Shopping in Thailand
Maps showing where to shop in Bangkok
Thailand has become one of Southeast Asia's most popular shopping centres. You find not only Thailand's well-known host of unique handicrafts, but also a superb choice of luxury buys. All items are distinguished by fine Thai workmanship and of modern technological skills.
The variety of what to buy is fully matched by an exciting choice of where to buy. From the ease of modern air conditioned shopping plazas and department stores to the traditional markets and street stalls, there is every scope for both the browser and the dedicated bargain-hunter. In addition in Bangkok, which naturally offers the greatest wealth of shopping opportunities, other cities and resorts provide excellent scope, notably for regional handicrafts, such as woodcarving and other typical northern handicrafts in Chiang Mai, or nielloware products in the southern city of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Thailand is renowned for its traditional handicrafts. Produced in variety of designs, these make not only ideal souvenirs gifts, but are also perfect for design and home decoration.
No finer examples of craftsmanship can be found then those produced under royal patronage. In 1976,Her Majesty Queen Sirikit sought a way both to give rural Thais alternative sources of income and to revive some of the Kingdom's traditional crafts. The result was the establishment of the Foundation for Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques, popularly known as SUPPORT. The project has flourished and today craftsmen working under SUPPORT guidance produce a wonderfully rich collection of many kinds of traditional handicrafts.
Among items available are exquisite hand-woven silks, including the famous tie-dyed mat mee silks of the Northeast;elegant yan liphao woven handbags, Thai cottons and many other reasonably priced souvenirs. These SUPPORT handicrafts can be purchased from the Foundation's chain of exclusive outlets, known as Chitrlada Shops, and all proceeds go to the on-going development of the project.
RATTAN AND WICKER WORK
Thailand has earned a fine reputation for its high quality rattan and wicker furniture. Both elegant and durable, these items are available in a wide variety of designs and styles. Decorative objects in rattan and wicker work display an excellent standard of workmanship, and are ideal for lending a light tropical touch to any interior decor.
Practiced in southern Thailand for hundreds of years, nielloware is the craft of decorating gold and silver objects with delicated designs filled with a metal alloy. Workmanship of high quality today finds expression in a number of beautiful nielloware trays, boxes, vases and other items widely available in Bangkok and in the South, notably in the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
BRASS & BRONZEWARE
Shoppers have long recognized the excellent value of made-in-Thailand brass and bronze-ware. Techniques combine traditional methods with modern innovations, such as silicon coating to prevent tarnishing, while designs similarly reflect both the old and the new. Especially popular are fine cutlery sets, bowls and other tableware, as well as brass sculptures of figures and animals in classical and contemporary styles.
Very Oriental and very attractive are lacquer ware bowls, boxes, tray and numerous other items for interior decoration or for souvenirs. Native to Chiang Mai and the North, the craft involves coating split bamboo or wood with lacquer, then adding intricate hand-painted designs. Typically, objects are produced in either gold-on-black lacquer or yellow and green on a red-brown background
Silver-beating is another craft traditional to Chiang Mai. Bowls and boxes with skillfully worked patterns are popular buys, while vases and other ornaments in both old and modern designs are available particularly in Chiang Mai and Nakhon Phanom but also in Bangkok and else where.
Like silver, pewter is fashioned with great skill by Thai craftsmen, and the smooth, silky finish of this attractive alloy is often enhanced by delicate decoration. Among pewter ware items are plates, boxes, vases and pocket flasks.
Pottery of consistently high artistic value has been produced throughout the Thai history. Various styles, both indigenous and Chinese-influenced, have predominated at various periods to leave a rich legacy. So today's shopper is presented with a full choice of both faithful reproductions of traditional styles and modern wares. Among the former are the distinctive sea-green celadons, Chinese blue-and-white and the colourful Bencharong wares which are unique to Thailand. Modern ceramics are alsoproduced in an exciting range of contemporary designs which exemplify the continued vitality of the craft. Whether old or new in style, Thai ceramics are available in many forms -- from dinner services and bowls to vases and lamp bases, from small figurines to huge glazed water jars perfect for garden decoration.
The Orient has always been famous for its textiles, and Thailand in particular has a rich tradition of producing fine hand-woven fabrics. Best known is Thai silk, which enjoys worldwide renown and is perhaps the most popular of all the Kingdom's shopping treasures, but cotton and batik are also available
Produced in countless colours and eye-caching designs, Thai silk has traditionally been used for clothing, and is sold both by the length and as ready-to-wear fashions.
With enhanced production in recent years, Thai silk is also now produced in heavier weights ideal for draperies, upholstery and other household furnishing. Additionally, the rich fabric is further used for place mats and napkins, neckties, scarves and other accessories, as well as exquisite coverings for a whole range of souvenirs from jewelry boxes to notebooks.
MAT MEE SILK
A unique style of Thai silk, known as Mat Mee, is a handicraft traditional to the northeast region of the country. Produced from tie-dyed silk threads, the fabric is hand-woven in a variety of beautiful designs, typically distinguished by intricate patterns and subtle colours.
Once a neglected craft, Mat Mee silk has been revitalized in recent years through rural development projects initiated by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. Today, Mat Mee enjoys an unprecedented vogue as a fashion material favoured by Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family.
COTTON & BATIK
Thai cotton has gained an enormous reputation over recent years and is today as famous and as popular as silk. A fabric of fine texture and durable quality, Thai cotton is produced in a broad range of colours, prints and embroidered designs, and is found in a wide variety of goods from clothing to bedspreads, table linen, cushion covers, rugs, bags and more.
Notable among cottons products are hill tribe handicrafts and batik designs. Woven in traditional patterns by the tribal people of the North and typically displaying bold designs and often lavish embroidery, hill tribe cottons make and especially attractive buy. Difference in style but equally distinctive are original batiks crafted at several studios in Bangkok.
GEM AND JEWWELLY
Bangkok is today the coloured gemstone capital of the world. The country is a major source of rubies and sapphires, while Bangkok has also become an established cutting and setting centre for all kinds of precious stones.
Bangkok offers many opportunities to purchase polished gems. Rubies and sapphires are indigenous stones, but virtually all coloured gems, as well as, increasingly, diamonds, are also available. Shoppers should exercise caution and know what they are looking for. Remember, there are no bargains in the gem business, or so few as to be negligible -- good and cheap simply don't go together when it comes to precious stones. But what the careful shopper can expect is excellent value for money.
Jewellery-making facilities have expanded rapidly in recent years, and today Thailand ranks as the world's second biggest jewellery exporter. Cutting skills are matched by creative flair in jewellery design and setting, affording the shopper a splendid choice of quality items in a wide price range. Alternatively, many leading jewellers will also accept commissions for custom-made pieces. In addition to jewellery, gemstone pictures and other decorative items are to be found.
Good and inexpensive craftsmanship, combined with standard gold prices, make Thai gold articles excellent value. Handcrafted chains, bracelets, earrings, pendants and other articles are all widely available at the many specialist gold shops in Bangkok, as well as at jewellery stores.
Fine art has been produced in Thailand since the birth of the nation, while the Kingdom's neighbours similarly have a rich tradition of creating exquisite artworks. Modern art also flourishes today, and both the collector and the occasional shopper will discover plenty to catch the eye.
Thai, Chinese, Burmese and Khmer antiques are excellent buys. If you spend the time to look around and shop wisely it is possible to find items of museum quality. There is an export ban on certain pieces, while some others require an export license, but any reputable dealer will advise on restrictions and any necessary documentation.
There are many quality antique shops around Bangkok, but the greatest concentration is found at River City Shopping Complex, on New Road, where there is also an antiques auction on the first Saturday of every month.
The Thai art scene is vibrant and there are numerous shops offering original works by local artists. Subjects range from renderings of classical temple mural and manuscript paintings to landscapes, typical Thai scenes and contemporary works of high aesthetic value. Art lovers should also remember that local framing is inexpensive and of high quality.
In addition to several art galleries around Bangkok, exhibitions are held regularly at various leading hotels and other notable venues. For details, check the "What's On" column of the local English language newspapers.
CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES
Clothing presents many excellent buys, both men and women's fashions off-the-peg and tailor made. A whole range of accessories are also to be found, especially leather goods which offer particularly good value for money.
Thailand is one of the world's leading manufacturers of ready-to-wear clothing, producing garments not only for local shops and department stores but also for export markets. The staple of this booming business was formerly T-shirts and jeans, but while these still offer good value, product lines now include a whole range of fashions which meet international standards of workmanship and design originality. Fashion boutiques are found in every shopping mall, while cheaper clothing is available from the street stalls.
Tailor-made clothing in Thailand is as affordable and as easy as buying off the peg. There are literally thousands of establishments, small and large, which can produce the perfect fit in virtually whatever style you want in just a few days or even hours. Tailors may suggest patterns or copy any you care to provide, and you can choose from a wide selection of materials, both locally-made and imported.
Complementing Thailand's clothing industry is an extensive production of quality leather goods. Renowned for their durability and beautiful designs are shoes, either ready made or made-to-order, leather jackets, belts, handbags, briefcases, luggage, wallets and a host of other accessories Specialist leather shops and street stalls, offer a staggering variety of products at very attractive prices.
FLOWER & FUN BUYS
Not least in Thailand's shopping kaleidoscope are a host of pleasure and fun buys, ranging from fabulous fresh orchids to artificial flowers, toys and an array of inexpensive items found on market stalls.
Thailand is blessed with a huge variety of orchids Through meticulous cross-breeding, plants previously found only in their natural forest habitat have been domesticated and now more than a thousand species are available from specialist orchid farms.
Magnificent colours and durable beauty make orchids a very popular purchase. Specially packaged flowers, complete with water supply, are easily transported and long retain their freshness and beauty. Orchids may be bought at many shops in Bangkok and at Bangkok International Airport.
With nimble fingers and a sure eye for beauty, Thais are adept at producing super artificial plants and flowers. In what is a rapidly growing export industry, a wonderful variety of faithful replicas and original imaginative creations are available. All are entirely hand-made and relatively inexpensive, and make splendid items for home decoration.
THAI DOLLS AND TOYS
The art of doll-making in Thailand dates back hundreds of years and remains very much alive today. Doll collectors will delight in a broad assortment of detailed and beautifully crafted figures of classical dancers in full costume, hill tribe people in their traditional colourful dress and rural folk. For children there is a variety of soft cuddly dolls manufactured according to the strictest international safety requirement.
On the fun side, you will enjoy the city's numerous traditional markets. Pak Klong Talat, for example, overflows tropical fruits, fabulous flowers and fresh produce of all kinds. The Weekend Market, on the other hand, is packed with stalls selling just about everything from potted plants to pets, from yesterday's antiques to the latest pop T-shirts. Alternatively, street stalls mushroom nightly along Silom Road and other major thoroughfares to offer a colourful array of fun buys.
WHERE TO SHOP
Shopping in Bangkok is not limited to one or two major streets, and there are many areas throughout the city affording ample choice and easy access. The following is just a selection of some of the principal shopping districts.
Silom-Surawong-Phatpong :Silom Road is the main artery of Bangkok's commercial heart and is paralleled by Surawong Road, while Phatpong rus crosswise between the two. In addition to housing dozens of specialist shops and boutiques representing all the major buys, this area also boasts branches of Central and Robinson's department stores and several shopping plazas. Street stalls also abound, most notably at Phatpong's famous night market.
Silom-Mahesak-New Road :Silom leads into New Road which parallels the Chao Phraya river, and notable shopping opportunities include gems and jewellery stores (Mahesak Road is a gem trading centre), Oriental Plaza and River City Shopping Complex.
Phloen Chit-Ratchadamri :Found here are, among other, Central, Sogo, Gaysorn Plaza, Isatan, Zen, TAT's Thailand Duty Free Shops, Amarin Plaza, Peninsula Plaza with a host of luxury shops, World Trade Center and , not least , Narayana Phand pavilion, the official handicraft centre selling items from all parts of the country.
Sukhumvit :Like Silom, Sukhumvit is one of Bangkok's main thoroughfares, and the long road is lined with shops, boutiques and modern shopping plazas.
Pratunam-Phetchaburi :A highlight of this district is Pratunam Market, one of Bangkok's biggest traditional centres for ready-to-wear clothing of all kinds.
Banglamphu :Situated close to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Banglampu has a lively market where clothing is a popular buy.
Chinatown :Centred on Yaowarat Road and Sampheng Lane, Bangkok's Chinatown offers a profusion of gold shops as well as two nearby traditional shopping places, "Thieves Market" and Phahurat Cloth Market.
Chatuchak Weekend Market :Located at Chatuchak Park, adjacent to Vibhavadirangsit Highway (leading to the airport),the Weekend Market, open on Saturday and Sunday, is a Bangkok landmark where you can buy just about everything from clothing to potted plants -- a paradise for browsers and bargain-hunters alike.
Baiyoke Tower :Located next to Bangkok's tallest building is one of the city's renowed garment centres.
Pinklao-Nakhon Chaisi Road :This area offers a variety of shops located conveniently close to the southern bus terminal.
Ratchadaphisek Road :An up-and-coming commercial district with a branch of Robinson's department store and the offices and showroom of the Department of Export Promotion
Bangkok International Airport :Here there is an extensive range of shops offering a full selection of Thailand's top buys.
Beyond Bangkok :The main city for shopping outside the capital is Chiang Mai which ranks as one of the world's largest centres for handicrafts and cottage industries. The extensive range of local products includes silverware, lacquer ware, cotton and silk, hill tribe clothing, Burmese tapestries and hand-painted umbrellas Pattaya alos offers plentiful shopping for Thai goods, while virtually all other tourist centres give ample opportunity for buying gifts and souvenirs, as well as local specialities.
Fixed prices are the norm in department stores and a number of shops in Bangkok, but at most other places bargaining is acceptable and expected. Generally you can obtain a final figure of between 10 to 40 percent lower than the original asking price. There are no hard-and-fast rules for bargaining, and much depends on your skills and the shopkeeper's mood. But remember Thais appreciate god manners and a sense of humour, and they are put off by loud voices and loss of temper. With patience and a broad smile you will not only get a better price, you'll also enjoy shopping as an art.
Generally, shopping in Thailand is easy, fun and very rewarding, but the following advice is useful especially when making gem and jewellery purchases:
- Never let a tout or a new-found friend take you shopping. Stores give commissions to these people and that cost is reflected in the price you pay.
- Choose a shop carefully. With gems, for example, make sure it is a specialist in that field and not simply a general souvenir store.
- Shops in hotel arcades pay high rents and accordingly prices tend to be higher than at street shops. On the other hand, hotel arcades are very convenient if you have little time for shopping. Moreover, prestigious hotels generally attract quality shops.
- Shop around to compare prices, though be sure to make comparisons between like items-- this is especially important with gems and jewellery.
- Assess the sales assistants. Do they appear knowledgeable? Are they willing to discuss an item's bad as well as good points.
- Take your time, never let a shop assistant pressure you into a purchase.
- Reputable shops will give a written agreement to a full refund on any goods returned within 90 days. If a shop refuses to do this, go elsewhere.
- Obtain a receipt for goods bought and check it is correct before leaving the shop.
- Ultimately, your best guide is what you like. Don't , for example, buy gems or jewellery for the purpose of re-sale or investment. They may have such appreciation potential, but there are no guarantees. Shop for pleasure not for profit.
PACKING AND SHIPPING
With shopping as one of Thailand's major attractions, most shops are experienced in packing and shipping goods, as well as in arranging insurance, customs permits and any other necessary documentation.
The Central Post Office also offers a parcel-wrapping service for those who want to make small shipments themselves. For larger items or bulk shipments, there are several Bangkok companies who specialize in such matters.
HAPPY SHOPPING !