MBK Center is Bangkok’s notoriously frenetic mega mall that attracts more than 100,000 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.
When MBK opened in 1985, it was the largest mall in Asia. Since then, many malls in Thailand have outdone MBK in size — especially nearby CentralWorld, the tenth largest mall 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 brands.
Some good deals can be found in MBK, but only if you’re patient enough to run the gauntlet of fakes and overpriced goods spread over a 2,000-shop indoor labyrinth. Put on your shopping game face — you’re going to need it!
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.
The Best Way to Get There
MBK Center is located at the intersection of Rama I Road (Sukhumvit Road becomes Rama I Road) and Phaya Thai Road, very close to Siam Square — 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 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 — which is inevitably terrible in Bangkok. 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 flagging a passing driver down than dealing with the transportation mafia parked outside.
If you’re staying in 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 a train transfer, you could just alight at Siam Station and walk 10 minutes west to MBK.
You’ll have to pass through a security bag check every time you enter MBK. The search is pretty lackadaisical, but just in case, don’t take your lucky travel knife with you.
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 meters away as the fine is being written, but tourists are targeted. If you smoke, stay near the handful of designated ashtrays.
MBK 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, but doing so 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. 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. Trying to negotiate prices in Tokyu, the four-story chain department store with proper checkout lanes, probably won’t 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. If not, you can always grab what you saw on your way out.
You’ll Need to Be Very Patient
MBK Center, particularly on weekends, can be summed up with one word: madness — eight floors with over 2,000 shops of it.
More than 100,000 shoppers frequent MBK each day, contributing to the chaos inside. Sometimes pop-up events such as Muay Thai bouts and fashion shows add to the frenzy.
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 elbowroom in a more “civilized” setting where blood pressure levels don't soar, head over to Siam Paragon or Terminal 21 instead.
If on a serious shopping mission, go 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 and is absolutely inundated on weekends with 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, the primary clientèle is still local. The mega mall may not fit the postcard paradigm tourists often have, but this is a slice of real life in the capital city.
Check out the arcade on the top floor to watch local teens having a blast competing on the dancing games; 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 big cinema on the top floor shows movies in English with Thai subtitles. Tickets to new releases are only around US $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.
Fakes Outnumber Authentic Goods
Forget the idea that everything for sale is authentic just because you’re shopping in a mall rather than some anything-goes open-air market — that isn’t the case. From shoes and fragrances to iPhones, MBK Center is fraught with fakes that are being peddled sometimes just a little below the price of the 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 branded shop. 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. Also, crossing borders with pirated movies could actually get you fined.
Unless you’re a jeweler with a good eye, don’t even think about buying gold or gemstones at one of the many shops.
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.
MBK Isn’t the Only Option
Before getting too stressed out or overwhelmed, remember that MBK 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 other malls are certainly 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 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. Another option is to walk east from the Siam BTS Station to have a look at the sidewalk Erawan Shrine.
Check with the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre literally across the street for events, art openings, and local-designer fashion shows.
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, 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!
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 cheaper, 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 newer and arguably better for the same price. If you plan to visit both malls, plan to eat at Terminal 21.
On the fifth floor, just below the MBK food court, you’ll find nicer dining and an international food hall.
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.
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 another stop before trying for a taxi at rush hour; you'll 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.