Shopping in Thailand can be nothing short of enjoyable and rewarding, especially when you consider that the country is quickly becoming recognised as one of the best places to shop in all of South East Asia.
If a bit of retail therapy is what you are looking for during your visit to the Land of Smiles then you could be positively spoilt for choice with the huge selection of shopping malls, retail outlets and department stores, as well as small independent shops, heaving night bazaars and what seems like thousands upon thousands of street vendors or roadside stalls.
Generally speaking, it is also much cheaper to buy goods in Thailand than it is in the west; therefore, it is a great place to grab yourself a bargain or two, whilst you are visiting the country. That said, when you go shopping in Thailand you will no doubt want to make sure that you do not feel like you are being ripped off or that you are not getting good value for your Baht.
Speaking the Lingo
When shopping in Thailand it can enhance your experience and increase the chances of you grabbing even more bargains if you can speak a little bit of Thai. That doesn’t mean to say that you need to be fluent or even have a good understanding of the language but learning a few phrases that can be used when you go shopping will not only be appreciated by the shop assistant or street vendor but speaking a bit of Thai could also put you in a more favourable position when it comes to bargaining.
However, don’t be worried too much about speaking Thai; all we are saying is that it could be beneficial for you to do so. Also, many people who live in popular tourist destinations, such as Koh Samui will probably be able to speak some basic English and if they are a street vendor or work in a shop, the chances are they will almost certainly know phrases or sentences that relate to shopping.
If you are looking for a particular item when you are out shopping then it could be a good idea to carry a small Thai dictionary or Thai phrase book with you, just in case you have difficulty remembering or pronouncing what it is you are looking for. Alternatively, you could just resort to hand signals or pointing but this can be long winded, frustrating and is less likely to be appreciated by the local traders.
Here are a few common phrases that could be useful when you are shopping in Thailand:
(Remember to end the phrase or sentence with “ka” if you are a woman and “khap” if you are a man).
“tow rai” – How much is this?
“kor doo dai mai” – Can I have a closer look?
“mee eek mai – Do you have any more?
“pairng mahk” – That is too expensive!
“mai ow” – I do not want one
“lot rah-kah dai mai” – Can you give me a discount?
Haggling and Bartering
Paying a visit to any of the famous night markets that can be found throughout Thailand is a great way to get a taste of real Thai culture and of course, is the place to be in order to find that star bargain. However, you should be aware that you are more likely to find a bargain or two if you are prepared to haggle and negotiate over the price.
Haggling, bartering, negotiating or whatever else you want to call it, over the price of goods, especially when shopping at markets or buying from street traders, is commonplace in Thailand. So much so, that market stall owners and traders would think it was a little strange if you didn’t try to haggle over the price of whatever it was you were trying to buy.
The whole concept of haggling for goods might seem a little strange at first and some people are definitely better at haggling and bartering than others! However, Thailand’s night markets provide the perfect place to practice and once you get a bit more experience in the art of negotiation, the whole process of haggling can make for a fun and thoroughly enjoyable shopping trip.
When you first start out haggling and negotiating for goods, always remember to be polite at all times and don’t forget to smile. By doing both of these things the market stall holder or street vendor might take somewhat of a shine to you, thus, increasing your chances of getting a discounted price.
When it comes to actually talking about prices, it can also be a good idea to go in at half the amount of whatever price the vendor has quoted you for the goods in question. Even though the vendor will probably not be prepared to sell any of their goods for half the quoted price, by doing this it will give you plenty of room for negotiation, until you can agree on a price that represents good value and fair deal for all concerned.
On the odd occasion where you fail to reach an agreement with a market trader, then it can be a good idea to start to walk away in the hope that this will persuade them to meet your demands over whatever it is you are looking to buy. Sometimes this technique works and other times it doesn’t, either way, it is nearly always worth giving it a try.
As mentioned, Thailand’s night markets are a great place to go shopping, not only because the goods that are sold there are generally very cheap but also the variation of different goods almost leaves you spoilt for choice and it is often said that you can literal buy almost anything at a night market in Thailand.
Typically, markets in Thailand can be a great place to purchase everyday products for the home such as kitchenware, electrical goods and cleaning products. However, markets often sell so much more including things like spare parts for motorbikes and cars, clothes, footwear, DIY tools, cosmetics, food, children’s toys, pets and even some exotic animals!
They can also be the place to be pickup some traditional Thai handicrafts and other goods that can make great souvenirs or gifts for you to take back home.
Learn more about Koh Samui’s local markets
Watch Out For Counterfeit Merchandise
Aside from the all the fun and great bargains that can be found at markets in Thailand, visitors should also be aware that some market traders will sell counterfeit or fake merchandise such as Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton hand bags and Ray Ban sunglasses, just to name a few.
Many of these fake products are very well made and to look at them you would hardly be able to tell the different between the real things. A good thing to remember with regards to designer or brand name products that can be at many night markets is with regards to the price and if it is too good to be true, then it probably is! A Rolex watch or a designer handbag that costs around 1000 Baht is not going to be the genuine thing, even though it will probably look almost identical to one of the real products.
Very often, the reality with these sorts of products is that they might look like the real deal but they will probably only work for a few weeks before it either falls apart or breaks. That not to say you shouldn’t purchase a designer handbag or pair of sunglasses from a market in Thailand, just don’t expect it to last very long!
Pirated DVD’s or CD’s also other things that are commonly found throughout many markets in Thailand. Sometimes you can get the very latest movies before they have been officially released on DVD. It is very often hit and miss when it comes to guaranteeing the quality of these DVD’s. Sometimes they will work and other times they won’t, sometimes the quality will be good, other times it will be really bad.
There are meant to be strict laws regarding selling copyrighted material in Thailand and if you do end up buying any counterfeit merchandise from a market or night bazaar, technically you are breaking the law. However, these laws are seldom enforced and often the authorities turn a blind eye. Thousands of tourists every year return home from Thailand with stacks of copied DVD’s, a fake designer handbag and pair of gleaming Ray Ban sunglasses that cost them about 500 Baht!
Don’t let the idea of counterfeit or fake goods put you off visiting or buying anything from a market in Thailand. These sorts of things only account for a small percentage of the products that are available to buy there as many markets are absolutely packed with a wide variety of things that can make for really interesting and unusual souvenirs, such as Thai antiques, traditional silk, crafts, jewellery and spices.
Shopping Malls and Department Stores
Away from the traditional markets or night bazaars, Thailand has some of the largest and modern shopping centres, retail outlets and department stores in the entire region, especially in Bangkok and other popular destinations such as Koh Samui, Phuket and Pattaya.
Most of these shopping malls and outlets have the latest designer clothing and electrical products from many of the world’s leading manufacturers. When shopping in a mall in Thailand it is unlikely that you will be able to haggle or barter over the price of an item like you can when shopping at a market. However, goods in Thailand, even in the shopping malls are likely to be much cheaper than they are at home.
This can often be due to the fact many clothes stores regularly seem to hold sales or promotions where sometimes an item could be reduced by as much as 50 to 75%. Other promotions could include things like ‘buy two get one free’ or t-shirts or shorts. A lot of these types of sales or promotions happen when in it is the low season in the tourist areas, so look out for the ‘sale’ signs when you visit a shopping mall.
Shopping in a mall in Thailand is also a good way of making sure that you are purchasing genuine products and not the counterfeit or copies that are available at the markets.
Popular Thai Souvenirs
Amongst the fake Ray Bans and Lacoste polo shirts, shopping in Thailand provides a great opportunity for you to buy some pretty amazing and authentic souvenirs, which can make perfect presents for friends and family or as a special treat for yourself.
Here is a low down on some of the things you might be interested in buying as souvenirs or gifts during your stay in Thailand:
Silk – Probably the most famous of all of Thailand’s exports, you will be hard pressed to find a better selection of silk products anywhere in the world. Choose from an array of different colours, patterns and designs. Thai silk can make a wonderful souvenir or gift and probably the most famous name (and outlet) associated with silk in Thailand is Jim Thompson, whose shop in Bangkok and at Koh Samui airport is well worth visiting.
Clothes – Thai people love shopping for clothes and fashion accessories at markets and shopping malls. With Thailand being one of the leading manufacturers of clothes, it is easy to understand why every high street, market or shopping mall will have some sort of fashion boutique, stall or shop selling a wide range of clothing that will suit many different tastes and styles. Many designer or brand jeans, t-shirts and other garments are often much cheaper than they are in the West. You might also want to visit one Thailand’s famous tailors who will be able to fit you up with a suit, much cheaper than you could back home.
Furniture – Ok, so you probably won’t be able to fit this in your suitcase but don’t let this deter you from buying some magnificent rosewood, teak or rattan furniture, which Thailand is famous for. Some shops are able to arrange shipment to addresses overseas.
Gems – Thailand is widely regarded as the gemstone capital of the world. Be wary of anyone approaching you on the street trying to sell you gemstones, as it will probably be some sort of scam. However, once you find an official gem dealer or shop then you will be able to choose from a wide range of beautiful gems, many of which will be very reasonably priced.
Orchids – Beautiful Thai orchids look magnificent in any setting and Thailand is the world’s largest distributor of orchid flowers. Believe it or not, it is possible to take some back home with you. Orchids can be bought throughout Thailand and some places will even be able to package them especially so you can take them home. The special packaging even comes with its own water supply so that the flowers survive the flight home.