Nightingale-Olympic: Bangkok’s Strangest Mall

…and also the oldest

Bangkok has its fair share of strange stuff, a lot of which can be found in and around Chinatown. So then, it comes as little surprise that the capital’s strangest – and oldest – shopping mall is only a short walk from the neighbourhood’s main Yaowarat strip.

You’ll instantly recognise the Nightingale-Olympic building, with its brutalist concrete façade towering above most of the other shophouses in the vicinity. We can only imagine how this must have appeared when it was unveiled as Bangkok’s first ever department store 50 years ago, a time in which jungles and bamboo housing still covered vast suburban areas of the city.

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Stepping foot inside, it becomes apparent that little has changed since Nightingale’s grand opening in the early 1960s. The dilapidated atrium space is dimly lit, while the staff, who outnumbered me roughly 10 to 1, all have a rather despondent what-are-you-even-doing-here kind of look on their face.

Nightingale-Olympic almost feels like a living museum. You get the sense that the items on sale were once bought brand new, gradually becoming ‘outdated’ somewhere around the 90s and eventually evolving into the ‘vintage-retro’ category of today.

This means that there are actually a few great finds to be had, or at least gawped at. One highlight is a row of bizarre massage machines that lie you on your back with your feet up in the air, twirling them around unceremoniously. Incredibly, they’re all still in working order - we’re just not convinced about the therapeutic benefits.

There is an obvious focus on sports equipment and musical instruments, including cheesy tennis kits, rusty iron workout machines, a good range of guitars, drums, retro accordions and miniature pianos, foosball tables and miniature golf set still in the original packaging. Downstairs has a collection of cosmetic stalls, some manned by a few beauty therapists who like they’ve been in the same job for decades, which they probably have.

As Bangkok’s first ever department store, this really was the Siam Paragon or EmQuartier of its day. It was a pioneer of the capital’s emerging retail scene, with over 100 staff employed across several more floors. As well as being Bangkok’s oldest shopping centre, Nightingales surely wins the title of ‘the strangest’ simply because we don’t know how it has stayed open this long.

Find Nightingale-Olympic just on Triphet Kwang Road, close to the corner with Pahurat Road. Do note the building’s no-photos rule, which as you can see, is not very well enforced.

Nightingale-Olympic

  • Opening Hours: 09:00-18:00 (closed Sundays)
  • Location: 70 Triphet Khwang Wang Road, just off of Pahurat Road
  • Tel: 02-221-9773
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