Shopping in Thailand
Bargaining in Bangkok and Beyond
Bangkok is a shopper's paradise for a dazzling array of goods. Thai silk, jewelry, gemstones, carvings, lacquer ware, silver, clothing and more. Department stores such as Robinson's and Central have fixed prices and trying to bargain would not be appropriate.
Bargaining, in most other shopping venues, is acceptable; and necessary to get the best price. Bargaining is said to be an art, but skills can be honed by practice. The most important factor in getting a bargain may be the willingness to walk away. Very few items are exclusive to a given vendor.
Knowing the right price is important, so you know at what price to start your offers. Simply saying "drop the price" again and again won't get you to the best point. One method is to ask the price of something then offer about one third of the price. If the person continues to negotiate by making counter offers, you have not started too low. If the vendor refused to talk to you after your offer, go to another vendor selling the same item and raise your first offer a bit.
When bargaining, offer in smaller increments than the seller is discounting. If you hit a stalemate, walk away. Very often you will be called back.
Jewelry and gemstones rate a special caveat, especially gemstones. Gem scams abound in Thailand, from the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers on Silom Boulevard to the trading towns at the borders.
One common scam is a well-dressed person approaching tourists to strike up a conversation. That friendly conversation usually leads to an invitation to buy jewelry at a "very special price".
Don't Know Gems? Don't Buy in Thailand
If you feel you absolutely must buy expensive jewelry in Bangkok, get a reliable and professional recommendation from your home country. If you can't get a professional recommendation, check with the Tourism Authority of Thailand for their list of approved shops.
For inexpensive jewelry, shop at Narai Phan. The Thai government guarantees quality. It is opposite the World Trade Center. Besides gems they have a good variety of furniture, handicrafts and leather goods. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true.
Avoid ivory and any items made from the fur or feather of wild animals. In most western countries they will be confiscated at customs. Water buffalo horn carvings and pierce-carved water buffalo skin "drawings" are another matter, since in Thailand, the water buffalo is a domestic animal. But you may need to educate the customs officers in your country
Taxi drivers are notorious touts. And although the vast majority of Bangkok taxi drivers are hard working and honest, there are many unscrupulous ones. If a driver tries to recommend one shopping venue in lieu of another, don't do it.
Also, some taxi drivers will tell you an attraction is closed and offer to take you to a nearby shop instead. Don't fall for it. If a driver tries to get too curious about shopping details, just ignore him.
Ka-ching!! That's the sound a tour guide hears internally whenever they think of tourists and shopping. Tours that include stops at markets, outlets, factories and the like are usually no bargain. Your tour guide / operator will be getting a commission on everything you buy, 20% is common.
Knock-offs in Thailand
Everything from pirated computer software to knock-off designer luggage, watches and shoes are common in Thailand. Some of the items are actually very good quality. Some are very poor quality. Know what you are getting and the possibility that your country's customs may confiscate your merchandise.
Recommended Shopping Venues in Thailand
Mah Boon Kong
Often referred to as MBK, has probably the best indoor shopping in Bangkok. The place can be hectic at times, but travelers will find some bargains on everything from cameras to clothing. The place even has a food court which is a nice place to rest and people watch.
Convenient by taxi or take the Skytrain to the National Stadium station. The complex is also within walking distance of the BTS Siam station. More information available at the MBK website.
Chatuchak or Jatujak is a totally unique shopping experience. Open only on weekends it is located near the Morchit Skytrain station. Hundreds of small shops sell everything from goldfish to Buddha amulets to furniture. It can be hot, confusing, enlightening and uniquely Asia. All in all Jatujak is a delightful experience. Bargaining is required.
Opposite the World Trade Center. Two floors of government sponsored shops with handicrafts. Other non-sponsored shops are in the building. Check to make sure the items have a "Narai Phan" price tag.
Thai Silk - Jim Thompson House, Thaipun
|Shopping in Bangkok|
Central Department Stores
Emporium Shopping Plaza / Mall
Future Park Rangsit
Imperial Department Store
Promenade Shopping Plaza
River City Shopping Plaza
Robinsons Department Stores
Siam Discovery Center
Times Square Shopping Plaza
The Mall Department Stores
World Trade Center