by Kristie Rodgers
Thailand really is an “Aladdins Cave” for dedicated retail therapy followers, pretty much everything you could imagine is on sale…..and so much cheaper than in the West!.
Thai tailors can make suits and dresses to order for low prices. It is advisable to assess the designs, fabric, and cut beforehand and insist on a couple of intermediate fittings.
In Bangkok, Chinese and Indian tailors advertise in tourist magazines and outside their shops along Sukhumvit, Charoen Krung, and Khao San roads. Designs are usually copied, often with great skill, from magazines or catalogues of famous brands such as Armani and Hugo Boss.
The quality of workmanship can vary considerably; so make sure to ask around for recommendations.
Other popular items of Thai clothing include baggy fisherman’s pants, batik sarongs, (especially in the Deep South) and vests and trousers made from hill-tribe silk, and other northeastern fabrics.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Although most Thai handicrafts are produced in the north and northeast, these are available in Bangkok and throughout the coastal regions, albeit at slightly higher prices.
High-quality ethnic crafts at fixed prices are available from boutiques in upscale hotels – Silom Village, River City Complex, and the less expensive Narayana Phand in Bangkok. In the south, Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village in Phuket town is a good bet.
The costumes and artifacts of the hill tribes make fascinating souvenirs. Items might include Akha coin headdresses, Lahu geometric blankets andcushion covers, Hmong red-ruffled black jackets, and brightly colored Lisu tunics.
A wide range of hill-tribe souvenirs and clothing is on sale at markets and in arcades throughout the south, especially in the markets of Bangkok and Phuket.
Delicate Benjarong pottery used to be made in China and sent to Thailand to be decorated with intricate floral patterns using five colors. Today, the work is done entirely in Thailand.
Visitors can buy dinner services in Benjarong in myriad designs, including the more typical spherical pots. In Bangkok, Chatuchak Market is cheaper and offers a wider choice than the downtown shops.
The heavier celadon pottery style is distinguished by its etched designs under a thick, translucent green, brown, or blue glaze with a cracked patina. It is available in Bangkok at Thai Celadon House as well as in many other craft shops such as those on Silom and Charoen Krung roads.
Lacquerware usually has floral, flame, or portrait designs in black and gold on bamboo and wood. More common is the Burmese style of red ocher on bamboo and rattan with pictorial scenes or floral patterns.
Traditional items include boxes for food and jewelry and are available in Bangkok as well as in Phuket.
NIELLOWARE AND PEWTERWARE
Nielloware, the intricate process of silver (or at times gold) inlay in a black metal amalgam, makes for beautiful items such as cufflinks, pill boxes, and jewelry.
Some of the finest items are from Nakhon. Southern Thailand has significant tin deposits, so pewterware is a major craft there.
Typical items include vases, tankards, plates, and jewelry boxes.
MASKS, PUPPETS, AND MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Musical instruments including khaens (northeastern pan pipes), piphat ensemble gongs, and drums make impressive souvenirs. They are available at Silom Village, Narayana Phand, Chatuchak, and Nakorn Kasem markets in Bangkok as well as in the local markets of Ko Samui and Phuket.
These places are also good sources of classic khon masks, hun krabok puppets, nang talung, and nang yai shadow puppets.
In the south, these can be bought from the Shadow Puppet Theater.Guided tours also show visitors how these intricate puppets are made.
The delicacy and charm of Thai antiques are so appealing to shoppers that the few remaining antiques in the country are either very expensive, fake, or illegally obtained.
Thailand is, in fact, one of the principal outlets for antiques from all over Southeast Asia. Some shops resemble museums, with tapestries, statues, cabinets, puppets, lacquerware, and temple artifacts.
The main sources in Bangkok are Charoen Krung Road, River City Complex, Chatuchak Market, and Nakorn Kasem. Antique auctions are held at River City Complex on the first Saturday of each month.
Recommended shops include The Fine Arts and NeOld in Bangkok.
Chan’s Antique House in Phuket has an excellent reputation. Export permits are required for antiques and all Buddha images from the Fine Arts Department, via the National Museum, and take at least a week to obtain.
Thai jewelry tends to be large and expressive, often with superb detailing. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and Laostyle belts are typical in employing silver thread and filigree detail, often incorporating silver beads and large, plate-like pendants. More affordable modern costume jewelry sells well in Siam Square and Chatuchak Market.
Some of Thailand’s best jewelry is found in Peninsula Plaza as well as hotels such as the Dusit Thani. Some shops, notably Uthai’s Gems, will also custom design jewelry. Astral Gemstone Talisman also sells pendants and rings customized according to the buyer’s zodiac sign.
Bangkok is possibly the world’s biggest gem-trading center. Local stones include rubies, red and blue spinels, orange and white zircons, and yellow and blue sapphires.
Markets also operate around Chanthaburi where gems are cheaper than in Bangkok. Phuket is Thailand’s only good source of high quality pearls; Mook Phuket sells very good examples.
The Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences is a specialized institute that helps in the grading and identification of gems. It also runs short-termcourses on gem recognition and grading. These can help in preventing buyers from buying fake products.