Travel in Thailand What To Buy & Shopping

Thailand is a great place for a holiday for many reasons but it could survive solely as a shopping destination as there is a huge range of places to go shopping and a huge range of products to buy. Remember this is Asia and at the weekends or whenever they have free time, Asians just love to shop.

All of the best shopping malls are in Bangkok, in fact the city is absolutely full of huge shopping malls. The most impressive of them all would have to be Paragon, located in Siam Square, in the heart of the city's shopping district. In the immediate area there are several impressive shopping malls but none as impressive as the gargantuan Paragon which friends from abroad have told me would hold its own against shopping malls the world over. Paragon is home to a huge department store of the same name along with a huge number of smaller stores including many high end fashion names from Europe and North America. The mall is home to a Ferrari dealer as well as dealerships offering Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche and the exotic German marques. It's all a little overwhelming! As with most shopping centres in Bangkok there is a huge cinema multiplex on the top floor and the centre is full of restaurants and a number of food courts. If you love to shop you could probably spend the best part of a day in there.

The other high end shopping centres in Bangkok are the recently renovated Central World Plaza, the Emporium, Gaysorn Plaza and Peninsula Plaza. You'll find the finest goods and fashions from all around the world in these shopping centres.

In the next tier of shopping centres you have the ever popular MBK, also known as Mahboonkrong, a very popular shopping centre in the heart of the city. I used to like MBK but these days I find it a bit manic for my liking. It is always packed with people and is popular with a younger crowd so you have lots of young Thais running around, yahooing and generally making a lot of noise. Combine that with the fact that the walkways in the shopping centre being narrow and congested then you have a shopping experience which is hardly relaxed. Perhaps a more relaxed shopping experience can be had at Central Chidlom, the flagship store of the Central Group. It is just one stop on the skytrain from Siam Square and is one of Thailand's best and most popular department stores. Frankly, there are too many shopping centres in Bangkok to mention!

A lot of the major European and American fashion brands have factories in Thailand making their clothes there and selling them in the department stores. Popular brands like Arrow, Yves Saint Laurent, Guy Laroche, John Henry, Camel to name but a few are all available at less than you would expect to pay for them at home. Thailand is a great place to stock up on your wardrobe and if you come from a place like England or New Zealand where getting decent fashionable clothes at reasonable prices isn't always easy, then you will find the Thai department stores just great.

For anything high end, Bangkok is the place to buy it in Thailand. Although you can still find shopping centres in the provincial capitals of Thailand, the shopping in those centres just doesn't compare to Thailand.

For electronics and appliances, Thailand is not the best place, at least not when compared with other more famous shopping centres in the region like Hong Kong and Singapore. The prices of such goods have dropped in recent years, but you can still get better deals elsewhere, although the price differences aren't great these days. On some things, such as memory cards for cameras Thailand might even be cheaper. The prices of electronic goods in Thailand is generally more expensive than the US, but cheaper than Western Europe including the UK. However, one reason not to buy such goods in this part of the world is that the warranty may only be valid for Thailand. There's not much point buying an expensive item in Thailand if you only save a small amount but effectively do not have a valid warranty!

Of course it may be that you want to buy items of a different type, handicrafts and so forth. There are a number of shops in Bangkok that have a selection of handicrafts from all over the country but really, the best places to buy this sort of thing are in the provinces themselves, in small town Thailand so to speak. That is where you'll get the best prices and the best selection.

The night market in Chiang Mai is said to be the best place for handcrafts and the like and has a good selection of this type of thing from the northern provinces. I'm not big on handicrafts and am not a big shopper so am perhaps not the best person to ask about this sort of thing.

Many tourists end up down at the Patpong night market that runs down perhaps the most well known stretch of road in Thailand. Nestled in between some of the most well-known bar area in all of Asia is a night market that peddles predominantly copied and counterfeit goods. In my opinion the Patpong Night market is about the worst place in Thailand to buy goods unless you really know what the goods can be bought for elsewhere. The one positive side about Patpong is that there is a fairly good range of most things in one place and the quality of some of the copied goods is high. Yes, copied goods do come from various different suppliers and one fake Rolex may not be the same as another. English football shirts are really popular and there are several different grades of copies with the best being barely discernible from the original. Pictured here is the Patpong Night Market being set up late afternoon.

Some of the vendors at Patpong ask exorbitant prices and at times my eyes have just about popped out of my head when I have seen the foreign tourist nod their head and go straight for their wallet and take out the money! You can see the vendors eyes light up knowing that in one sale they have already made a good profit for the night! Copied computer games that go for as little as 30 baht elsewhere can go for as much as 250 baht at Patpong. Fake Prada and other fashion name bags that go for 400 elsewhere can go for as much as 2,500 baht – you get the idea. There is no rule of thumb when negotiating a price with these vendors as some of them will come down to as much as 20% of the original stated price and others will quote you a fair price to start with and will only move a little on the original offer. All I can really say about this place is that while it is well worth a look, but if you actually want to buy something, try and get a local to take you along to ensure that you don't get ripped off. The vendors can be a bit pushy and some are downright rude. The whole area can be crowded but this notwithstanding, it's still worth a visit for a look, if nothing else.

An alternative to the Patpong night market is the Pratunam Market, located on the corner of Petchaburi and Rajadamri Roads, near the Amari Watergate Hotel. This market is famous for clothes and traders from all over the world go there to buy bargain basement clothes that are then shipped offshore and sold in foreign markets. But Pratunam has a lot more than just clothes, fabrics and apparel. It's a good place to get many of the things that you can get at Patpong.

There are street vendors all over the city selling much the same junk that is peddled at Patpong. All along the heavily touristed area of Sukhumvit Road between the Nana and Asoke intersections, and especially in the area just east of soi 3 are many street vendors selling much the same stuff that is on offer at Patpong but at less inflated prices.

The biggest market of all in Bangkok is Chatuchak Market, also known as the weekend market. The easiest way to get there is to take the skytrain to MoChit station which stops right beside it. Chatuchak Market is huge and attracts hundreds of thousands of shoppers at the weekend. The range of goods and "things" available is mind-boggling and in many ways it is as much a tourist attraction as it is a place to shop – although 99% of the people doing the shopping are Thais. Amongst the "things" for sale are animals, including some wild animals and all sorts of other strange stuff. If you're a shopaholic you might really like it, but frankly, I do not like the place. The area is open and crowded and so it is very, very hot and uncomfortable. There are a lot of really terrible smells coming out of the place and much of what is for sale is cheaper, or lower end goods and clothes. I haven't been for a few years and have no real desire to go there again, but that said, anyone spending a few days in Bangkok should check it out. It is called the weekend market for a reason – it is only open on Saturday and Sunday.

I gather that jewellery made in Thailand is tastefully designed and comparatively cheap due to the low labour costs. Of course when buying such jewellery you really need to be careful as there are some scam artists out there who are not averse to selling you counterfeit jewellery.

There is a great range of goods and what not available for sale in Thailand but please do take care when choosing. Refunds are not the norm and if you buy something and later decide that you do not like it you cannot change it. Further, if you buy something and it breaks down or simply doesn't work as it should then you might find the vendor unwilling to help. Electronic goods and appliances come with a warranty and these are honoured but with most other types of goods if there is a problem you are on your own. Carefully check and examine any major purchase – or even smaller purchases – before you actually put your cash on the counter!