Shopping is an essential element for any trip to Thailand. With such a huge variety of things to buy and bargains to be had, you’re going to want to come to this amazing country with some room left in your suitcase. On top of the awesome purchases you can make, the experience of interacting and bargaining at local markets with the vendors is not only a lot of fun, but will also give you more cultural insight than a lot of other activities you could find around the world.
That being said, you can’t turn up to Thailand’s doorstep and expect to shop for anything, anywhere and in any way that you please. So we’ve developed our own helpful little guide on where you can get the best shopping done, what you’ll find in those places and how to make the most of your shopping in Thailand.
Where to Shop
Without doubt, the best city for any shopping in Thailand is Bangkok. Whether it be in the large air-conditioned shopping malls, loaded with everything from electrical goods, to dvds and clothing, or in the smaller but more exciting local markets, there’s some fun to be had by everyone and anyone.
One of the first places you should try out for a shock start into a fantastic Bangkok shopping experience is the Mah Boon Krong (MBK) complex. This multi-level building is filled with various shops, stores, outlets and restaurants, with each level and area specialising in different types of goods. You could easily spend an entire day (if not more) just exploring the myriad of different stores. But we’d recommend taking the escalators in the centre of the building all the way up to the top floor and gradually making your way down to the bottom. This way you’ll get an even exploration of everything that’s on offer, and hopefully pick up some bargains. You should also note that if you’re staying at one of the hotels close-by, MBK centre has a couple of decent supermarkets in which you can find both local and international goods.
If you’re looking for that same shopping mall feel in Bangkok, but are wary of copied items or non-branded clothing, then you’ll probably want to spend your time shopping at either Central World Plaza, Siam Paragon or Terminal 21 in Sukhumvit. The prices in these places won’t be as cheap as what you’d get at the MBK centre, but you’ll find some designer labels you may not be able to at home, and if you’re lucky, there might just be a sale on while you’re there!
When it comes to shopping at markets, we can’t recommend enough the night markets at Patpong Road or Suan Lum Night Bazaar. All of the excitement, smells and sounds of unique foods and products in the one place is an explosion for the senses. You’ll find all sorts of different oddities in these places at prices much lower than what you’d expect to find anywhere else. And on top of that, bargaining with the shop owners is a whole new experience that’s guaranteed to get your blood pumping.
How to Shop
Most of the department stores and large shopping complexes in Bangkok have fixed prices on their items - just as you’d expect in shopping centres at home. However, a lot of them, including the MBK centre accept bargaining from tourists and in most cases actually expect it. A lot of the time they’ll offer hefty discounts on expensive items like jewellery or fine furniture in an effort to sell off their products to foreign buyers - just be cautious of how quickly you accept a price, there could be someone just a couple of stalls down who will offer the same thing for less.
When it comes to bargaining in the shopping malls and markets, there is no set way for the deal to be done - but that’s half the fun. It’s all down to your skills as a negotiator and the mood which the shopkeeper is in while you’re there. Most store owners or operators will initially ask for a price much higher than what the product is worth, so it’s up to you to try and get that price down! It’s a decent rule of thumb that you can potentially get as much as 30% taken off the first price that’s quoted to you.
However encouraged bargaining is, it’s important that you always keep in mind that for the Thai people, good manners and a sense of humour are revered. So you’re more likely to get the deal you want if you bargain in a lighthearted way, as opposed to losing your temper, which will most likely end up with neither party getting what they want. If you’ve got the time, it’s always a good idea to ‘test the pricing’ at a few different shops before you make your final decision on who you’re going to buy from.