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Thailand_ What to Buy ?

There are almost innumerable products to select from when shopping in Thailand, from international brand name products to hand made crafts.  Many visitors are particularly interested in shopping for Thai antiques; Thai arts & crafts, including paintings, wood carvings, handicrafts, lacquerware, nielloware, pewterware, and Thai dolls & toys; artificial flowers and live orchids; and rattan & wickerwork accessories, such as furniture.  

Other favorites for those on a Thailand shopping holiday or simply looking for bargains while souvenir shopping in Thailand include apparel & accessories, Thai gems, jewelry, gold & silverware, clothing and leather goods, and various fabrics, such as the world famous Thai silk.

Products:

Products for sale in Thailand include: Antiques, Arts & Crafts, including Paintings, Wood Carvings, Handicrafts, Lacquerware, Nielloware, Pewterware, and Thai dolls & toys; Artificial Flowers and Live Orchids; Rattan & Wickerwork accessories as well as furniture; Apparel & Accessories, such as Jewelry, Gems, Gold & Silverware; clothing and leather goods; and various fabrics, such as the world famous Thai silk.

Antiques: While the term “antique” generally refers only to goods more than a century old, the term is used a bit more casually in Thailand. When shopping in Thailand, visitors should be aware that while there are some excellent, genuine antiques, there are also many replica antiques both surreptitiously passed off as the real things and honestly made for the purpose of seeming antique. It should be known that a genuine Thai antique requires permission from the Department of Fine Arts prior to export out of Thailand, though reputable Thai antique dealers can assist with the paperwork.Thai, Burmese, Khmer, and Chinese antiques are commonly found in Thai antique shops, typically located in Bangkok, particularly around the River City Shopping Complex on New Road. There are monthly Thai antique auctions held at River City on the first Saturday of every month. For additional information about the restrictions regarding the export of Thai antiques, contact the Thailand Antique Art Business Division (Tel: 66(0)2-224-1370) of the Fine Arts Department.

Painting: Thailand has a rich painting history that can be appreciated by visiting any number of Buddhist temples, the interiors of which are typically pained with murals. Those looking to purchase works by Thai painters can find both traditional and modern themes, and may also commission Thai artists to paint custom made pieces. One popular practice is to provide a portrait or photograph to a Thai painter, who can then produce a likeness on canvas. These painters can often be found in popular tourist destinations including Koh Samui and Phuket.

Thai Wood Carving:Thai wood carving is a traditional technique handed down through the generations since the Sukhothai period, over 700 years ago. Thai’s have become accomplished at wood carving in four different categories: furniture, household utensils, decorative objects, and souvenir products. As Thais have some spectacular hardwoods, notably teak, and Thai houses were traditionally built of wood, Thai craftsmen throughout the kingdom have become adept at carving nearly everything out of high quality wood. The most skilled craftsmen outside of Bangkok are found in the northern provinces of Lampang, Phrae, Nan, and Chiang Mai.

Thai Handicrafts:Thai handicrafts are some of the most popular souvenir products from Thailand. Many are small and inexpensive and as such make excellent gifts that are easy to pack. Thai and tribal handicrafts are traditional Thai products that have survived generations of modernization thanks to tourism. Most Thai handicrafts are produced in the north of Thailand around Chiang Mai, which is the ideal place to purchase such goods, although street markets from Bangkok to Samui will sell nearly the same variety of goods (at slightly higher rates.) It should also be noted that Thai handicrafts come in a various levels of quality and some larger department stores and boutique shops in Chiang Mai or Bangkok will sell some exquisite handicrafts that are priced accordingly. Meanwhile, many less expensive handicrafts, often of amazingly high quality in comparison to their prices, are actually produced in neighboring Myanmar (Burma), Laos, China, and Vietnam.

Thai Lacquerware:A unique Thai product, Lacquerware, consists of bowls, boxes, trays, vases and numerous other shiny, intricately decorated objects. Producing these articles is done with an age-old process that many visitors enjoy seeing as much as they enjoy purchasing the finished products. Lacquerware items are made of flimsy wood or woven bamboo frames that are coated in several layers of liquid lacquer made from the sap of a tree, which make the ware flexible but firm. Intricate hand-crafted designs, typically of shiny gold, red, yellow, and green are added throughout the multi-stage process. These unique items, created predominately in and around Chiang Mai, can be purchased throughout the kingdom.

Nielloware:Nielloware is a unique Thai handicraft that originated in Nakorn Si Thammarat, in the south of Thailand not far from Phuket. Nielloware goods are made of gold or silver, which are then intricately etched and filled in with an alloy of lead, silver, copper, and sulfur. This niello makes the surface smooth and shiny, a process that is applied to objects from serving trays and vases to small boxes and tea sets.

Pewterware:Thailand is renowned for producing some of the finest pewter goods in the world. Plates, vases, flasks, and other goods consist of 97% tin and 3% antimony and are typically decorated with relief decoration featuring Thai themes.

Thai dolls & toys:Traditional Thai dolls are typically modeled on classical Thai dancers, hill tribe minorities, and rural Thai farmers. These and other plush Thai dolls are typically made to meet international safety standards. Puppets modeled on similar types of people as well as characters from the Thai version of the Hindu epic Ramayana are also popular decorative toys. Artificial Flowers:Artificial flowers made of silk, plastic, or even soap are skillfully produced by Thai artisans and are designed to decorate homes or act as clothing accessories. They can be purchased throughout the kingdom.Rattan & Wickerwork:Rattan, bamboo, sedge, and bulrush are plants that have been traditionally used to produce furniture, baskets, hats, and floor mats in Thailand. Yan lipao is a fern/vine from the south of Thailand that is particularly popular for producing high quality hand-bags, hats, and picture frames. For both simplicity and strength, these natural products have been popular with Thais for centuries and continue to be popular among visiting shoppers today.

Thai Electronics:Thailand is a major manufacturer of electronic equipment, including computer and camera accessories, all of which are commonplace in Thai shops and stores. From Panthip Plaza to MBK, there are entire floors of stores in Bangkok devoted to selling electronic goods. While there are certainly good deals to be had on quality electronic goods, buyers should be aware that there are also many counterfeit products, such as iPods and DVDs. While selecting off-brand goods (often produced in China) can seem incredibly cheap, like inexpensive counterfeit products these are typically produced with inferior parts and workmanship and will not have valid warrantees. Similarly, there are no guarantees for counterfeit CDs and DVDs, which, while nearly ubiquitous in Thailand, are both illegal to purchase in Thailand and import into many citizen’s home countries.

Computers:While computer accessories, such as solid-state “flash” drives and memory card readers, can be purchased for very low prices, computer hardware, such as notebook computers, are typically not less expensive than in Singapore or many western countries, particularly the United States. However, custom built desktop computers can be purchased for very reasonable prices at venues such as Bangkok’s Panthip Plaza and Fortune Town. Buyers should be aware that computers purchased in Thailand are often bundled with unregistered copies of Windows and other software. As many of the components of desktop computers are manufactured in Thailand, such home-made computers are far cheaper than buying pre-assembled computers in other countries.

Thai silk:Perhaps as well known as Thai food or beaches, Thai silk is an iconic Thai product, made world famous by American CIA agent/silk pioneer Jim Thompson in the wake of World War II. Its high quality, unique designs, and affordability makes Thai silk one of the top shopping items for visitors to Thailand. Thai silk scarves and ties are common souvenirs, although silk material for dress-making is quite popular as well. While some try to pass off synthetic materials as 100% silk, genuine Thai silk is quite common and affordable. There are even many places around Thailand that visitors can observe the process of silk production and purchase hand-made and naturally dyed Thai silk products, particularly around Chiang Mai and northeastern Thailand.

Thai Cottons & Batik:Hand woven Thai cotton cloth has become almost as renowned as Thai silk, owing to its durability and flexibility. Thai cotton is used to create clothing, bed linens, table linens, rugs, bags, and other household items. Hill tribe and batik designs are also immensely popular, with each province of Thailand producing its own unique styles and products.

Mudmee (tie-dyed) Silk:Mudmee is a unique style of Thai silk, produced in the northeastern Thai provinces. Mudmee silk is produced from tie-dyed silk threads, which are hand woven in unique designs featuring intricate patterns of color. The Mudmee style is specific to northeastern Thailand and the Queen of Thailand has developed the production of this Thai craft to promote rural development; Mudmee silk is regularly worn by members of the royal family.

Thai Orchids:Thailand is well known for the immense variety of orchids that grow throughout the kingdom. The beauty of the Thai orchid’s colors and the durability of the plants make them popular souvenirs for visitors wishing to take home a piece of Thailand. Thai orchids for export come specially packaged with an internal water supply so that they can travel safely and remain fresh.

Thai Jewelry:Thailand is a major exporter of gems and jewelry and Bangkok has become one of the major global centers for cutting and setting gemstones. Consequently, those in the know should have an excellent opportunity for purchasing high quality gemstones and jewelry. Most of Thailand’s gold shops are found in Chinese districts, the largest being Yaowarat in Bangkok. Thai gold is very yellow, owing to its high level of purity, and Thai gold jewelry is quite inexpensive as the labor costs are quite low. Larger department stores and reputable jewelry shops are certainly the safest places to buy Thai jewelry so be advised: if shopping at smaller shops or on the recommendation of a new “friend” or tuk-tuk driver, there are plenty of con-artists working the Thai jewelry and gem business.

Thai Gems:Thailand is a major exporter of gems and Bangkok has consequently become one of the major global centers for cutting and setting gemstones. Those with knowledge about Thai gems or who follow proper precautions should have excellent opportunities for purchasing high quality gemstones. Thai gems that you are likely to get good deals on are sapphires, rubies, and jade, though individuals with little experience appraising the quality and cut of gems should beware. To be safe you should only buy Thai gems from well-reputed dealers who are registered with the Jewel Fest Club or the Thai Gem and Jewellery Traders Association (TGJTA). Furthermore, you can bring your Thai gems to the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences to have them authenticated and graded.

Gold:Thai gold jewelry and ornaments are reasonably priced in Thailand particularly because Thai labor costs are quite low. Thai gold is typically bought and sold in Bangkok’s Yaowarat (Chinatown), where dozens of gold shops line the main boulevard. Prices are based on "Baht" weight (one baht weighing approximately .53 troy ounces) and the quality of workmanship necessary to craft the piece. Thai gold chains, earrings, bracelets, pendants, and other delicate hand-crafted items sell for reasonable rates even at the most upscale outlets, which are fine places to purchase such goods as they come with guarantees of authenticity.

Silverware:Silverware making in Thailand dates back centuries and is world renowned for its high quality craftsmanship. Thai silverware, including ornaments, is typically sterling silver (92.5% pure) as regulated by the Thai government to satisfy international clientele. Silverware is most commonly found in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.Thai

Clothing:Thailand is a major international center for garment manufacturing, including many international brands. Consequently purchasing quality clothing, particularly Thai brands, is much more affordable than buying similar products in other countries. While jeans and t-shirts are products that are easy to find and inexpensive to purchase, so too are fashionable Thai clothing lines. Unique t-shirts are often for sale at local night markets, traditional Thai clothing is available in the Northern provinces, and Thai and international brands are available in major department stores and shopping malls in the major tourist destinations.

Tailor made clothes:Getting tailor made clothes is very easy in Thailand as there are numerous tailors in nearly every tourist destination down to the smallest and most remote beaches. While visiting a Thailand tailor can be a great opportunity to have some properly fitted clothes made, even those that mimic your favorite international designer clothing, buyers should beware. There are numerous issues to worry about when selecting a tailor, many of whom are unscrupulous bargainers, offering lesser quality material as “the best” and assuring you that a three piece suit can be made in a day. Even if you have adequate time, some of the most well known tailors commonly use slip-shod construction techniques whereby suits become unglued after several months of use. There are some decent tailors in Thailand, though they are few and far between. While prices can be quite cheap, just remember that you are likely to get what you paid for. Shop around, inspect the stitching and material of clothing they are currently working on, and make sure you have adequate time for numerous fittings.

Thai Leather Goods:Shoes, jackets, belts, handbags, wallets, and luggage made of Thai leather are commonly found and are very reasonably priced. The quality of workmanship is quite high and it’s easy to get custom-made orders filled. In fact, many brand name leather products at shopping malls in Thailand are made in Thailand, exported abroad, and then imported for resale. If you are savvy, you can get the same quality Thai leather goods at a better price if you cut out the middle man.

Thai Furniture:Alongside Bali, Thailand has become a top destination for those looking for custom made and pre-made furniture. Both rattan and rosewood are particularly popular, as are antique pieces. At the MBK Center in Bangkok and at various locations around Chiang Mai, Thai furniture can be purchased or custom ordered by dealers knowledgeable in shipping such products overseas. For more distinctly Thai styles and more reasonable prices, furniture shoppers need to travel to more remote provinces, such as Tak.Thai Ceramics:Thai ceramics, both uniquely Thai in origin and of Chinese influence, have long been a part of Thai artistic culture. Consequently, Thai ceramics are highly sought after by shoppers who recognize the high quality and affordable prices of these distinctly Thai products. Both traditional and contemporary designs are available, as are custom made pieces. Green celadon and five colored celadon from the Sukhothai area (known as Benjarong) are especially popular with ceramics aficionados. Thai ceramics include vases, lamp bases, souvenir articles, and dinner and tea sets.