Oh you lucky pups. The female half of our duo shares the best things to buy in Thailand. Here’s a l-o-n-g list of ways to spend your money in Thailand. Ready? Wallets out!
The best things to buy in Thailand
Ready to shop? Thailand is waiting to sell you many-monies designer goods, silks, antiques, snacks and souvenirs – and $2 T-shirts galore. Whether you want to browse night markets, floating markets or absolutely freezing luxury malls – bring your shopping stamina to Thailand. Some links below include affiliates.
What to bring from home for successful shopping?
- Comfy shopping shoes (your feet will swell in the heat!)
- Bangkok shopping/sight-seeing map
- The world’s best mosquito repellent
- Electrolyte drink tabs (for shopping stamina in Thailand’s heat)
- A Thai phrasebook (many Thai shopkeepers speak good English, but this might help when your requests or colour preferences get a little random)
Are you considering just bringing an empty suitcase to Thailand and buying all your vacation clothes when you arrive? Hold that thought. While I understand the minimalist appeal, what happens if you’re jet-lagged and don’t feel like shopping? If you can’t find anything in your size? If it’s a national holiday and shops are shut? Instead, get the most out of your Thailand *shopportunities* by arriving prepared.
▸ Your total Thailand packing list
Make sure to pack a few key things from home – including some every-day toiletries that can be hard to find. For a shopping-heavy itinerary, make especially sure to pack:
▸ Your ultimate guide to Thailand’s dress code
You’ll get better service while shopping in Thailand if you’re dressed appropriately – especially in Bangkok’s glitzy malls. Use this guide to find out how the right clothes mean you’ll stay comfortable in the heat and ace cultural norms.
Arrive with all your basics, then enjoy shopping as a fun activity rather than a necessity.
Thailand has great clothes shopping – especially if you’re Thai-size. You’ll even find shops worth your time at tourist attractions and outside temples. Thailand is a country where appearance matters very much – and shopping is a serious national hobby.
One of my favourite basic clothing shops in Thailand is AIIZ (“A to Z”). It’s great for basics like shorts and t-shirts – sort of like Gap but at Thai prices. Again, like Gap, you’ll find a store in every mall in Thailand.
Keep your eyes open for a Pomelo shop – they’re a beloved Thai fashion brand with pretty work-wear, exercise gear and dressy basics, at similar prices to Zara.
Yes, there’s tourist tat in abundance and Singha singlets to be found everywhere. Though you’ll probably want to bring the bulk of your clothing from home, if you need to fill in a gap – or really need fake CK boxers – it’s easily done. Avoid buying fake sunglasses – Thailand’s sunshine means business! Bring quality sunglasses with genuine UVA/B protection for your pretty little eyeballs.
#2. Thai silk
Where to buy Thai silk?
The very best Thai silk comes from Jim Thompson shops, with locations throughout Thailand (including at his former home – now a museum – as well as Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport).
Find bright colours as only the tropics can offer with Thai silk products including: clothing, ties and scarves, cushions and pillows, table-cloths and table-runners, bags and wallets, and more …
If your feet are size 9+
If your feet are bigger than ‘Thai size’ (U.S. 9 or Euro 39/40 for women, and slightly larger for men), you’ll struggle to find shoes that fit in Thailand. While Thailand has great shopping, bring all your shoes from home: these are the 5 kinds of shoes you’ll need for Thailand.
If your feet are smaller (Thai size!)
Otherwise, for smaller feet, it’s easy to find Western brand-name shoes but – as imports – they’re often more expensive than at home. As with clothes shopping, the shoe choice in Thailand is ‘by and large’ for Thai-sized people only. If you’re petite (or have small feet), you’ll enjoy browsing! For the rest of us – take solace – imported shoe brands are much more expensive in Thailand than on the likes of Amazon. I’d stop short of buying fake footwear – it’s not much fun to get stranded barefoot because your cheap flip-flops died. Which they will, in 3 days or less.
#4. Thai carvings
Once you start looking, you’ll often find Balinese as well as Thai furniture and carvings – like these statues.
TIP! Though you’ll find Buddha statues for sale pretty much everywhere, neither statues nor images of Buddha can (legally) be taken out of Thailand. See a few more do’s and don’ts for your time in Thailand and you won’t have any bad surprises.
Thailand is a great destination for gem shopping – and an even better place to vacuum up cheap costume jewellery. Beach vendors do a brisk trade in beaded jewellery: bracelets, necklaces, etc. They can make a nice memento of a happy day.
#6. Thai furniture
Head to north to Chiang Mai for beautiful furniture, carvings and antiques. Chiang Mai is renowned as the furniture capital of Thailand – much of it teak and intricately carved. Just browsing is tremendous fun but, if something catches your eye, every shop is ready to assist in international shipping.
In addition to its furniture shops, Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar is also a fantastic shopping spot to visit (and the available food stalls make it worthwhile for unenthusiastic browsers too). We refer you again to the knowing hands of Nancy Chandler Maps. Their Map of Chiang Mai will take you from teak to temple to Thai handicrafts.
Besides food, accessory shopping is especially fun in Thailand. Beautiful scarves and one-of-a-kind handbags: here you come. To boys, it’s “pretty useless stuff”. Wounded, I’d add a comma – but this is accessory-buying at its best. You don’t need these things, but you really, really want them.
TIP! Is this your first trip to Thailand? Take all the stress out of your planning and prep – find out how to prepare for Thailand.
#8. Thai alcohol
While Western brands of alcohol (especially wine and champagne) are taxed heavily in Thailand (and are therefore extremely expensive), the local options are worth taking home. On Koh Samui you’ll want to find Magic Alambic rum – locally made on the island in a variety of flavours. It’s a delicious souvenir – if it lasts that long. Find it at its Samui distillery, and at some hotel gift shops). Phuket’s answer to local rum is Chalong Bay. As well, recall your favourite holiday hangover with some Sang Som (Thai whiskey).
#9. Thai handicrafts, art and home décor
- Thai triangle cushions
- Rice baskets in various sizes
- Pottery and lacquerware dishes
- Colourful paper umbrellas
- Woven-by-hill-tribe baskets (authenticity TBC)
Tourist hubs (like Phuket and Koh Samui) have many ‘by request’ art shops: you can buy reproductions, originals, even get a portrait of your pet made from a photograph.
#10. Thai coconut oil
Where to buy coconut oil in Thailand?
Coconut oil is available throughout Thailand – anywhere there are tourists you’ll find bottles for sale with English labels. If you leave your hotel but once, it will find you. Coconut oil is rightly very trendy these days – use it in your cooking, in your beauty regime, and head home very happy. Outside of hotel gift shops, a high price tends to indicate higher quality and most packaging will be in English to tell you whether it’s cooking grade or for external use only.
TIP! Coconut bath products are widely available, but make sure to bring these toiletries from home.
#11. Everything else coconut
In Thailand, and on Koh Samui in particular, you can find absolutely anything you want from a coconut – or never knew you wanted. Koh Samui’s coconuts are said to be the best in Thailand. If you’re keen to support local trade on Samui – that would be coconuts. Before tourism, they were the island’s main industry. Really, anything can be made from a coconut:
- Coconut wind chimes
- Coconut salad spoons
- Coconut monkey statues
#12. Thai spa products
In addition to coconut oil, you’ll also find scented candles and essential oils from plants and flowers you’ve never heard of (‘Dork phud” is an obvious must-have). Newly addicted to Tiger Balm? It’s probably cheaper in Thailand. Some favourites that you can easily buy in Thailand include:
▸ Essential oils
▸ Reed and candle diffusers
▸ Herbal massage packs and compresses
▸ Carved soaps
▸ Foot soaks and body scrubs
#13. Thai food, snacks and sweets
Dried durian? Rambutan jam? Coconut candy? Find a favourite and stock up! Like to cook? Get your fill of (sealed) Thai curry packets, and spices in bulk – cinnamon sticks to last a lifetime.
TIP! Check your home country’s customs rules before buying food souvenirs in Thailand… bringing random, sticky food back is obviously a terrible idea for Australians.
#14. Thai lights and lanterns
Pretty lights? In shops and at markets across the country you’ll see a particularly pretty piece of Thailand – lamps, lanterns and fairy lights. The terra cotta lanterns above might max out your luggage allowance, but there’s plenty of packable pretty.
#15. Trinkets (and everything else)
If you’re in a rush, supermarkets in tourist hubs tend to have a decent selection of ‘stocking stuffer’ type souvenirs – key chains, coin purses and small tokens to bring back to the office.
Your Thailand shopping survival kit
What to pack in your purse/handbag?
Why the anti-theft bag? Purely peace of mind. While Thailand doesn’t have the notorious pick-pocket problems of many European destinations (and we ourselves *knock on wood* have never experienced theft in Thailand), it’s all about your peace-of-mind while you’re distracted doing other things. If you’re headed to especially busy shopping spots like night markets, you’ll definitely want to be as prudent as possible with your valuables. There are occasional reports of pick-pockets and purse-snatchings in Thailand’s busiest spots, like Bangkok’s main temples.
To love every minute of your Thailand shopping experience, you’ll want to (1) stay comfortable and healthy in strong heat, (2) stay safe from Thailand’s mosquitoes (they use the floating market canals as their World Headquarters). Stash the above in your bag for that inevitable moment when you’re going to melt and die and evaporate all at once.
Finally – don’t forget the #1 rule of shopping anywhere: Comfy shoes! Wearing sandals made from yoga mats (ahhh!!), you might be so comfy you can make it round all 8,000 stalls at Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Where to shop in Thailand
The best of Bangkok shopping?
You could spend the rest of your life shopping in Bangkok, no joke. As such, nothing we say could come close to the extreme level of expertise available in Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok (a labour of love that her team have continually updated over 27 [!!!] editions). On your Kindle, refer to Bangkok Shopping Made Easy.
Koh Samui shopping
As for Koh Samui, for the island’s very best shopping and souvenir ideas (and where to park your husband/person), The Koh Samui Guide – as always – is ready to help.
On a budget?
Jim Thompson silk products top our Thai wish-list, but there’s plenty of ‘looks silky-ish’ stuff available at market stalls, beach vendors and even Tesco. Choose between cushion covers, table mats and runners, bed spreads, etc.
For serious clothes shopping, you’ll find amazing boutiques pretty much everywhere – with particularly large selections in Bangkok and the Central department stores of any Central Festival mall (nation-wide locations include Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, etc).
Weird things to buy in Thailand?
The truly random and totally bizarre side of souvenir shopping. Of course, some of it’s crap, but that’s largely the delight in souvenirs, no? Rest assured, Thailand will happily sell you things – pretty things, shiny things, even 8-foot-tall scrap-metal robots – at every price level. As for carved trinkets, you’re in the right place. Find soap carvings, leather carvings… every kind of carvings.
Put it in your pocket: Baggu pocket shopping bag
Night markets are an obvious choice – but don’t skip your hotel gift shop. While the prices are never competitive, I’ve found some real treasures in Samui gift shops.
While you explore Thailand, look out for shops or products labelled “OTOP”. It’s short for “One Tambon (district) One Product”, and confirms that the item in question is hand-made in Thailand (not by a machine in China). If you leave your shopping to the very last minute, there’s a nice OTOP shop in the international departures terminal at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. Many emergency birthday presents have come from there.
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan both have shops that offer affordable custom jewellery designs, plus tons of suitably Thai pieces (elephants charms/pendants, etc).
Browsing… and bored boyfriends
In general, if you love clothes shopping, I recommend you give yourself plenty of time just to browse. What about your bored boy-person? Most Thai malls have movie theatres inside and play current Hollywood releases, so it’s easy to keep unenthusiastic shopping buddies entertained while you take a few hours to browse.
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Photos without Koh Samui Sunset watermark used under license from Shutterstock