Shop till you drop
Published/Last edited or updated: 23rd September, 2016
Those looking for more upmarket boutique style places should head straight to Fisherman’s Village in Bophut which has easily the most comprehensive range of the more eclectic and stylish outlets.
As far as general souvenirs go, if you’re looking to refresh your wardrobe with the latest range of fishermen pants and ‘I heart Samui’ T-shirts, then Nathon is the place to go – especially if you are looking to buy more than one or two. The selection is near identical to what you’ll see in the tourist shops of Chaweng and Lamai, but the prices are sometimes drastically less – especially Chaweng that can often be ridiculously expensive.
Nathon is also good for axe pillows and other, more original, Samui souvenirs that can actually be used when home. Think lovely coconut wood salad servers (coconut is a sustainable wood), or a commissioned painting that can easily be rolled up and framed once home. Hand painted decorative rice paddies make interesting storage containers, too. In Nathon, walk down the central main one-way road (not the beach one, but the one a block in) and you’ll see plenty of shops geared up for tourists. If you’re buying off street stalls, bargaining is expected.
Unusual food and drink particular to Ko Samui is always an interesting talking point and makes a great gift. Why not take home a bottle of Samui’s own rum from the Magic Alambic distillery in southern Samui? Those with a sweet tooth would appreciate a packet of garameer – a gelatinous local coconut sweet sold at the ferry terminals and at Hin Ta Hin Yai (Grandfather and Grandmother rocks over on Lamai). A bottle of multi-purpose cold-pressed pure coconut oil will also make a great gift and the smell of coconut will be sure to conjure up memories of your tropical holiday.
All Samui’s main tourist beaches have no shortage of tailors eager to sell you a suit or a rack of dresses. We would suggest shopping around carefully and not on price alone. A cheap suit will look like a cheap suit regardless of where you bought it. If you’re passing through Bangkok, you’ll probably be able to avail yourself to a better selection of tailors. Tailors often can ship the goods back to your home country to save you needing to lug them around.
While dragging yourself through the shops of Chaweng or Nathon can be about as pleasant as a visit to the dentist, Samui’s exclusive shopping strip in Fisherman’s Village in Bophut offers a more comfortable – and interesting shopping experience. East meets the Med, with French-style vintage boutiques mingling with elegant tea-houses, and local Samui designer-wear outlets neighbours with seafront coffee lounges. Between these beautiful boutiques are a few no-name type shops selling the obligatory board shorts, corny logo T-shirts and mass-produced jewellery, but even these are in better surroundings and make for a more pleasant shopping experience.
True, buying in Fisherman’s Village will be pricier than shopping down the strip in Nathon, but a little negotiating can get you a long way. Generally speaking the stalls with the copies and stock to be found all over the island are open to negotiating, but the shops with air-con and prices attached to garments work are fixed price operations.
For the best selection of new books, try one of the Bookazine branches. There’s one along Chaweng Beach Road opposite McDonalds as well as one at the airport and at the two biggest Tesco centres, which are at Chaweng and Lamai. This is also where you’ll get international magazines and newspapers – at a premium. SE-ED bookshop has a store at Tesco Lotus Chaweng and a branch upstairs at Big C too.
For second hand books our favourite has to be Island Books in Lamai, known for its selection of thousands of used books in several languages. What’s great is that all books available are updated to their website daily – quite unusual for a used-book store. Books can be reserved in case you’re worried they sell before you get there to collect.
In Mae Nam, try the walking street market road, where you’ll find Ink Books, a small but busy bookstore, which also runs writers’ circles for locals. Nathon Bookshop in Nathon is another well-known used-book store, located just off the road running along the seafront. The shop is about half way down the one-way road running inland from the main central pier, on your left when walking away from the water. As with all the other used bookshops, this one also has large sections of books in several languages.
Ink Books Mae Nam Soi 4, Mae Nam Walking Street T: (085) 784 1061 https://www.facebook.com/inkbookstore/
Island Books 173/28 Moo 4, Tapee Bungalows, Lamai Beach. T: (061) 193 2132 http://island-books-samui.com/
Nathon Bookshop Chayakul Rd, Nathon.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Ko Samui