closely for flaws. Pretty well all name-brand clothing, belts, watches, shoes, purses, and luggage can be assumed fake unless they’re being sold in their own official shops. Buy that North Face fleece from the official North Face store, not from a third party; otherwise, you'll end up with a North Farce instead.
Steer clear of the many pirated movies and software packages for sale. At best, many won’t work properly or will be low quality. Much of the cracked software for sale contains implanted malware meant to steal identities. Also, crossing borders with pirated movies could actually get you fined in some countries.
Unless you’re a jeweler with a trained eye, don’t even think about buying gold or gemstones at one of the many shops.
The only officially sanctioned Apple store in Thailand is located inside the luxurious IconSIAM development on the river.
Tip: Do some serious due diligence before making a big tech purchase (e.g., laptop, smartphone, SLR camera, etc). Not all manufacturers will honor a warranty if the product was purchased in a country outside your own.
Getting Lost Is a Real Possibility
MBK’s eight floors (the top two floors are more about entertainment than shopping) are carved into sections with a color-coded alphanumeric grid system. Although bewildering at first, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Fortunately, electronic directories sprinkled around help a little. But if time is low and you’re serious about finding something specific, ask for help at one of the information counters.
The size of MBK makes shopping around to compare prices a bit of a challenge. Finding a shop again that you enjoyed earlier in the day isn’t always easy! Consider writing down names and coordinates of places you intend to return.
If getting jeans hemmed or waiting for clothing to be altered (some purchases include this service), ask for a card that has the coordinates of the shop. With so many similar shops spread across different floors, you may have trouble finding those jeans you’ve already paid for when you return two hours later!
The Layout of MBK Center
- First Floor: Event space, fast food, permanent "official" shops, and pop-up sale events
- Second Floor: International and local fashions
- Third Floor: International and local fashions
- Fourth Floor: Technology, gadgets, and electronics
- Fifth Floor: Fifth Floor Avenue food area and cheaper shops
- Sixth Floor: Food court and Craft Village Zone, a "street market" style layout with cheap clothing, handicrafts, and souvenirs
- Seventh Floor: Entertainment
- Eighth Floor: Entertainment
Tip: Watch out for this classic scenario inside MBK: You find something that catches your interest but decide to wait and shop around for a better price. In the end, you don’t find the item anywhere else, then can’t find the original shop again. It happens!
Eating in MBK Isn’t Expensive
Like most malls, lots of chain restaurants (including the usual American fast food options) are spread throughout the complex. But for a more authentic meal, head to the food court on the sixth floor where prices are fair and payment is via a coupon system. Choices include salads, noodles, delicious Thai curries, and a surprising variety of options.
The food court inside MBK is decent, however, the food court in the Terminal 21 mall (near the Asok BTS station) is arguably a better experience for the same price. If you plan to visit both malls, plan to eat at Terminal 21.
On the fifth floor just below the food court, you’ll find nicer dining and an international food hall.
MBK Isn’t the Only Option
Before getting too stressed out or overwhelmed, remember that MBK Center is just one of a myriad of shopping options in Bangkok. If you aren’t enthusiastic about a purchase or don’t feel that you’re getting a fair price, don’t buy!
Although many of the other malls are more posh, there is always the possibility that you will encounter great souvenirs elsewhere in markets or standalone shops. MBK is literally surrounded by shopping opportunities. Stalls and smaller shops are crammed between behemoth shopping malls; opportunities are endless.
If you've just arrived in Thailand, consider waiting to buy. Travelers often find that shopping in Chiang Mai can be cheaper and more relaxed, especially at the weekend markets. Plus, you won't have to carry stuff around the country before flying out.
If busy Bangkok malls are starting to fray your nerves, the peaceful Jim Thompson House offers a historical and cultural experience only a 10-minute walk north from MBK. Add a little more culture to the day by walking east from the Siam BTS Station to have a look at the sidewalk Erawan Shrine.
After a successful day of surviving MBK, grab yourself a drink in Silom or check out one of the nearby rooftop bars.
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre literally across the street from MBK often hosts events, art openings, and local-designer fashion shows.
Getting Out of MBK Can Be a Challenge
MBK closes at 10 p.m., but smaller shops inside may have already closed a bit earlier.
Unless you’re up for the hassle of negotiating a tuk-tuk, you will be forced into a taxi queue. You may have to wait for a taxi, especially at closing time. A railing along the main boulevard and lack of parking prevent people from hailing their own taxis or using rideshare services such as Grab.
Sukhumvit is touted as one of the world’s longest boulevards, and it is certainly one of the busiest. Traffic always seems to be at a standstill in the evenings. Consider walking a few blocks away from MBK Center or taking the BTS Skytrain to a less busy station before trying for a taxi at rush hour. Doing so will save some time and frustration.
If heading back to the Khao San Road area, you’ll need to go directly west. Unfortunately, there are no more Skytrain stations west of National Stadium. Walk west for a while then hail a taxi.