Shops in Thailand

Bangkok's bustling markets also do wholesale

Thailand has a worldwide reputation as an international shopper's paradise. The variety and styles of products is staggering, and goods range from durable, high quality handcrafts to fire-sale bargains are found in shops in Thailand. Shoppers can head for open-air markets, tightly crammed stalls or luxurious boutiques and top-end department stores, with a niche for every type of customer.

Locally-made handicrafts are probably the most popular product for international shoppers in Thailand. The mawn saam liam pillow is a triangular cushion traditionally upholstered in Thai silk. Easily found in all parts of the country, this is a great take-home gift that may even come in handy on the long flight home. These shops are mostly small stalls in night markets.

Beautiful pieces of nielloware originate in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. This ancient craft involves etched silver and gold ornaments that are polished with a black metal alloy imparting a deep, lustrous shine. Lacquerware is an equally beautiful but less expensive decoration made from hand-painted, lacquered bamboo. A broad range of knick-knacks in traditional styles are made in this fashion. Also found in souvenir and handicraft markets, Nielloware is common in gift shops in Thailand.

Wickerwork is employed in everything from baskets to furniture, and most Thailand shops can arrange to ship large items abroad. Intricately beaten and brushed silverware is a lovely northern Thai craft, available in Chiang Mai. Ceramics and traditional hilltribe artifacts round out the gamut of local handcrafts.

International antique dealers have long-known that Thailand is a virtual goldmine of ancient artefacts and many keep shops in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Actually, this fact has become so well-known that a significant amount of valuable heritage has crossed the country's borders and prompting customs officials enforce stricter export laws. All the same, Thailand is home to fantastic antique shops as well as inexpensive and remarkable fakes that would fool anyone but an expert.

Thai silk is unsurpassed and widely available

Thai silk is at the top of most shoppers' lists and found in all tourist shops in Thailand. The rough weave of this local fabric is easier to dye than most silks, and the resulting product is able to hold much brighter colours and brilliant designs. Whether shopping for silk garments or sifting through bolts find the perfect pattern, you'll be buying some of the finest silk in the whole world. Silk is easily found in all major cities and tourist destinations.

Once you've purchased your own silk, you may wish to be fitted by a tailor while you're in the country. Anywhere tourists head, you're bound to find a well-reputed tailor or two who can custom-make a garment that mirrors leading fashions to the finest detail. Their shops are found in the Sukhumwit 3 area of Bangkok, Patong in Phuket, Chaweng in Samui, all over Pattaya’s lanes area and Chiang Mai Night Market precinct. You're well-advised to avoid 24-hour tailors and opt, instead, for two or three fittings at a more serious tailor.

Gems, sapphires and rubies are part of a thriving market in Thailand. Gem dealers from around the world have trading offices in Bangkok and high-quality stones from neighouring Southeast Asian countries. While it's possible to find outstanding deals on jewellery and precious stones, it's also equally possible to be fooled by a clever gem scam. Every week in Thailand shops that sold fake gems to unsuspecting tourists quietly close up and reopen elsewhere. Experts in the gem trade can afford to venture out to independent dealers; otherwise, it's best to stick to reputable dealers and larger department stores.

In the mainstream markets, some of the best Thai shopping values can be had on computer software, much of which is marked down considerably to counteract prevalent pirated software. VCDs, DVDs and music (both international and local titles) are also well priced. Larger electronic devices and appliances are easy to pick up; imitation brands are much less expensive than their counterparts, though the quality isn’t always there. Panthip Plaza in Bangkok is has the largest collection of computer shops in Thailand.

A vendor sells t-shirts in a night market

Clothing and shoes are another bargain found in shops and department stores across Thailand, and are considerably cheaper than your home country usually. Many are made locally for well known brands. There is also a large choice of cheap, lower quality garments to satisfy the Thais keen sense of respectable dressing.

Knock offs are something ubiquitous in Thailand and, although we don’t encourage the trade in fake brands, you can’t miss the endless stalls of pirated CDs, VCDs and designer labels offered in night markets. But we urge you to first seek out the real thing, which is often made in Asia and available at reasonable prices in shops and department stores like Robinsons.

Wherever shopping takes you in Thailand, you’ll be in good company. Locals love shopping as much as tourists do, and in many of the most prominent shopping areas, you’ll find as many if not more locals than tourists. Even if you’re not planning on purchasing, browsing the markets is worthwhile in and of itself.

Bargaining is the great pastime of Thailand. Feel free to join in, just bear in mind that as a visitor, you’re not always aware of the local market value. It’s worthwhile, even expected, to negotiate with merchants; but sometimes it’s just best to smile and decline. If merchant after merchant refuses to drop below a certain price, it’s probably for good reason.

If you’re searching for a particular handcraft or local specialty, you’ll find the best quality and prices at or near the province that specialises in that product. The big, sprawling markets of Bangkok are an eclectic nexus of the whole country’s offerings. The finest handcrafts can be found in the north, with an emphasis on Chiang Mai, and the outlying suburbs of San Kamphaeng and Hang Dong.

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