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.
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.
Just you + an empty suitcase?
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. Here’s how:
#1. 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.
#2. Your ultimate guide to Thailand’s dress code
I 100% guarantee 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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. 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. I also avoid buying fake sunglasses – Thailand’s sunshine means business! Bring quality sunglasses with genuine UVA/B protection for your pretty little eyeballs.
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.
TIP! Is this your first trip to Thailand? Take all the stress out of your planning and prep – find out how to prepare to Thailand.
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.
Koh Samui and Koh Phangan both have shops that offer affordable custom jewellery designs, plus tons of suitably Thai pieces (elephants charms/pendants, etc).
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.
Where’s best to browse?
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 (notably at Zazen, SALA Samui and Banyan Tree Resort).
TIP! 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.
#5. Thai silk
Thai silk scarf + the best makeup to wear in Thailand
Where to buy Thai silk?
The very best Thai silk comes from Jim Thompson shops, with locations throughout Thailand.
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
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.
#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. To get the most of your time in the city, you can rely utterly on Nancy Chandler’s fantastic and very shoppable Map of Chiang Mai.
TIP! 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). Get outfit ideas for what to wear at night in Thailand – mosquitoes and humidity and all.
#7. 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.
#8. Thai alcohol
Koh Samui vs Phuket: Phuket’s Chalong Bay rum vs Koh Samui’s Magic Alambic rum
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)
Art: 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
[Clockwise from top: coconut wood tray, coconut wood swizzle sticks, coconut candle, coconut oil and coconut shampoo. Coconut bath products are widely available, but make sure to bring these toiletries from home.]
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. Stock up on:
- Coconut oil (food grade or external use)
- Coconut oil hair products
- Coconut oil soap and bath products
#11. Everything else coconut
[Hanging coconut decorations]
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
[Bamboo oil diffusers]
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
[Thai curry packets from Samui – get more island food and shopping tips in The Koh Samui Guide]
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
[Terra cotta Thai 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)
[Clockwise from top left: mini temple bells, carved soap – yep, that’s *actually* soap, fuzzy keychains and stone mortal and pestles]
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.
TIP! 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.
Shopping in Thailand: Your survival kit
How to stay comfortable?
Let’s hear it: What’s 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.
How to beat the heat (and mosquitoes)?
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 headquarters). Here’s what to stash in your bag for that inevitable moment when you’re going to melt and die and evaporate all at once:
What to pack in your purse/handbag?
Put it in your pocket: Baggu pocket shopping bag
We’ve included a Pacsafe bag and RFID-blocking wallet in our suggestions above (the latter clips into the former). 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 busy spots like Bangkok’s main temples.
Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui shopping?
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 she and her daughter continually updated over 27 [!!!] editions). On your Kindle, refer to Bangkok Shopping Made Easy.
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. Her Map of Chiang Mai will take you from teak to temple to Thai handicrafts.
[Koh Samui Airport boutique]
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.
Let’s answer the rest of your Thailand questions…
- Packing: How to prepare for Thailand?
- Night markets: What to wear at night in Thailand?
- Boutique hotels: Where to stay in Thailand?
Photos without Koh Samui Sunset watermark used under license from Shutterstock