Stuck in an airport can be a claustrophobic experience, verging on the traumatic. If you have some serious time to kill before you’re heading home, or you’re in Suvarnabhumi Airport on a layover, you can peruse through the duty-free section for “authentic” Thai souvenirs; just because you didn’t make it Chatuchak market or the souvenir shops in Sukhumvit doesn’t mean it's too late to bring back a piece of Thailand. You can get perfume, brand-name cosmetics, crystals, electronics and hefty-sized boxes of cigarettes at any old airport, but below are items unique to Suvarnabhumi.
The main duty-free outlet is King Power, the “King of Duty Free”, with stores in every terminal, a location on Rangnam Road in downtown, and one in Chiang Mai airport. King Power stirred up some controversy in 2009, when an innocent British couple were accused of shoplifting and forced to pay £8,000. The British Embassy issued a warning at the time, advising shoppers not to walk around the store with unpaid items, though this duty-free airport scam has not made headlines since.
In the centre of Concourse D on Level 4, the “World’s Boutique” houses Swarovski necklaces and Ralph Lauren polos, but you will also find Royal Project products, initiated by the King himself, like freeze-dried fruits and fruit products. Throughout the international departures terminal, look for the government-sponsored social development shops, including SACICT, OTOP, Sai Jai Thai Foundation, Chitrlada, and Doi Tung Lifestyle. Most of the products in these shops are made by craftspeople from Thailand’s ethnic minority hill-tribes, and the proceeds (or a percentage) go to supporting them.
Dried fruits and strange fish: Nothing says Thailand like fresh fruit or seafood, but good luck getting a pineapple or a squid through customs at your destination. Buy the next best thing in airtight packages: keep your eye out for durian or jackfruit chips, which make an interesting alternative to potato chips, and dried cuttlefish is more delicious than you may think.
Rice crackers: The starch of the Eastern world, mushed together to form tasty snacks. This is a good treat for the plane ride, or evidence for your loved ones that you’ve been in Thailand.
Bamboo worms: This tasty snack is not for everyone. But the chance to buy salt-and-peppered bamboo worms does not come often, so bring back this Thai delicacy to surprise your mum.
Fresh orchids: By some miracle of pesticides and magic, Suvarnabhumi sells orchids that manage to survive 33 hours in the overhead compartment of an airplane. The orchids I bought once seemed to flourish in the recycled air, and by the time I landed there were three more blossoms. Not all countries may let your flowers through on arrival.
Incense, candles and soap: Travelling through Thailand is a multi-sensory experience – vistas of azure seas, tom yum spices on your tastebuds. Some of the signature smells of Thailand you may quickly want to forget, but others you’ll wish you could take with you forever. Hello incense, candles and soap!
Thai spirits: While Thailand is not known for its wine, it does make an interesting assortment of hard liquor, including Mekhong and SangSom. Both are considered “Thai Whiskey”, when in fact they are closer to rum. They may not taste good, and lead to killer hangovers, but they sure come in elegant bottles.
By Emma Rosenberg
Last updated on 3rd January, 2012.