Hazelnut gelato and Prada shoes. Immemorial temples, 24-hour pizza huts. But some things are easier to find or cheaper to buy at home. Besides the typical packing list (Socks. Passport. Husband), here are some insider tips on what to bring to Bangkok that you may not want to purchase here.
Moisturiser/Cream: It might be confusing at first, but most moisturisers, creams, and even soap in Thailand contain a whitening agent. If you do not want your skin bleached a pasty white (I’d recommend no, those chemicals are nasty), bring your preferred products from home. Western chains like Boots are located around Bangkok with standard pricing, but if you won’t have time to shop, bring your own. (And even there you will find some of the products are catered towards Thai consumers with whitening ingredients — make sure you check labels!)
Deodorant and soap: Something is rotten in the state of deodorant. No, but it will be harder to find anti-perspirant without strange chemicals, smells and bleaching solution. Better bring it from home — or be prepared to experiment — as you will need it in the heat. Thais are among the most hygienic people in the world; smelly foreigners on the skytrain do not make them happy. Thailand has a solid selection of domestically produced soaps, but if you prefer a certain Western brand (Irish Spring, Ivory, etc.), bring it along or be prepared to pay twice as much for it here.
Sunscreen: Sunscreen is available here, but the brands that you are used to trusting for skin protection will be difficult to find, or jacked up in price.
Condoms: Bangkok, a city of peep-shows and go-go bars, has an ample supply of condoms, and they can be conveniently purchased in the checkout line of any 7-eleven. But for those who think they might be… well-endowed… you may wish to bring your x-large condoms from home.
Tampons: Thais haven’t really adopted tampons with the same gusto as we have in the West. While they are sold in some stores, they are ridiculously expensive, or only of the O.B. self-applicator variety (no fun!).
Batteries: Batteries are available in Bangkok, but some say they are poorer quality and run out fast — they are cheap though. If you have room in your luggage, you might want to bring some just to be safe.
Clothes for anyone above size S: Look, I’m not telling you that you’re fat. It’s just that clothing on the street is made for those small and svelte in stature, and it’s difficult to find anything that fits you if you are above five feet. For women, Thai clothing tends to be either granny-length long or crotch level short, with a prodigal amount of bows, lace, and other exciting frills. It’s hard to know what is appropriate for foreigners to wear in Bangkok. For men, the shirts are made for slender shoulders and probably tailored tighter than you are used to. Terminal 21 or Chatuchak Market are great places to find men’s clothing at a “normal” size, though it takes a bit of sleuthing.
Thailand has a funny thing called “free-size”, which is basically one-size-fits-a-small-population-of-the-universe. While all of the brand names you might find at home are available in Bangkok, the prices are jacked up for the international market. The clothing on the street, though cheap, is often poor quality, so if you do plan on purchasing a dress or two, don’t expect them to last long.
English-language magazines and books: Again, these are available in Bangkok, but they come at a hefty price and there might not be the selection you are used to. If you need your New Yorker by your side at all times, better bring it from home. It also might be a fun experience to pick up a Thai magazine from any newsstand; you won’t be able to understand a thing, but the pictures are worth a look.
Electronics: Bangkok is not always the place to buy fancy electronics on a whim. Do your research and make sure what you are buying is authentic. Some report cheaper prices in Hong Kong but mileage will vary depending on the good concerned, and paying $200 to fly to Hong Kong to save $70 on a camera isn’t too wise. Even times when you think what you are buying is real (inside a nicely air-conditioned store with a wide selection and helpful salespeople), it may be of poor quality and from the gray market. You can look up the serial code of the product just to be sure. If you are willing to take the risk or need a cheap cell phone, you can still head to MBK for used yet usable devices.