Shopping in Thailand – Best Ideas On What to Buy
From overly air-conned megasized shopping malls to cute and quirky hand-crafted curio stalls, Thailand is filled with diverse and varied shopping experiences. Catering for all wallet sizes and interests, the retail options in the ‘Land of Smiles’ offer the consumer everything from locally crafted trinkets and knickknacks to world famous designer items.
Fresh coconuts, fire-roasted nuts, silk scarves, Hello Kitty cell phone covers and immaculately tailored suits can often all be bought along the same street. Fun, diverse and affordable are the order of the day for those visitors wanting to engage in the abundant retail therapy options here in Thailand.
Top shopping destinations in Thailand
Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket are the three top shopping destinations within Thailand and shopaholics tend to unite around these three main cities. From dirt-cheap bargains to skyrocketing designer prices, Thailand has it all.
The shopping pandemonium in Bangkok is a delight to the senses and the capital caters for a wide range of shopping needs and desires. From the towering, glittering megamalls to the chaos of the famous street markets, Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s primary handcraft centre and the city is filled with factories and workshops where the locals are furiously busy crafting, designing and creating various local Thai products. Chiang Mai is also crammed with numerous artsy boutiques and gallery-style shops selling crafts, artworks, vintage items and exquisite handicrafts. Nimmanhaemin Road is a wonderful strip to stroll down and while away a few hours browsing the creative and aesthetically pleasing goods on offer.
Last up is the bustling island of Phuket. With the vibrant open-air markets, blaring night markets, street vendors; as well as modern department stores and fancy designer boutiques; Phuket is the ideal destination for all shopaholics.
Shopaholics paradise: where to head for the best deals
The list of places to shop at are as extensive as the list of what to buy; and Thailand is filled with vibrant and bustling floating markets, night and morning markets, street stalls, boutique shops and oversized shopping malls; all selling a wide variety of products.
The floating markets in Thailand have been captivating visitors for years and any visit to Thailand should include a morning perusing the colourful goodies on offer, taking in the local culture and way of life and taking as many photographs as your camera battery or memory card will allow.
Most of Thailand’s famous floating markets are situated around Bangkok, with Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa being the two most popular. While Damnoen Saduak has begun to get more touristy in recent years, Amphawa is still very authentic with an almost totally Thai crowd.
Around 50 kilometres from the capital, Amphawa beings around 12pm and continues to around dusk. The atmosphere is one of liveliness and energy with food stalls along the riverbanks emitting delicious smells of food cooking, and wonderful sights of people eating, relaxing and browsing the offerings. A highlight of the floating market is the many moored wooden boats grilling fresh, delicious seafood with the picturesque and friendly sellers wearing the classic triangle hats and big toothy grins.
Other famous unmissable markets in Thailand include the Saturday and Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai. Th Wualai on Saturday and Th Ratchadamnoen on Sunday, gets taken over by lively food stalls, handcrafted goodies and northern-Thai inspired crafts; and visitors and locals flock in chaotic frenzy to buy some of the local fares and fill up on the tasty treats.
Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is also world-famous for a reason and an excellent spot to blow your baht. With over 8,000 stalls selling everything from second-hand sequined bandanas to fluffy squirrels, Chatuchak Market undoubtedly has it all. Jam-packed, no air-con and ridiculously affordable, this market in Bangkok is a unique and fun experience loved by all.
One of the most famous and arguably the most colourful and authentic market in Thailand is Sunday market in Thalang Road in Phuket Town. With beautiful Sino-Portugal houses as a striking backdrop, the market is full of flavoursome mouthwatering local specialties – from Muslim rotis to Southern Thai khao yam, and the choice of local souvenirs and handicrafts does not disappoint either.
At the centre of the backpacking universe – Khao San Road in Bangkok is one of the most popular streets in Thailand for those wanting counterfeit or knock-off designer clothes, shoes, handbags, sunglasses and pirated DVDs and CDs. Eclectic and animated street stalls are crammed next to each other on both sides of the street and manoeuvring down the shopping paradise is an experience in itself.
For visitors wanting to swap the cheap knock-offs and vintage apparel for brand-new and legit designer gear, Thailand is filled with upscale boutiques and shopping malls selling name-branded clothes and accessories at competitive prices. The top five shopping malls in Bangkok are Siam Paragon, Central World Siam, EmQuartier, Phrom Phong, Siam Center and MBK Siam.
Unmissable shopping malls in Chiang Mai are Central Plaza Chiang Mai Airport, Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center and Central Festival Chiang Mai.
For visitors in Phuket whose credit cards are burning a hole in their pockets, be sure to head to Jung Ceylon Shopping Mall, Central Festival Phuket and Banana Walk situated 100m south of the famous and lively Bangla Road on Patong Beach Road.
Can you bargain in Thailand?
Bargaining and haggling can be fun while perusing the items on offer at markets in Thailand and with no price tags on most of the products many tourists expect that negotiating a price is all part of the experience and is an expected custom.
While this is partly true, the notion that everything should be bargained for when shopping is somewhat exaggerated. Hard bargaining for items on offer is mostly restricted to the more tourist-dominated areas such as Khao San Road and Chatuchak market in Bangkok. While it can be a thrill for tourists to engage in the exotic and skilful art of honing ones haggling skills and walking away with a bargain, it’s helpful to conduct the negotiations with a cheerful attitude and a smile. Shopping centres and restaurants obviously have fixed prices and bargaining only really occurs in Thai markets or on the streets.
There is no definitive rule on how much discount travellers should ask for but knocking 30 percept off the initial price is generally a step in the right direction. It also makes sense to determine beforehand what price you are willing to pay and what amount you feel is fair before you start negotiating. It is also important to note that should the vendor accept the price that you offered, it is then considered ill-mannered to walk away from the purchase. Keep in mind that when buying more than one item you have the best chance of receiving a good discount. Lastly, most items and products in Thailand are very well priced and any retail interaction should be conducted with a friendly disposition and good humour.
10 top ideas on what to buy in Thailand
There are many excellent and unique things for visitors to buy when travelling through ‘The Land of Smiles’ and it is not uncommon for visitors to ship large containers filled with crockery, furniture, textiles and fabrics back home as the prices are just so well-priced. Below are the best things to look out for and fill your suitcases with to bring back home when visiting Thailand.
Don’t worry about finding coconut oil when in Thailand, it will find you. Excellent for absolutely everything from dry skin and hair, massaging, eating, cooking and as a moisturizer after sun tanning; coconut oil has many health and beauty benefits. Sold throughout Thailand in generous abundance, visitors can keep their eyes peeled for well-known cold-pressed Thai brands such as Agrilife and Thaipure which are 100% raw, unrefined and extra-virgin. A big 500ml tub of reputable coconut oil costs around THB 400 where small, hand-bag sized bottles cost around THB 100.
2–Souvenirs made of coconut husks
Not only do the coconuts in Thailand get used for their oil or for the refreshing coconut-water on a hot day, but the husks of the coconuts themselves get upcycled in many creative, quirky and diverse ways and make wonderful souvenirs to take home. From coconut salad spoons and soup ladles, bowls, hanging coconut decorations, wind-chimes and candles, coconut shells are made into all sorts of weird and wonderful curios and kitchen utensils and offer a treasured keepsake to bring home from one of Thailand’s islands.
Keep a look out for engraved wooden bangles when island-hopping through the country as these make great gifts and souvenirs due to their uniqueness, affordable prices and their small size and light weight. These ones are mainly made of mango tree wood.
Recognized throughout the world for its premium silks and beautiful fabrics, Thai silk is definitely a fantastic item to purchase along your travels. Thai silk is made into table runners, handbags, scarves, dresses, cushions, pillows, neck ties, wallets and many other colourful and beautiful clothing and household items. Thailand’s silk can be found almost anywhere but for the very best in high-quality silk, travellers should head to any Jim Thompson shop, including the Jim Thompson museum in Bangkok and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The high-quality fabric is also used by a famous Thai brand called NaRaYa, who makes exquisite bags and pouches which are famous and coveted across the world. The various designs, colors and sizes means that there is something for everyone. Their claim to fame and their flagship piece is undoubtedly the silk bag with the big ribbon in the centre. NaRaYa stores are located in Bangkok’s major shopping malls and in the more high-end shopping malls in other Thai cities. Prices vary considerably and can start at a few hundred baht and end in the thousands.
6–Nasal inhalers and rubbing balms
On every street corner, at market stands, at every 7/11 and at every supermarket, nasal inhalers and Tiger balm are on offer. Locals use both these products constantly and it is not uncommon when travelling on public transport to see a handful of locals sniffing their menthol inhalers or rubbing Tiger Balm onto their temples at any given time. Effective at clearing the nasal passages, avoiding unpleasant smells and unbelievably affordable; these two products should be handbag staples for any tourist. Nasal inhalers can be found from as little as THB 10 and small Tiger Balm tins from around the same price.
Another very common Thai cosmetic product that is used in abundance by Thai locals is Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder. This cooling-powder is a must-have when trying to gain relief from the overbearing heat and humidity. The product comes in tins of various sizes and can be found pretty much anywhere. Affordable and heat relieving prices start from around THB 50 for an average sized tin.
8–Dried fruit and other dried goods
Dried fruit snacks are also a wonderful treat to take back home and remember the exotic fruits and delicacies of Thailand once the holiday is over. Dried coconut chips, dried mango strips and dried durian are good items to purchase. Healthy and affordable, prices range anywhere from THB 40 to THB 500 depending on brand, quality, size and where it was purchased. Other dried food snacks from Thailand that are worth filling your suitcase with include packets of dried seaweed or Mama Instant Noodles. Both are very cheap and can be found pretty much anywhere across the country.
While Thailand is world-famous for their coconut oil, they are also recognized for their high quality and affordable essential oils. Purchasing a bunch of your favourite oils, diffusers and even essential oil candles are wonderful keepsakes to take back or as gifts for friends and family. Found throughout the country at prices starting from around THB 80, essential oils are generously added to a variety of must-buy products, such as carved soaps, foot scrubs, spa and aroma products, herbal massage packs and compresses and moisturizers.
10–Curry pastes and sauces
Any return from Thailand should include a generous amount of Thai curry pastes crammed into the open crevices of your suitcases. Found everywhere from street corners, supermarkets and at Thailand’s airports, curry is a definite memento of any holiday across Asia. Famous Thai curries include Massaman, Panang, Thai green, yellow and red curry; and the curry is best bought in paste form in a sachet or glass jar. Prices vary but start from around THB 30. The famous Siracha Sauce that is loved the world over by people who like spicy food is also a fun thing to take home. Plastic bottles of Siracha Sauce cost around THB 50.