Thailand has become one of the most popular shopping destinations in Asia, offering the convenience of browsing in modern, air-conditioned malls as well as the thrill of discovering bargains in atmospheric markets known mainly to locals.
Fine handicrafts are traditional to the country, and many of the most popular items are created in small cottage industries, employing skills handed down for generations. Others are produced in factories boasting the latest in advanced technology and quality control. Both are distinguished by the superb craftsmanship that makes a “Made in Thailand” purchase something special to treasure for years to come.
Thai silk is famous throughout the world and few visitors will want to leave with out baying some of this lustrous handwoven fabric. Originally used mainly for clothing, it now comes in heavier weights and is finding widespread popularity in household furnishing for draperies and upholstery.
RATTEN AND WICKERWORK
Furniture made in Thailand from rattan and wicker, now exported to many countries throughout the world, is ideal for lending a light, tropical touch to a room. In addition to the high quality of their workmanship, local artisans have also become renowned for their ability to reproduce classic European designs in these materials as well as for original creations.
COTTON AND BATIK
Thai cotton, once rarely seen outside the country, is gaining international reknown because of its supple texture and durability. It now comes in as broad a range of colors and prints as silk, often adorned with delicate embroidery, and is used for both clothing and household items like bedspreads, table linen, cushion covers, and rugs
Among the specialty cotton goods that are attracting increasing interest are those made by the hill tribes of the north, with bold designs and a lavish use of the north, with bold designs and a lavish use of fine embroidery. In addition several studios, mainly in Bangkok, specialize in original batik designs on both cotton and silk.
CREATIONS OF SHELL
Some of the greatest works of traditional Thai art have employed the craft of fashioning intricate designs from bits of mother-of-pearl, embedded in a lacquer surface. This skill is still very much alive and is displayed on many items such as trays, picture frames, carved wooden animals, and furniture.
GEMS AND JEWELRY
Exceptional gem bargains can be found in Thailand, not only in such native stones as rubies, sapphires both blue and black, zircons, garnets, and turquoise but also imported ones brought here for cutting and setting by local artisans. The creation of fine jewelry in distinctive setting is one of the fastest-growing new Thai industries and many international connoisseurs now come here especially to add pieces to their collection; most shop have a wide selection of original items and can also make others to specific designs supplied by the customer.
GOLD AND SILVER
Gold prices are fixed in Thailand, the ultimate cost of an ornament depending on the workmanship, and since the latter is relatively inexpensive there are excellent bargains in gold chains, earrings, bracelets, pendants, and other such items, all delicately handcrafted. Most Bangkok goldsmiths are concentrated in the Yaowarat area, Known as the capital’s Chinatown, but every jewelry shop has a selection of pieces.
Silver, too, is a good buy, either made into fashion accessories or in the form of bowls and tableware. Chiang Mai a long tradition of producing handsome silver bowls with raised designs and the northern hill tribe people are masters at the craft of making heavy, ornate silver jewelry.
ARTIFICIAL PLANTS AND FLOWER
Another of Thailand’s rapidly growing new industries in the manufacture and export of artificial plants and flower. Entirely made by hand, these are sometimes faithful replicas and sometimes-original creations: in either case they make a decorative addition to the home and are far less expensive than similar items from other countries.
Among the most unusual are dolls in the elaborate costumes of the Thai classical dance, while there are others in typical hill-tribe and Thai farmer’s attire. Many companies also manufacture high quality children’s toys that meet the strictest international safety requirements.
An original painting form a lasting remainder of Thailand, and many shops offer works by local artists, some depicting familiar Thai scenes and others highly modernistic in nature. A number of artists also specialize in reproductions of traditional mural and manuscript paintings in classic Thai style. When making such as a purchase, art lovers should remember that local framing is inexpensive and of high quality.
Fine ceramics were produced for export in Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, over 700 years ago and the craft is still practiced today in several parts of the country. Sea-green celadon is available in a wide variety of forms, ranging from dinner sets to elegant vases and lamp bases, and other traditional glazes are also used. Several kilns near Bangkok turn out excellent reproductions of blue-and-white porcelains, as well as handsome glazed water jars and garden seats that make striking conversation pieces black home.
A traditional craft of southern Thailand, nielloware is the art of applying etched designs on silver or gold receptacles. For centuries artisans have used this technique to produce beautiful trays, boxes, vases, and other objects and these are still available to day at shops in Bangkok and in the south, particularly the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Thailand’s high-quality bronzeware has long been a favourite item for visiting shoppers. Produced by traditional techniques yet employing an number of modern innovations like a silicon coat to prevent tarnishing, this craft is employed on bowls and cutlery guaranteed to provoke admiration at a dinner party back home, as well as on large, striking figures, both animal and human, ideal for home decorations.
A northern craft particularly popular in Chiang Mai, lacquerware is used for boxes, bowls, trays, and countless other items that brighten a room and serve as a souvenir of a visit to Thailand. While in Chiang Mai, be sure to go to a factory and view the painstaking process by which each item is produced.
READY- TO -WEAR GARMENTS
Ready -to-wear clothing is a booming industry n Thailand, producing garments that turn up not only in local shops and department stores but also in many foreign countries. In its early years the industry concentrated mostly on such basic items as T- shirts and jeans (often sold abroad under top designer labels); more recently, though, local designers have been offering collections that meet international standards of both workmanship and fashion originality. Boutiques in every shopping mall sell such good, and vendors in most markets offer cheaper versions.
In recent years, Thai craftsmen have turned their skills to the production of a broad range of leather goods, with the result that shops selling such products can be found all over the country. The most popular items are jackets, footwear, belts, handbags, and various accessories. Leather clothing and shoes can be custom made in a number of places.
WHERE TO SHOP
Shoppers in Bangkok have a wide choice of areas in which to pursue their search of bargains, most of them located within walking distance of major ho
One such area, for example, is along Silom and Suriwong Roads (Patpong Night Market) in the vicinity of the Dusit Thani, Montien, and Tawana Sheraton Hotels, This includes Robinson’s Department Store, the Charn Issara Shopping Center, dozens of silk shops, Antique and decorative reproduction shops, boutique of ready-to- wear women’s clothes, men’s tailors and shops selling leatherwear and other goods.
From the Ratchaprasong intersection, near the Meridien President Hotel, it is but a short walk to the Amarin Plaza shopping Center and Central Department Store in one direction, to Naraiphan Pavilion the official handicraft Center, Ratchadamri Arcade and Daimaru Department Store in another, and to the Peninsula Arcade and Galleries Lafayette in a third.
Air-conditioned shopping centers outside the areas mentioned above include the Oriental Plaza, in an atmospheric old building that has been remodeled; the River City Shopping Complex, adjacent to the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, where two floors are devoted to shops selling antiques and decorative items; Siam Center, near the Seam Intercontinental Hotel, which contains numerous fashionable boutiques; and Ma Boon Krong, a teeming emporium that contains hundreds of shops as well as the Tokyu Department Store and that is a particular favorite with younger Thais.
As comfortable as these centers are, any serious shopper will also want to explore some of the city’s markets for their colorful atmosphere and generally lower prices. Pratunam, near the Indra Hotel, specializes in ready-to -wear clothing of all kinds. In the older section of town, at the corner of Phahurat and Chakraphet, is the Phahurat Cloth Market, where locals go for textile bargains, while Sampheng Lane and Yaowarat, both in Chinatown, have countless shops selling gold, jewelry, cooking utensils, and other items.
The biggest market of all, and the most fascinating, is the Chatuchak Weekend Market, held on Saturday and Sunday at Chatuchak Park, not far from the Central Plaza Hotel. Here just about everything Thailand makes or grows is on sale, from blue-and -white porcelain to hybrid orchids, and huge crowds come to buy o r just to enjoy the ambiance.
Outside Bangkok, the main city for shopping is Chiang Mai, the unquestioned center of traditional Thai handicrafts. The Night Bazaar, near the Chiang Inn and the Suriwong Hotel, is a good place to sample the full range of local products such as cotton, lacquerware, silver, hilltribe clothing, Burmese tapes-tries, painted umbrellas, and woodcarvings. While in Chiang Mai, make a point of going to some of the factories that offer demonstrations of how these goods-particularly lacquer, silk, silver, and paper umbrellas-are actually made.
Patttaya also has many shops selling Thai goods and a particularly wide selection of precious and semi-precious stones since the popular resort lies near Chanthaburi, where numerous gem menes are located.
Department stores and a number of shops in Bangkok have fixed prices, but at most of the others bargaining is acceptable and expected; even some department stores will offer a discount on expensive items like jewelry and fine furniture.
WHY SHOP IN THAILAND?
There is more to shopping in Thailand than just acquiring a souvenir of a souvenir of a visit to this exotic land. The high quality of workmanship, together with the comparatively low prices for even really special purchases, gives it an edge over most other countries in the region. Whatever your shopping goals something for the home, a personal item, a truly distinctive gift-Thailand is the place to find satisfaction.