Thai souvenir shopping

Thai souvenir shopping

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Bangkok is teeming with markets and malls, but some places offer better options when it comes to picking up high-quality Thai souvenirs than others. Read on for our suggestions for finding everything from a classic silk scarf to something a bit more offbeat.

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But first: What should you actually look forward to being able to buy in Thailand? Silk is probably one of Thailand's most famed exports—the rejuvenation of the industry thanks in no small part to Jim Thompson, whose house you should visit while here—and your options extend to far more than just scarves and ties. Perhaps get a silk dress tailor-made, pick up a lipstick holder, cushion covers or a silk-covered notebook. Head out to the Jim Thompson factory outlet on Soi 93 for the most affordable range of high-quality silk items. Any market will have silk scarves, too, but the quality will vary.

Benjarong and Thai royalty spied at Chatuchak. : Samantha Brown.
Benjarong and Thai royalty spied at Chatuchak. Photo: Samantha Brown

Aside from silk, Thailand is famous for its pretty jade green celadon ceramics and delicate benjarong porcelain—both techniques originated in China centuries ago. Silver jewellery and other items like plates and cups are generally a good buy in Thailand, too. For the kitchen, spices and curry pastes make for good take-home treats, as does locally grown coffee. Thai designers make fabulous homewares too, from placemats and coasters to cutlery and candles. If you're an art lover, check out Bangkok's contemporary galleries for something special to take home, while antiques lovers will likely find something among these collections.

Now, where exactly to head? For the largest range of well, pretty much everything for sale in Bangkok, the obvious place to head is the Chatuchak weekend market. Yes, it gets hot and it gets crowded, and yes, you'll probably get lost trying to find what you're after. But you'll also stumble across stuff you didn't know you needed to take home from Thailand! The last time we visited our haul included personalised passport holders for the whole family, curry pastes, local teas, leather wallets and a handbag or two, all distinctly Thai.

It's not just about the silk. Indigo scarves are soft and tempting at Exotique. : Samantha Brown.
It's not just about the silk. Indigo scarves are soft and tempting at Exotique. Photo: Samantha Brown

While you can certainly find high-quality items at Chatuchak these days, for consistently high quality souvenirs, we love and highly recommend Exotique Thai, found on the fourth floor of Siam Paragon. It offers a stunning selection of Thai gifts and handicrafts. Their beautiful selection includes silks, cottons, axe cushions, tablecloths, ties, reed diffusers, photo frames, soaps and way more. Prices are steeper than your average market, but the wares are far more interesting and the quality is exquisite. We love their silver Thai letters of the alphabet, which can slip onto a bracelet or necklacke—a great gift for someone who has it all (we haven't seen these anywhere else in Bangkok). Siam Paragon is located directly off the BTS stop Siam.

Narai Phand Thai Craft Village at President Tower somewhat evokes the vibe of an old-fashioned Russian department store—it's officially the "Royal Thai Government Handicraft Centre" and has been going since 1937, so perhaps that's why it feels a little on the austere. On the shelves though you'll find an excellent range of beautiful, high-quality Thai souvenirs that are anything but austere: how about an 88,000 baht replica of a royal barge? (You could just go to the museum, if you were feeling miserly.) Never fear: There are plenty of affordable gifts to be found at Narai Phand too. Beautiful silk skirts are sold for 1,000 baht and are the type of well-made piece that will last forever. Lovely pillowcases will decorate a bedroom and an immense selection of pottery and porcelain will have you wishing for a greater baggage allowance. Narai Phand is probably not the place to buy something for everyone, but is a good spot to buy that one special thing for Mum. Narai Phand is open daily from 10:00 until 20:00, and is located right off the BTS at Chit Lom. It is a bit hard to find, but persist and you'll find it tucked behind the Intercontinental Hotel, next door to Gaysorn Mall.

Just a little corner of Narai Phand. : Samantha Brown.
Just a little corner of Narai Phand. Photo: Samantha Brown

The Thai Craft Market at Amarin Plaza, located on the third floor of the mall, used to be a definite go-to market for Thai trinkets and tchotchkes. While there's still a range of silks, artworks, clothes and knick-knacks at the stalls here, stiffer competition means it looks a little tired these days. Nevertheless, if you're in the area, it might be worth sticking your head in, as prices are pretty good. We just wouldn't travel across town for it.

Finally, if you time your visit correctly, you can pop along to a Thai Craft Fair. They're held monthly in Bangkok’s Asok area, and see some 50 different groups of craftspeople congregate to present their fair-trade products for sale. Attending one is a great way to support Thailand’s diverse array of craftspeople while also picking up intriguing gifts and souvenirs that you won’t find in the malls. Tables are stacked with handmade products from all over the kingdom, including gorgeous silk and cotton wears, creative silver jewellery, bright batik prints, natural soaps, essential oils, handwoven baskets, coconut-wood kitchen wares and hand-sewn toys. In addition to aiding economically challenged communities, your support will help to keep some truly exquisite crafts, often handed down over generations, from dying out.

Just a small selection of silver at Amarin Plaza. : Samantha Brown.
Just a small selection of silver at Amarin Plaza. Photo: Samantha Brown

The ThaiCraft Fair Trade company, which organises the fairs, have helped strengthen many community-based craft groups, since they began in 1992. The group runs Heritage Craft, a small shop and cafe located at 35 Bamrung Muang Road in Bangkok’s historic district (around the corner from Phraeng Phuthon Square), where you can also pick up handmade products at any time. They also collaborate with Phu Phiang, which leads tours into Bangkok's craft villages.

Amarin Plaza: 496-502 Ploenchit Rd, Bangkok, near BTS Chid Lom; T: (02) 650 4704; http://amarinplaza.com/; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Chatuchak: Next to Chatuchak Park, north Bangkok; http://www.jjmarketmap.com/open Sat-Sun 09:00-18:00.
Exotique Thai: Siam Paragon, 991 Rama 1 Rd, Pathumwan, Bangkok; T: (02) 610 8000; http://www.siamparagon.co.th/ ; open daily 10:00-22:00.
Jim Thompson factory outlet: 153 Sukhumvit Soi 93, Bangkok; T: (02) 332 6530; http://www.jimthompson.com; open daily 09:00-18:00.
Narai Phand: President Tower Ground Floor, 973 Ploenchit Rd, Pathumwan, Bangkok; T: (02) 656 0398-9; http://www.naraiphand.com/; open daily 10:00-20:00.
Thai Craft Fairs: L floor, Jasmine City Building, near Asok BTS station, corner of Sukhumvit Rd and Sukhumvit Soi 23, Bangkok; http://www.thaicraft.org/; monthly, 10:00-15:00.

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Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.

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