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Shopping

There are numerous good buys in Thailand, manufactured goods as well as handicrafts and arts. There is the world famous Thai silk, almost a must for any visitor.

Thailand is the worldís leading exporter of gem stones. There are semi-precious stones (opals, jades, topazes, turquoises, amethysts, zircons, etc.) and genuine precious stones (sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds) worked into jewelry in traditional Thai and modern designs.

Furthermore, the country offers good value in gold ornaments, gleaming silver and nielloware, bronzeware, pewterware, ceramics and specially high-fired celadon as well as wood carvings.

In termís of price, Bangkok is one of the most competitive cities in the region, if not the world. If one doesnít have too much time, hotel shopping arcades are the most convenient places for Bangkokís most popular buys. Unlike elsewhere hotel shops in Bangkok do not necessarily charge more than outside stores.

Those who are content with fakes of world famous brand name articles can find a wide selection on sidewalks in tourist areas. Fake designer clothes and fake watches dominate this part of shopping in Thailand.

Bargaining is possible at almost all shops except department stores, and it is necessary to get good prices. A discount of 10 to 20 percent on the first asked prices is almost self-understood. When shopping for gems, antiques or handicrafts, much bigger discounts are not unusual. The higher priced an item, the more is bargaining expected.

When bargaining, itís advisable to maintain a sense of humor. One sometimes has the impression that vendors see it as kind of a game. Establishing a friendly relationship with the vendor usually brings better result than a more formal approach. Bargaining in Bangkok is much more pleasant than for example in Hong Kong where storekeepers immediately build up pressure on the potential customer to buy an item for which the price has ben asked.

While in Hong Kong, nasty behavior of the shopkeeper is the rule when a customer doesnít buy even after the shop keeper has agreed to a possible price the potential buyer has carelessly mentioned, it is accepted in Bangkok that a client will say that he will just return and buy the next day when a price has been agreed upon. This leaves to the buyer the option of comparing again prices at other stores.

Itís a faulty Western perception that bargaining is a skill in which only Asians can reach perfection. The basis for any successful bargaining is to know prevailing prices for the item or items one wants. Only the buyer who knows the appropriate value of the items he wants to buy will be able to judge whether an offer is good and appropriate or an attempt to overcharge.

Obviously, the time short term visitors can spend on checking out prevailing prices for items they like is limited. Therefore it does happen time and again that visitors are taken advantage of and charged too high prices. In cases of gross overcharging, the Thai Tourist Police may be able to help.

Sales staff in tourist oriented shops but also at department stores in tourist areas usually speak enough English for normal transactions.

Personal checks are seldom honored. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and in shops that have window stickers, but cash is the more usual form of payment. For information on the risk of using credit cards, see the chapter Finance.

Numbers in brackets refer to locations as indicated in Bangkok maps (see Bangkok section).

Bangkok Shopping Areas

Depending on the items one wants to buy, the place to go to are markets, supermarkets, department stores or specialized shops. For fresh food, the best food as well as the best quality is found on markets. For low-tech household items and textiles, markets offer the best prices while the quality may often be less convincing. For shopping at open markets, it is advisable to wear old shoes as floors are often dirty, wet and slippery. Open markets are sometimes crowded and one can expect that possibly present pickpockets are attracted by foreigners more than by Thais, especially as they expect that foreigners watch their belongings less carefully than the locals.

Supermarkets are the place to go to for foods that need to be kept cool such as diary products and processed foods. Furthermore, imported foods are generally not available at open markets but only at supermarkets.

Department stores usually have the considerable advantage of shopping comfort as they have a good in-house selection and one can move around in their air-conditioned facilities without tiring as much as one would outside. One pays for this amenity through prices which are generally higher than in market areas. For imported household items as well as for large size garments and shoes department stores are the best places to go to.

Sukhumvit Road Area

While being the main tourist area as well as the preferred residential area for foreigners, the upper and middle Sukhumvit Road area (from Soi 2 to Soi 34) is not a major shopping district. Nevertheless, especially the stretch until Soi 13 has many sidewalk vendors for items usually bought by tourists, such as handicrafts and fake watches, fake designer clothes and other made in Thailand "brand name" fashion accessories. There is a branch of the Robinsonís Department Store chain, as well as a number of shops selling household items usually requested by foreign residents, such as rattan furniture. Furthermore, there are several supermarkets with especially good selections in Euro foods. Two big hotels, the Ambassador and the Landmark have large shopping arcades.

Phrakanong

In spite of its proximity to the main tourist area along Sukhumvit Road, this shopping district around Soi 71, Sukhumvit Road still caters almost exclusively to Thai households. There are several department stores, ATM , Asia , a wet market and shops for all kinds of daily needs. Prices are lower than at shopping districts such as Ploenchit Road or Siam Square. However, the selection of high quality products as well as garments in large sizes is limited. Nevertheless, we recommend the area especially for electronics. Foreign residents in the Sukhumvit Road area who try Phrakanong once are likely to go there more often than they might at first think. Attractive are not only the prices. The area is also easier to reach than downtown shopping districts as traffic is lighter. Those driving their own cars will also find parking space easier than in the Ploenchit Road and Siam Square areas.

Ploenchit Road Area

A modern shopping district between Sukhumvit Road and Siam Square. The area which is particularly easy to reach from Sukhumvit Road has a number of department stores, among them a large Central Department Store branch on Ploenchit Road, as well as the Rajaprasong Shopping Center. Further department stores are under construction. Like Siam Square itís a good area to shop for fashionable items as well as high quality or imported household items. Nearby hotels with shopping arcades are the President, the Regent and the New Imperial.

Narayanaphand

Narayanaphand on Rajadamri Road (and at Dindaeng near the Thai-Japanese Youth Center) has handicraft shops, many of them joint ventures with the Ministry of Industry. Visitors may inspect and buy handicrafts from all parts of the country. Items available include Thai silk, ceramics, wood carvings, lacquerware, bronze objects and Khon masks. The stores are open daily from 10:00 until 20:00. (Tel 252-4670 to 9)

Pratunam Market

This market near the Indra Hotel , on the corner of Petchburi Road and Rajaprarop Road, on both sides of Rajaprarop Road, is particularly noted for garments. Not only local users buy here but in substantial numbers exporters and wholesalers as well. The textile prices at Pratunam market are as low as one can get in Bangkok. Outside the actual market area, especially around the Indra Hotel can be found the shops and offices of many export companies, most of them concentrating on textiles. A large number of the wholesalers are Indians or Indian Thais.

Siam Square

A large modern shopping area around the intersection of Rama I Road and Phaya Thai Road. There are several very large department stores and shopping arcades, as well as numerous boutiques, especially inside the Siam Center shopping arcade. All in all, itís one of the best areas in town to buy fashionable items.

Silom Road / Rama IV Road Area

While the Silom Road area is the main business district of the Thai metropolis, itís not at the same time a major shopping area. Nevertheless, a number of art and antiques as well as jewelry shops are located there. There is a branch of the Robinsonís Department Store chain as well as a very tourist oriented night market at Patpong Road - otherwise rather known for trade in human flesh. Major hotels with shopping arcades are the Narai, Montien, Mandarin and Dusit Thani. The area doesnít have a reputation for low prices.

Samyan Market

This small market at Chulalongkorn Soi 42, off Rama IV Road (opposite Mandarin Hotel) is known for seafood and its many seafood restaurants.

Talaat Soi Bank (Soi Bank Market)

This market in a small Soi next to the Head Office of the Bangkok Bank on Silom Road doesnít have a particular large selection of anything available there but itís the only real market in the upper Silom Road area and therefore a natural choice for those working or staying in the vicinity. The market has a large and fairly pleasant food stall section which is frequented heavily during lunch time by the lower brass of employees of companies with their offices on Silom Road. Just as in any Thai market there are, aside from the food part, sections with cheap clothes as well as household products.

New Road Area

The huge exclusive River City Shopping Complex is a good place, at least to window shop for antiques and to get some basic ideas on prices. Whether one actually buys there will depend on whether one has to look at prices or can afford two blind eyes. Antiques traders certainly prefer up country places to shop. Prices as quoted at River City are rather for admirers of art than those who want to make some profit on it. Along New Road are a number of handicraft stores, many specializing in bronzeware. Those who want to buy bronzeware at good prices are advised to compare offers from the New Road area with those at the Chatuchak Weekend Market (see below). The selection at Chatuchak is bigger and the competition fierce. Actually, a number of firms which have shops in the New Road area and the Silom Road area also have branches at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, and it is easily possible that the same piece is priced considerably lower at their Chatuchak branch than at their New Road or Silom shop. There are also a number of jewelry shops in the New Road area (no branches at Chatuchak Weekend Market). The part of town actually is the center for the gem trade in Thailand though not for its density in jewelry shops but rather because a number of internationally active gem trading companies have their offices there. There are many more jewelry retailers in Chinatown, and prices there are definitely lower. On Silom Road, near the intersection with New Road, is a branch of the Central Department Store chain. Around the Oriental Hotel, many street hawkers offer fake watches and fake designer clothes as well as handicrafts typically fancied by tourists. The selection is pretty much the same as along the sidewalks of Sukhumvit Road, so there isnít really any sense in visiting the area if one stays along Sukhumvit Road.

Stamp Market

In front of the General Post Office [313] on New Road, stamp dealers set up their stalls every Sunday.

Bangrak Market

At this market on New Road (Charoen Krung) towards the bank of the Chao Phaya River, between Sathorn Roads and Silom Road, early shoppers can usually find uncommon meats such as mutton and lamb. Big hotels of the Silom Road area shop there.

Chinatown

While it certainly is not the most comfortable shopping district of Bangkok, it is nevertheless worth a visit even if one isnít interested in items bought cheaply there. The main roads of Chinatown are the New Road (Charoen Krung) and Yaowaraj Road. The most picturesque shopping street is Sampheng Lane (see below), parallel to Yaowaraj Road. While the amounts of merchandize in stock in many Chinese shops is amazing, the visitor may be disappointed when looking for items he would want to buy. Trade in Chinatown is oriented purely on the needs of locals. While there are a number of shops selling antiques and handicrafts, the selection isnít very convincing. In the contrary, many Chinese merchants trade in hardware and machinery - but which foreigner in Thailand is really searching for water pumps or building materials? The most interesting for foreign visitors are probably the jewelry and gold shops, easily recognized because they all seem to be decorated with red velvet and gold colored foils. Gold jewelry is sold by the weight, with a surcharge depending on the craftsmanship that went into forming the metal into rings, bracelets or other designs. From the Sukhumvit Road area, Chinatown is easily reached on the aircon bus No 1 which passes through Yaowaraj Road. Chinatown has a number of individually named shopping areas and markets, some of which are described below.

Sampheng Lane (Chinatown)

The lane (also known as Soi Wanit) is the most famous strip in Chinatown, and it is interesting for itís present day appearance as well as its social history. While today, itís a retail and wholesale area for the cheapest and most cheapish merchandize, it used to be the classical red light district of Bangkok, lined with brothels and related establishments. According to historical sources, the women were mainly Chinese. While today, the trade conducted in Sampheng Lane is more honorable, those searching for a special flair can still be satisfied. The visitor will be amazed how crammed the lane is. In the shops, every available square centimeter is made use of, and at many places the displayed merchandize extends well into the lane. And still, there are street vendors setting up their suitcase shops in the middle of the lane. Delivery of merchandize is possible only on menís backs, and the shopper or strolling visitor is constantly rubbing not just shoulders but his whole body with the crowds passing through the lane. As the area is ideal for pickpockets, one may as well leave large amounts of cash and other valuables in the hotel safe or at home. Anyway, the foreign visitor will not find much he would want to buy there. Aside from kitchen and dining utensils of the lowest quality and admittedly the lowest prices, goods to be found along Sampheng Lane are stationery, lowest quality toys, cheap clothes and textiles, fabrics and almost anything in haberdashery, as well as Chinese religious items, much of it made of plastic and foils - in the usual prevailing Chinese colors of gold and red. The lane is more crowded on weekends than during weekdays, though traffic on the route from the Sukhumvit or Silom Road areas is lighter on weekends. Sampheng Lane is easily reached from the Sukhumvit Road area on aircon bus No 1 which passes through Yaowaraj Road. Coming from Sukhumvit Road, Sampheng Lane is about fifty meters parallel to Yaowaraj Road on the left side.

Talaat Kao / Old Market (Chinatown)

As the name indicates, this is an old market area, about 200 years of age. It is located right in the middle of Chinatown on the corner of Yaowaraj Road and Yaowaphanit Road, half way between Yaowaraj Road and Sampheng Lane. From other wet markets in the Thai metropolis, this one differs in the assortment of strange foods offered. At Talaat Kao one can convince oneself that no other people of the world finds as many organic substances usable as food as do the Chinese. For details, please refer to the part on Chinese cuisine in the chapter Cuisine. The strangest delicacies described there are readily available in the Chinese restaurants and food stalls around this market.

Nakhon Kasem (Chinatown)

This market in Chinatown between New Road (Charoen Krung), Yaowaraj Road, Chakrawat Road and Boriphat Road is traditionally known as Thieves Market because of its large selection of secondhand merchandize. Officially, most of the items are from pawn shops. While there are secondhand and outdated household appliances, the most interesting items are so-called antiques and Chinese and Thai art objects, including porcelain, brassware, copperware and furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Klong Thom (Chinatown)

This is a hardware market in Chinatown around Mahachak Road and Soi Chong Charoen Panich.

Pahurat Cloth Market

This is an Indian market on Pahurat Road in a part of town that could be described as Indiatown. It is located adjacent to Chinatown on the way to Wat Po. The market has mainly clothes, among them a wide selection of Sarongs from all over Asia. Aside from clothes there are textiles for linens and curtains, as well as tailoring accessories. There are also shops selling Indian spices, as well as a number of Indian restaurants and food stalls.

Ban Mo Market

This small market further on Pahurat Road in the direction of Wat Po has many silversmiths and jewelry supply shops as well as places selling all kinds of electronic accessories and disco equipment.

Pak Klong Talaat

This flower wholesale and retail market on Chakrapat Road near the bank of the Chao Phaya is known for low prices. Many flower retailers throughout Bangkok buy their stock here. Flowers are much cheaper in Thailand than in the West, and the per capita demand is probably one of the highest in the world. Thais love to decorate with flowers, and every market has one or several shops selling flowers. (For information on the Thai art of arranging flowers, please see the chapter Art & Culture earlier in this book.)

Lang Krasnang Market

This market on Atsadang Road, near the Khao San tourist area, specializes in second-hand goods which might or might not be from a thiefís or robberís loot. Officially, most of the items are from pawn shops. Nancy Chandlerís advice: "Go here to buy back any stolen goods."

Banglamphu Area

This shopping area in old downtown Bangkok used to be frequented solely by locals. However, especially young tourists are a common sight since the nearby Khao San area has developed into the principal site of traveler pension houses. While some goods can be found which appeal to foreign visitors, the selection of merchandize is still geared towards ordinary Thai households.

Thewet Market

This market on the bank of the Chao Phaya, off the intersection of Samsen Road and Krung Kasem Road , has a large selection of potted plants, pots and general garden and plant supply.

Talaat Bo Bae

This market near the intersection of Krung Kasem Road and Rama I Road is one more textile market with a large number of wholesalers.

Klong Toey Market

This market on Rama IV Road in the port district is particularly noted for low prices.

Talaat Penang (Penang Market)

South of Klong Toey Market, this market under the Expressway and close to the railway line is known for good value electrical equipment, bedding materials and clothings. Nancy Chandler, in her map on Bangkok, described Penang Market as follows: "All kinds of appliances, TVís, sound equipment, watches, canned foods, clothing, etc, etc at much lower prices than department stores. Of course it just happens to be close to the port. No further explanation is necessary." And the Travellerís Guide to Thailand, published by the local company Saen Sanuk, advices: "This [market] is chiefly for electrical goods that have mysteriously fallen overboard from the ships which come to the port."

Phahonyothin Road

This market on Phahonyothin Road near the Northern Bus Terminal is good for potted plants as well as pots. It also has a cheap fruit section.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

This huge weekend market on approximately 14 hectares (35 acres) opposite the Northern Bus Terminal on Phahonyothin Road is certainly the single best bet for anybody who wants to buy just anything at best prices. The market has everything for ordinary consumer needs, probably except imported and high quality electronic household items. It must be noted that it is also the best and cheapest place to buy handicrafts and other items tourists typically like to buy. Furthermore, local handicraft retailers as well as Thai and foreign exporters buy here.

As the market is just across the Northern Bus Terminal, small scale manufacturers from the North and Northeast drop in with their own products, bypassing wholesalers or established tourist retailers. Many businesses running handicraft shops in tourist areas of the Thai capital also have weekend branches at Chatuchak. This is especially the case for brass and bronze items. Nowhere else in the Thai capital is such a big concentration of brass and bronze shops as at Chatuchak Market, and because competition is fierce, one gets the lowest prices.

The market is a prime choice for tourists and locals alike. For the locals, there are large sections for cheap household products, fresh produce including a full selection of fruits, for clothes and other textiles as well as for pottery, plants and garden utensils.

There also is a pet section which however doesnít live up to the standards of humanity towards animals common in the West, and the best thing to show disapproval to the way animals are caged there is not to frequent this part of the market.

The Weekend Market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 7:00 to 18:00. Itís easy to reach from the Sukhumvit Road area on aircon bus No 13.

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