I wouldn’t have pegged Thailand as a great shopping destination, but it is. Going to the markets was a fun and unique experience in every city. And I ended up coming home with more than a few things I never expected to buy. So Thailand may be a good place to bring an empty bag. But like anything, there are some good and some bad markets, and there are more effective ways to get a good deal than others.
Good markets vs. bad markets
You can pretty quickly gauge the quality of the market by the merchandise being sold there. Many of the markets in very touristy parts of cities like Bangkok are basically an outdoor version of Hot Topic. Bangkok’s Patpong Night Market falls squarely into that category. The only thing you’ll get there is harassed by 30 people who want you to see a ping pong (or big cock) show. All the merchandise there is the kind of stuff you like if you’re a 17-year old boy who thinks he’s edgy.
However, just because it’s in a touristy area doesn’t mean it’s bad. The vendors at Khao San Road, for instance, have a wider variety of things for sale, including clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, and a ton of food. That’s not to say Khao San doesn’t have it’s share of “I came to Thailand and all I got was pussy” shirts, but there are more options, including some really unique locally made items. (And also a million screen printed tank tops that cost less than $2.) It also helps to wander around the side roads off the main street. There are even more things to buy, and they are even cheaper there.
The best market
My favorite market from the entire trip was the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. The people of Chiang Mai really take the night market to a whole new level. Unlike many other pop up markets, this one is in a large building, but there is still plenty of spill-over into the street with hundreds of vendors lining the sidewalks. The Kalare Night Market and the Kalare Food Market are right across the street, so you can do more shopping when you’re done with your shopping.
The main Night Bazaar building has higher quality items than the vendors waiting downstairs. So prices inside will be higher than what you can expect to pay outside. The lower floor consists mostly of artwork, which is nice if you want to take home something really interesting and memorable to display in your home. You can find paintings, photography, and even sculptures, mostly made of wood. Upstairs, you can find jewelry, clothes, and a ton of souvenir options. Just outside the building, you can also buy cheap movies, watches, purses, etc. Whether you’re in the market for a fake Fendi or Yeezys, you’ll probably find it there. It’s like Chinatown but less obnoxious.
Prepare to haggle
The last time I haggled this much, I was in the souks of Morocco. And I have to say, I have gotten way better at it. To be really successful when shopping in Thailand, you need to not give a fuck about anything. I mean that. And you shouldn’t. Because you can find the same things being sold by dozens of other vendors. So if you like something, pretend you don’t. Ask for the price and then just shrug and start walking away. I guarantee that price is marked up at least 30%, probably more.
At this point, many vendors will give you a calculator and ask you to name your price. I recommend you go lower than you’d be willing to pay, because if you say 100, they’re going to ask for 150. Or if you’re a real hard-ass, name your actual price and refuse to buy unless they agree to it. That’s how I ended up trying scorpion for 80% off. If you pay $8 to eat any kind of critter, you’re a dumbass.
There are always things you need and don’t need. And because a lot of the things in Thailand may not be available elsewhere in the world, you may be tempted to go a little crazy on your vacation. That is perhaps the only thing that could make a vacation to Thailand expensive (aside from the flight).
So if you’re trying to be frugal, be smart about your purchases. And more importantly, think about how useful they will be in your real life. In Thailand, those harem pants with elephants on them are ubiquitous, but they’re going to look ridiculous in your local grocery store, and you’ll never wear them again.
Don’t forget the mall
It’s really easy to get caught up buying $2 tops and $3 pants on the street, but you may want to take a quick trip to the mall if shopping is high on your to-do list. While there is no haggling at the mall, you can still find really great deals on things you wouldn’t normally find at home. There are some massive and beautiful malls in Bangkok, like Mega Banga.
One of the benefits of going to a mall for your shopping is the ability to use a credit card instead of cash. Though some places will still require a minimum, at least it’s an option. Aside from stores of all shapes and sizes (including IKEA), you’ll be able to find a great selection of high-end restaurants and bars all in one place. Which brings me to my next point…
The only thing better than shopping in Thailand is eating in Thailand
Anywhere you can find stuff for sale, you’ll also find plenty of food. The markets typically have a good mix of food carts and sit-down restaurants where you can stop to rest and fuel up on noodles and beer. Since there are so many people, you can be sure that your food is freshly cooked. Not to mention that you’re watching them make it. If you don’t want a full meal, you can also grab some fresh fruit or a smoothie to cool you down in the hot sun.
So when you want to take a break from all the beautiful landscapes and temples of Thailand, take some spending money and go buy yourself something nice.