The best things to buy in Thailand
Oh, you lucky pups. Here I share the best things to buy in Thailand. It’s a l-o-n-g list of ways to spend your money in Thailand. Ready? Wallets out!
The Best Things to Buy in Thailand
Ready to shop? Thailand is waiting to sell you many-monies designer goods, silks, antiques, snacks and souvenirs – and $2 T-shirts galore. Whether you want to browse night markets, floating markets or absolutely freezing luxury malls – bring your shopping stamina to Thailand.
Your Thailand shopping survival kit
1. Floating markets = Mosquito World HQ
Pack: Mosquito repellent and repellent wristbands
Imagine the most chewed-to-death-by-mosquitoes you've ever been. Treble it, then add some more. That was me, the morning after my first Bangkok canal tour. Before you start browsing in Thailand's markets, make sure you've got your mosquito protection plan in place. If, as at floating markets, this means you'll be near water: make certain to cover every inch of yourself in repellent (even the places you don't think they could reach – they can).
For more tips, see how to avoid mosquitoes in Thailand.
2. Comfy shoes for shopping stamina
Pack: Yoga sling sandals
Don't forget the #1 rule of shopping anywhere: Comfy shoes. Wearing sandals made from yoga mats (ahhh!!), you might be so comfy you can make it round all 15,000 stalls at Chatuchak Weekend Market. Also remember that your feet will likely swell in Thailand's heat, especially if you're fresh off a long-haul flight. As such, it's important to bring shoes and sandals that easily adjust in size – making these yoga sandals perfectly suited to the task.
For more tips, see the best shoes to wear in Thailand.
3. Safeguard your stuff
Pack: Anti-theft bag and Apple AirTags
Why? Purely peace of mind. While Thailand doesn't have the notorious pick-pocket problems of many European destinations (and I myself *knock on wood* have never experienced theft in Thailand), it's all about your peace-of-mind while you're distracted doing other things. If you're headed to especially busy shopping spots like night markets, you'll definitely want to be as prudent as possible with your valuables. There are occasional reports of pick-pockets and purse-snatchings in Thailand's busiest spots, like Bangkok's main temples and largest markets.
4. Beat the heat (and survive the cold)
Pack: Electrolyte drink tabs and deodorant wipes
How to beat the heat? To love every minute of your Thailand shopping experience, you'll want to stay comfortable and healthy in strong heat. Stash the above in your bag for that inevitable moment when you're going to melt and die and evaporate all at once. (Are you always hot no matter what? Add a handheld mini fan).
However! Note that the opposite holds true at Bangkok's malls which are air-conditioned to sub-arctic temperatures. An 'official shopping cardigan' might save you from shivering.
What else to bring from home for successful shopping?
Are you considering just bringing an empty suitcase to Thailand and buying all your vacation clothes when you arrive? Hold that thought. While I understand the minimalist appeal, what happens if you're jet-lagged and don't feel like shopping? If you can't find anything in your size? If it's a national holiday and shops are shut?
Instead, get the most out of your Thailand *shopportunities* by arriving prepared:
- Start here: Your total Thailand packing list
- Dress code: What to wear in Thailand
- Makeup: The best makeup for tropical climates
Make sure to pack a few key things from home – including some crucial toiletries for the tropics that can be hard to find. Arrive with all your basics, then enjoy shopping as a fun activity rather than a necessity. So, shall we shop?
The 15 Best Things to Buy in Thailand
Thailand has great clothes shopping – especially if you’re Thai-size. You'll even find shops worth your time at tourist attractions and outside temples. Thailand is a country where appearance matters very much – and clothes shopping is a serious national hobby.
Cheapy basics? One of my favourite basic clothing shops in Thailand is AIIZ ("A to Z"). It's great for basics like shorts and t-shirts – sort of like Gap but at Thai prices. Again, like Gap, you'll find a store in every mall in Thailand.
Latest trends? Keep your eyes open for a Pomelo shop – they're a beloved Thai fashion brand with pretty work-wear, exercise gear and dressy basics, at similar prices to Zara.
Fake name-brands? Yes, there’s tourist tat in abundance and Singha singlets to be found everywhere. Though you’ll probably want to bring the bulk of your clothing from home – if you need to fill in a gap – or really need fake CK boxers – it’s easily done. Avoid buying fake sunglasses – Thailand's sunshine means business! Bring quality sunglasses with genuine UVA/B protection for your pretty little eyeballs.
Boutiques? For serious clothes shopping, you'll find amazing boutiques pretty much everywhere – with particularly large selections in Bangkok and the Central department stores of any Central Festival mall (nation-wide locations include Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, etc).
Tip: Your ultimate guide to Thailand's dress code: You'll get better service while shopping in Thailand if you're dressed appropriately – especially in Bangkok's glitzy malls. Find out how wearing the right clothes mean you'll stay comfortable in the heat and ace cultural norms.
2. Thai silk
Where to buy Thai silk? The very best Thai silk comes from Jim Thompson shops, with locations throughout Thailand (including at his former home – now a museum – as well as Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport). Find bright colours as only the tropics can offer with Thai silk products including clothing, ties and scarves, cushions and pillows, table-cloths and table-runners, bags and wallets, and more.
Tip: On a budget? Jim Thompson silk products top our Thai wish-list, but there’s plenty of ‘looks silky-ish’ stuff available at market stalls, beach vendors and even Tesco. Choose between cushion covers, table mats and runners, bedspreads, etc.
If your feet are bigger than 'Thai size': (roughly women's U.S. 9 or Euro 39/40, and slightly larger for men – U.S. men's size 11 or 12), you'll struggle to find shoes that fit in Thailand. While Thailand has great shopping, bring all your shoes from home: these are the 5 kinds of shoes you'll need for Thailand. Take solace – imported shoe brands are much more expensive in Thailand than on the likes of Amazon.
If your feet are smaller (aka 'Thai size'): Otherwise, for smaller feet, it's easy to find Western brand-name shoes but – as imports – they're often more expensive than at home. As with clothes shopping, the shoe choice in Thailand is ‘by and large’ for Thai-sized people only. If you’re petite (or have small feet), you’ll enjoy browsing.
Fakes: I'd stop short of buying fake footwear – it's not much fun to get stranded barefoot because your cheap flip-flops died. Which they will, in 3 days or less. (Same goes for fake sunglasses – Extra-strength Thai sunshine vs your sweet little eyeballs? Buy a quality pair).
4. Thai carvings
Once you start looking, you'll often find Balinese as well as Thai furniture and carvings – like these statues. Be careful! Though you'll find Buddha statues for sale pretty much everywhere, neither statues nor images of Buddha can (legally) be taken out of Thailand. See a few more do's and don'ts for your time in Thailand and you won't have any bad surprises.
Thailand is a great destination for gem shopping – and an even better place to vacuum up cheap costume jewellery. Beach vendors do a brisk trade in beaded jewellery: bracelets, necklaces, etc. They can make a nice memento of a happy day.Tip: Custom jewellery? Koh Samui and Koh Phangan both have shops that offer affordable custom jewellery designs, plus tons of suitably Thai pieces (elephants charms/pendants, etc).
6. Thai furniture (and other heavy things)
Head north to Chiang Mai for beautiful furniture, carvings and antiques. Chiang Mai is renowned as the furniture capital of Thailand – much of it teak and intricately carved. Just browsing is tremendous fun but, if something catches your eye, every shop is ready to assist in international shipping. In addition to its furniture shops, Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar is also a fantastic shopping spot to visit (and the available food stalls make it worthwhile for unenthusiastic browsers too).
Besides food, accessory shopping is especially fun in Thailand. Beautiful scarves and one-of-a-kind handbags: here you come. To boys, it’s “pretty useless stuff”. Wounded, I'd add a comma – but this is accessory-buying at its best. You don’t need these things, but you really, really want them.
Tip: Night markets. Night markets are an obvious choice – but don't skip your hotel gift shop. While the prices are never competitive, I've found some real treasures in Koh Samui gift shops.
8. Thai alcohol
While Western brands of alcohol (especially wine and champagne) are taxed heavily in Thailand (and are therefore extremely expensive), the local options are worth taking home. On Koh Samui you'll want to find Magic Alambic rum – locally made on the island in a variety of flavours. It's a delicious souvenir – if it lasts that long. Find it at its Samui distillery, and at some hotel gift shops). Phuket's answer to local rum is Chalong Bay. As well, recall your favourite holiday hangover with some Sang Som (Thai whiskey).
9. Thai handicrafts, art and home décor
- Thai triangle cushions
- Rice baskets in various sizes
- Pottery and lacquerware dishes
- Colourful paper umbrellas
- Woven-by-hill-tribe baskets (authenticity TBC)
Tourist hubs (like Phuket and Koh Samui) have many 'by request' art shops: you can buy reproductions, originals, even get a portrait of your pet made from a photograph.
Tip: OTOP products. While you explore Thailand, look out for shops or products labelled "OTOP". It's short for "One Tambon (district) One Product" and confirms that the item in question is hand-made in Thailand (not by a machine in China). If you leave your shopping to the very last minute, there's a nice OTOP shop in the international departures terminal at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. Many emergency birthday presents have come from there.
10. Thai coconut oil
Where to buy coconut oil in Thailand? Coconut oil is available throughout Thailand – anywhere there are tourists you’ll find bottles for sale with English labels. If you leave your hotel but once, it will find you. Coconut oil is rightly very trendy these days – use it in your cooking, in your beauty regime, and head home very happy. Outside of hotel gift shops, a high price tends to indicate higher quality and most packaging will be in English to tell you whether it’s cooking grade or for external use only.
Tip: Coconut bath products are widely available, but make sure to bring these toiletries with you from home.
11. Everything else coconut
In Thailand, and on Koh Samui in particular, you can find absolutely anything you want from a coconut – or never knew you wanted. Koh Samui’s coconuts are said to be the best in Thailand. If you’re keen to support local trade on Samui – that would be coconuts. Before tourism, they were the island’s main industry. Really, anything can be made from a coconut:
- Coconut wind chimes
- Coconut salad spoons
- Coconut monkey statues
12. Thai spa products
In addition to coconut oil, you’ll also find scented candles and essential oils from plants and flowers you’ve never heard of (‘Dork phud” is an obvious must-have). Newly addicted to Tiger Balm? It’s probably cheaper in Thailand. Some favourites that you can easily buy in Thailand include:
- Essential oils
- Reed and candle diffusers
- Herbal massage packs and compresses
- Carved soaps
- Foot soaks and body scrubs
13. Thai food, snacks and sweet
Dried durian? Rambutan jam? Coconut candy? Find a favourite and stock up! Like to cook? Get your fill of (sealed) Thai curry packets, and spices in bulk – cinnamon sticks to last a lifetime.
Tip: Thai food vs. customs. Check your home country’s customs rules before buying food souvenirs in Thailand… bringing random, sticky food back is obviously a terrible idea for Australians.
14. Thai lights and lanterns
Pretty lights? In shops and at markets across the country you’ll see a particularly pretty piece of Thailand – lamps, lanterns and fairy lights. The terracotta lanterns above might max out your luggage allowance, but there's plenty of packable pretty.
15. Trinkets (and everything else)
If you’re in a rush, supermarkets in tourist hubs tend to have a decent selection of ‘stocking stuffer’ type souvenirs – key chains, coin purses and small tokens to bring back to the office.
Weird things to buy in Thailand?
The truly random and totally bizarre side of souvenir shopping. Of course, some of it’s crap, but that’s largely the delight in souvenirs, no? Rest assured, Thailand will happily sell you things – pretty things, shiny things, even 8-foot-tall scrap-metal robots – at every price level. As for carved trinkets, you’re in the right place. Find soap carvings, leather carvings… every kind of carvings.
More Thailand shopping tips
Browsing in Bangkok?
While you're out and about, whether hunting Thai silk or browsing antiques, don't miss the chance to try some of the city's best street food. Depending on your interests, I recommend these guidebooks for exploring Bangkok:
- Thailand's Best Street Food
- Secret Bangkok
- 22 Walks in Bangkok: Exploring the City's Historic Back Lanes and Byways
If you're dragging along a partner who's fairly ambivalent about shopping, the books above will help make the experience slightly more egalitarian.
Shopped 'til you dropped?
As for your return home, or travels elsewhere in Thailand, don't forget your luggage limits (especially on Bangkok Airways which charges an excess per kilo – no exceptions). A foldable duffel bag is great for "last-minute-shove-things-in-a-bag-ability" and a digital luggage scale is always (always) useful for last-minute packers.
Learn your colours and numbers
Many Thai shopkeepers in tourist areas speak good English, but if you want some extra credit – take a few weeks before your trip to learn basic tourist Thai. Learn to count, learn your colours and basic greetings – your shopping experience will vastly improve. (I don't necessarily mean prices will lower, but you'll have a lot more fun).
- How to learn basic tourist Thai
- Lonely Planet Thai Phrasebook & Dictionary
- Learn Thai While Sleeping
In general, if you love clothes shopping, I recommend you give yourself plenty of time just to browse. What about your bored boy-person? Most Thai malls have movie theatres inside and play current Hollywood releases, so it's easy to keep unenthusiastic shopping buddies entertained while you take a few hours to browse. (An ideal rainy day plan or tactic to avoid strong afternoon heat and sun).
Insure your baggage
A quick reminder as you plan your purchases. If you're hoping to shop for anything of value in Thailand, make sure to find out what your travel insurance covers in terms of baggage and personal effects. (Likewise what happens if you arrive in Thailand and your suitcase doesn't – you don't want to pay out of pocket for a whole new vacation wardrobe). For a helpful starting point, here's World Nomads on the subject:
- Travel insurance for baggage
- Get your travel insurance for Thailand
- What's covered / what's not covered
The Best Things to Buy in Thailand
Koh Samui shopping? As for Koh Samui, for the island's very best shopping and souvenir ideas (and where to park your husband/person), The Koh Samui Guide – as always – is ready to help.
- Bangkok: The 25 Best Books About Bangkok
- My favourites: Thailand essentials
- Mosquitoes: How to Avoid Mosquitoes in Thailand