Thailand - Shopping
Even before my first ever visit to Thailand in 1987, I had some very fixed ideas in my mind as to what things I would buy in Thailand. Why? I had never been to Thailand so how did I know what were good things to buy.
The ideas I had were all tourist cliches. We pick these up from articles we read, things we see on TV, and things we hear from other people.
These cliches are nonsense but every tourist that comes to Thailand - even now - seems to have their head stuffed full of the same cliches.
If you are a stupid farang you can waste a lot of money in Thailand. However, if you get even a little bit clued-up, you can save enough money in Thailand to pay for your holiday.
I will explain how you can have a free holiday in Thailand.
Buying made-to-measure clothes is one of the biggest cliches among tourists to Thailand. Getting made-to-measure clothes was on my list of things to do when I first visited Thailand, and it is still the same for many tourists coming to Thailand. Tailors in Thailand who cater to this cliche (mostly Indian) are fully aware of this and to reinforce the cliche they place large advertisements in in-flight magazines.
As you sit on the plane from your country heading towards Bangkok browsing the in-flight magazine and daydreaming about the delights that await you in Thailand, the cliche is reinforced.
Although there are Thai tailors in Thailand, as a tourist staying in a tourist resort it is much more likely that the tailors who greet you will be Indian. These shops have nothing to do with Thailand.
The Indian tailors know the mentality of tourists extremely well and they make it a point to trap as many as they can.
Once in Thailand, Indian tailors will do anything to get your business. They will stand outside their shops, wanting to shake your hand and invite you inside. They will arrange free pickups from your hotel as they are so desperate to get your business.
They will claim to be able to make anything and will insist the quality of the materials and workmanship is the best there is.
After measuring customers in their shops, the clothes will most likely be made in a nearby sweatshop where all the tailors get their clothes made.
The clothes I had made on my first visit didn't fit well and the material wasn't good. The shirts ended up being used to clean the windows in my flat.
I met up with a Dutch couple a few years ago who were having clothes made and although I tried to be polite, I wasn't at all impressed. To be honest, off-the-peg suits from Marks and Spencer look far better than any custom-made suit I have seen made in Thailand.
It's up to you but I don't believe that bespoke clothes in Thai tourist resorts are quite the bargain that tourists seem to believe they are.
If you really want to get clothes made stay away from the tourist areas.
Shoes are a much better bargain that clothes in Thailand, but not for all kinds. The shoes I've been pleased with are those I've bought for work. Every pair of shoes I have bought in Thailand has been comfortable from day one, cheap, and have lasted well.
What I haven't had much success with are casual shoes. Thais don't like walking anywhere and consequently it has been difficult to find well-made comfortable shoes for walking. The casual shoes that Thais wear aren't made for walking.
Casual shoes that are made in Thailand don't tend to made very well and thus don't offer the support needed for any serious amount of walking.
The best casual shoes I have bought in Thailand have been imported brands (Josef Stiebel and Hush Puppies) but it is probably cheaper to buy these in other countries.
On the subject of shoes, you will find shoe repairers everywhere in Thailand and they are very good. In other countries you may not be able to find anyone willing to repair a pair of shoes but in Thailand you can get repairs done very cheaply.
A pair of good shoes that otherwise might be thrown away in the UK could be given a new lease of life after a visit to a Thai shoe repairer.
I know someone who has had Timberland shoes repaired in Thailand, whereas elsewhere they would simply be thrown away.
You will find eyeglasses shops everywhere in Thailand staffed by pretty girls in white uniforms. Most of the shops don't tend to be very busy so if you go in you will get lots of attention.
I haven't bought glasses in the UK for a long time but I am told they are very expensive these days. That isn't the case in Thailand. There is a large selection of frames and a choice of different kinds of lenses.
Most of the shops don't have properly qualified opticians but they should be able to do a basic check to see what your prescription should be if you don't already know.
I understand that even though the prices are cheap, there is still a big markup. This means you need to haggle quite hard. Never believe the first price you are told.
Unfortunately, some brands of eyewear in Thailand have most unfortunate names. I don't fancy walking around in a pair of glasses with 'Percy' or 'Playboy' written on them.
Cameras And Electronic Equipment
I once tried to help someone on an Internet forum who had a question about buying a camera in Thailand, but was shot down by an arrogant American who spent a few weeks in Thailand each year and believed he knew better than someone who lived there permanently. This is why I no longer bother much with Internet forums. There are too many ignorant, arrogant people who think they know everything.
Whether you get a good deal in Thailand or not depends very much on exchange rates and where you come from. Since I have lived in Thailand I have seen UK pound to Baht exchange rates go from 75 to about 43. This obviously makes a big difference.
The United States is normally the cheapest place to buy camera gear and prices are generally lower than Thailand and elsewhere, but not always. If you come from rip-off Britain I would suggest that Thailand is a good place to buy photography equipment, but not necessarily if you come from the States.
Do some research before you travel and check exchange rates. Also check the warranty conditions to ensure that if you have a problem during the warranty period you can get the equipment repaired at home.
For ballpark figures in Thailand, check the prices at Fotofile in Bangkok. Some provincial camera shops use Fotofile prices to set their own prices.
The same comments apply to buying laptops and other electronic equipment. Regarding laptops, be aware that to keep prices low many laptops are sold with only the DOS operating system, which comes free. However, if you buy a laptop the sales assistant will probably offer to install Windows as a free service (and possibly a lot of other 'free' software as well). This software won't be an official licensed versions, of course, and you may have problems later.
There is no fixed answer as to whether something will be a good deal in Thailand or not because it depends on many things.
At the time of making this latest update, the price of the Canon 5D Mark III is Bt84,500 at my preferred local camera shop. This price is cheaper than Fotofile, where the price is Bt89,000. Adorama's price is $3,299 which, at current exchange rates, is Bt95,543.
Therefore you can pick up a fantastic camera in Thailand considerably cheaper than you can buy it in the States. Other items may be more expensive, so you always need to check prices first.
One word of warning is that many small businesses in Thailand add a charge of about 3% if you pay by credit card. The big retailers and department stores don't do this.
This is another cliche. Back in 1987 I bought a fake Rolex in Pattaya. The watch raised a few questions but everyone knew it was a fake. The mechanism lasted for a few months after I returned home but then it stopped. I couldn't get it repaired, of course, so it was thrown away.
In Thailand you can buy fake goods of all kinds, but what is the point? Does it really make you a better person if someone else believes you own a Louis Vuitton bag, when really it is a fake?
I would much rather have a genuine Casio than a fake Rolex but I don't care what other people think and I don't live my life trying to impress other people.
If you buy lots of fake goods in Thailand you may have a problem with customs when you return home. The goods could be confiscated and you could even be arrested.
In addition to fake clothes, watches and luggage, you can buy all kinds of pirated software, CDs and DVDs in Thailand. These might also land you in problems with immigration.
If you buy fake software and were hoping for user-friendly installation programs, think again. The applications often come as compressed RAR files and in order to install them you need to be quite good technically.
The applications are often a release or two out of date, they can have limited functionality, and some just don't work.
All this stuff is illegal and although you probably wouldn't have a problem in Thailand, if you take a lot home then you could run into problems with the authorities there.
This is where you can save huge amounts of money; and how you can have that free vacation in Thailand I promised earlier on.
It won't work for emergency procedures (unless an emergency occurs while you are in Thailand) but if you need scheduled work done, and plan sufficiently, you can save a fortune.
How much? Well, just as with cameras and electronic equipment it depends on where you come from. If you come from the United States and don't have medical insurance you could save tens of thousands of dollars by having medical or dental work done in Thailand.
Health tourism is getting to be a significant part of the tourism sector and there are many private hospitals in Thailand that have opened specifically for this purpose.
They are like five-star hotels; they have English speaking staff and access to all the best equipment. What's more is that when you awake from an operation to find pretty Thai nurses smiling at you, you will think you've died and gone to heaven.
I've had a lot of dental work done since arriving in Thailand and my teeth have never been in better shape. The dentists are excellent and have corrected problems caused by UK dentists. You don't normally have to wait very long and prices are cheap. The last filling I had done cost Bt200.
If you are thinking about titanium implants, by scheduling this in Thailand you can save a fortune. You might need to plan two trips though because I believe that after the implant is fitted you need to wait several months before a tooth structure can be added.
Thai Silk and Handicrafts
Some of the nielloware is exquisite, and not that expensive considering the workmanship that goes into making it.
Why buy low quality fake goods that could get you into trouble with authorities, when you can buy genuine high quality goods in Thailand that are perfectly legal?
I think there are two reasons why people would buy Thai silk and artwork. If you like something, just buy it and enjoy your purchase. If you are looking to buy things that you can sell at home, then you need to do some research and possible get some knowledgeable Thai contacts to help with your buying decisions.
This may seem obvious, but avoid shops that are there purely to sell goods to tourists. Even if the quality is satisfactory, they will be marked up heavily for 'rich' tourists. Get off the tourist trail and find places where Thais do their own shopping.
There are a lot of artists in Thailand; my wife is an art teacher. Some are very good and they work very cheaply because their skills aren't valued in Thailand, or perhaps their skills are valued, but the majority of Thais have no disposable income to spend on art.
It's an unfortunate situation for them, but it means that if you appreciate art and want original pieces of art for your home they can be acquired very cheaply in Thailand.
Thais as a race find it a lot easier to copy things than to create anything from their own imagination. This includes artists. If you give them a photo of a person or an animal, they will happily make a painting from the photo. Some will carry out portrait work if you have time to sir for a portrait session.
If you show them another painting, they will create an almost exact likeness. In this sense, most artwork isn't completely original, but every piece is individually painted and they will accommodate any specific requests that you make.
There are always art shops in the tourist areas where you can get work done. The shops farm out the work to local artists and of course take a commission. This makes the prices quite high. If you contact the artist directly you will save a lot.
My wife has a friend in Phuket who does very good work and we have some of her work in our own house. Her name is Garn and I have added some examples of her work on another page: Art by Garn
She can take orders from abroad and send work in the mail. If you are interested, contact me and my wife will contact her.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand