Gems, silks, and greeting cards: Thailand is a shoppers' mecca.

Shopping in Thailand

Lightweight cotton "elephant pants" cost just a few dollars in Thailand. The model costs extra.


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Among Thailand's many charms are some great shopping opportunities. Here are some items we've found particularly worthwhile, either for personal use, or as gifts.

  • Jewelry and gemstones: Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires are mined in Southeast Asia, and you can find good buys for both individual gemstones, and for jewelry. However, there are lots of scams out there. Shop only at a reputable establishment, not at the jewelry shop your tuk-tuk driver suggests. (He gets a commission.) A good hotel, or government tourism office, can make recommendations.
  • Silk bathrobes: They're cheap, they're pretty, and they make great gifts. Got an office full of co-workers who expect a souvenir? This is the ticket.
  • Cotton lounge pants: Extremely thin cotton pants with decorative designs — elephants are popular — can be found in Chiang Mai and other markets. They're great for wearing around the house or pool, and are also suitable as gifts.
  • Placemats: Made from cotton, silk, or bamboo, Thai placemats are an enjoyable, and easy-to-pack, way to remember your Thai vacation.
  • Handmade greeting cards: From time to time, you'll spot handmade greeting cards at various street markets. They are true handicrafts, and styles vary enormously. If you see some that you like, get a stack. They're less expensive, and far more interesting, than anything you'll find at home, and they're easy to pack.
  • Furniture: Beautiful hand-carved teak and rosewood furniture can be bought in Chiang Mai and elsewhere in Thailand. This no longer falls into the "easy to pack" category, but most stores will arrange shipping, and even with that cost, it's still likely to be a good value. If you're looking for distinctive new coffee table, bed, or anything else, hold off on your purchase until you see what's available here.
  • Lacquerware: Strips of bamboo are woven and polished into plates, bowls, and other items, then hand-painted in bright colors, commonly against a black background.
  • Silverware: Whether made of silver, bronze, or pewter, this can be a good value. You'll probably want to purchase it toward the end of your trip, or arrange to have it shipped.

Exercise judgement about certain items:

  • Buddhas: Statues of the Buddha are considered religious items, and officially, an export license is required. In reality, the size and age of the statue also come into play: The law is more often applied to larger and older statues than to small, new, mass-produced items made for tourists. If you do take a Buddha out of Thailand, treat it with respect. Pack it in luggage amongst your shirts, not with socks and underwear.
  • Antiquities: Thai law clearly prohibits the export of antiquities without an export license, but is less clear about what qualifies as an "antiquity". If in doubt, apply for the license, or risk having the item confiscated when you leave the country. A reputable dealer can help you with the licensing process.
  • Low-priced designer items: Counterfeits are common. Did you really expect to get a Rolex watch for $25?

And don't even think about:

  • Drugs: Yes, you can get some good deals on drugs in Thailand. (Or in the USA, if you know where to look.) Thailand has strict anti-drug laws, and purchasing drugs here can get you a long prison sentence, as well as supporting an underground economy wreaks havoc in developing countries. Beware, as well: Drug dealers have been known to make a double profit, first on the sale of the drug, then by reporting the buyer to the police.

This site is provided by Alyson Adventures, a gay tour operator, as a service for individuals traveling with us. We hope it will also be useful to others planning a tour or researching Thailand. Our other active holidays include kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, and more. Please visit our home site for a full list of our gay holidays.

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