Next up on, ‘something I haven’t yet written about’, is shopping for Thai gifts and Thailand souvenirs. A general subject which myself and Fanfan continually butt heads over during travels. As personally I can think of fewer things I enjoy less than shopping, apart from haggling, which is like shopping and arguing at the same time, and only a masochist would enjoy. Therefore, to avoid wasting precious travel time shopping, I offer instead to order gifts and souvenirs online. “But it‟s cheaper in Thailand.” So then I offer to pay the difference. “But people want them from Thailand”. And in an act of desperation, I offer to have them delivered from Thailand. “But it’s not the same”.
So we do find ourselves shopping a lot for gifts and Thailand souvenirs. However, this is more in domestic travel, given we live in Thailand, and most Thai people are less interested in Thailand souvenirs and it’s almost always local and regional snacks and Thai Street food we are shopping for. Like spicy sausage and chilli dips in the Lanna provinces, or maybe fresh fruits and durian during travels in Eastern Thailand. Therefore, to expand my knowledge of Thai gifts and Thailand souvenirs, I have recruited the help of fellow travel bloggers to share some of their own stories of souvenir shopping in Thailand.
Souvenir Shopping in Bangkok?
The more generic Thailand souvenirs can easily be found at every tourist attraction, night market, mall, and duty-free throughout the Kingdom. So you really don’t have to look too far. Otherwise, when in Bangkok, the main shopping malls of Bangkok‘s Siam District covers pretty much everything, from high-end gift shopping to massive counterfeit shopping malls. These include:
- MBK (National Stadium): The popular choice with backpackers and is the city’s hub for cheap Thailand souvenirs and dodgy merchandise.
- Siam Paragon (Siam) and Central World (Chit Lom): The luxury malls which are great for more high-end gifts and souvenirs.
- Pratunam and Platinum Mall (Chit Lom): Would be the major hub for clothing and textiles.
- Big C Supermarket (Chit Lom): A huge selection of tourist snacks and smaller souvenirs.
By Nicole from Nicolelabarge.com: One of my favourite things to pick up when I travel is an assortment of foods and also cookbooks. Thai cuisine is delicious so when I visited Thailand I decided to book a cooking class in Chiang Mai. This was a great afternoon activity as we went to the markets to shop for our ingredients and then went back and made spring rolls, papaya salad, pad thai, red curry and sticky mango rice. We made our red curry paste from scratch and it was interesting to see how much work goes into making a curry paste. There is a lot of pounding and grinding of all the spices and chilli to make the paste but it is worth it. I think my favourite though will always be sticky mango rice. It’s so easy to make but so good. Basically you cook the rice in coconut milk and sugar and then serve mango alongside. The perfect end to a meal.
Karen Long Neck Doll
By Ania of the Travelling Twins: My father was a big traveller. His travels were limited to maps and books. He was the one who first showed me a picture of the “Long Neck” tribes. I remember my shock and his explanation about it. I didn’t really know where the long neck ladies lived, just that it was on the other side of the world. Somewhere where I could only see them in books. Time passed and my itch for travelling finally got me to North Thailand. North Thailand is the place where the Karen tribe found refuge from Myanmar. As much as I wanted to see them, I was reluctant to pay high fees to enter the “Karen” villages around Chiang Mai which some writers have referred to as human zoos. Nostalgia for my childhood armchair travels haunted me. So when we were hiking around Pai and I saw that there were Karen villages there too, I decided to visit one. There were only three houses. Each had a display of local crafts. A few young girls with rings on their necks were feeding chickens and when they saw us they ran back to their houses. I was staring mesmerised at the scene straight out of the books I remembered from my childhood. As a memento of this place, I decided to get a small handmade long neck doll. I attached it to my backpack and since then, she has travelled with me. She has visited Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This small doll has become a symbol of fulfilling childhood dreams about travelling.
By Emily Lush of Wander-Lush: Thailand is home to dozens of ethnic minority groups—many of which craft lavishly embroidered textiles and costumes for ceremonies and everyday wear. Hmong textiles, instantly recognisable for their bright colours, are regularly traded at markets and make for perfect Thailand souvenirs. Hmong communities mainly reside in the north of the country. A great place to pick up Hmong textiles and souvenirs is at the Hmong Market in Chiang Mai—a makeshift bazaar behind the city’s main marketplace, Warorot. Items range from traditional Hmong textiles, including baby carriers, handmade skirts and embroidered paj ntaub story cloths, to rolls of hemp fabric decorated with indigo batik. Many stalls also sell contemporary souvenirs such as clothing, toys, bags and soft homewares sewn from fabric remnants. It can be difficult to tell the provenance of antique textiles so if you’re serious about finding something authentic, it pays to visit with a local if you can. I have fond memories of rummaging through barrels of fabric scraps at the Hmong Market in search of brocade samples. Pieced together and framed, these are my favourite Thailand souvenirs.
By Taiss Nowrouzi of Together to Wherever: It’s pretty hard to miss the famous “elephant pants” when travelling around virtually any part of Thailand. They are those flowy pants with elephant print all over them. They can have elastic on the ankle part or be without. Either way, they make great pyjamas and are super comfy and made of breathable material. However, they are also the unofficial tourist uniform for just about anywhere around southeast Asia. These funky pants can be purchased at most tourist shops selling apparel, but one of the best places to get a variety of choices in colours and styles are the night markets. Chiang Mai’s Saturday and Sunday night markets are a perfect place to pick up a few to take back as souvenirs. You don’t have to worry too much if you forget to buy one at your first stop. You’ll have plenty of opportunities wherever your journey around Thailand takes you on your holiday. The best part: they are super cheap at around $5USD each, so you can get a few and they won’t take too much luggage space either!
By Meenakshi of Polkajunction: Handmade Thai umbrellas are wonderful souvenirs and to get a glimpse into its making is indeed a treat for travellers who love handmade stuff. So, on my Thailand trip, I happened to visit the Bo Sang Umbrella village in San Kamphaeng Road around 10 km from Chiang Mai. This Umbrella Village is a perfect place to buy colourful and artistically painted Thai umbrellas of varied shapes and sizes. And, San Kamphaeng Road can be termed the home of Thai handicraft and handloom industry. The umbrellas here are made of silk, cotton, saa (paper) depending on the usage. The process of making these vibrant beauties is quite laborious, which the men and women in the handicraft centre pursue with a smile. And, one can also get a glimpse into the two-fold process of its making. The umbrellas are coated with a kind of oil, persimmon extract or lacquer to make them waterproof. Some traders claim that the waterproof umbrellas are not made of Saa but of cotton while some differ over this! So, before buying, do check if the Umbrellas are waterproof or not.
By James of Travel Collecting: Crammed with cheap backpacker hostels, shops, restaurants and bars, Khao San Road in Bangkok is a place that many people love and many people hate. I love it because it’s where I found my favourite T-shirt ever. I rarely buy a ‘been there, got the T-shirt’ souvenir, but as I rifled through the racks at a clothing stall on Khao San Road, I fell in love with a Red Bull T-shirt written in Thai. The current iteration of Red Bull was started by an Austrian, but it was modelled on a similar Thai drink called Krathing Daeng (literally ‘Red Bull’ in Thai), so a Thai language Red Bull T-shirt is a cool souvenir – and one you can’t get anywhere else. I’ve actually been stopped several times in Australia and the US when I’ve been wearing the T-shirt by people asking where I bought it. They are always disappointed when I tell them I got it in Thailand.
By Emma Walmsley of Small footprints, big adventures: We were pleased to find locally-made charity gifts like keychains, small toys and magnets in many shops in Chiang Mai. These souvenirs are made from recycled or upcycled materials, and their proceeds help refugees from Myanmar or other disadvantaged communities. Often students or women’s groups make these gifts for tourists, and buying them ensures you can take a bit of Thailand home with you without exploiting workers or harming the environment. Using second-hand materials is a great use of resources and keeps production costs low, yet their quality is not compromised at all. And the gifts are gorgeous! They are well-made by talented people who care enough to make a difference, and they are beautiful too. It was a no-brainer for us to choose charity gifts for our loved ones from Thailand.
By Claudia of My Adventures Across The World: One of the best souvenirs to get from Thailand is coconut oil. It probably is the least obvious one, but it’s quite cheap and can be used in a variety of ways, and it will be a reminder of this beautiful country. Coconut oil can be easily found anywhere in the country, including in any shop in Bangkok. I recommend getting the cold pressed extra virgin one, as it is the top quality one. It can be used for cooking, but Westerners prefer to use it as a powerful moisturizer for the skin (both on the body and on the face) and as a deep nourishing treatment for the hair. Keep in mind that coconut oil solidifies under 24 degrees Celsius, but running the bottle under hot water will melt it. A 150 ml bottles costs as little as $1, which is about 10 times cheaper than anything that can be found in the Northern hemisphere. Take advantage of it and stoke on it!
By Elisa from World in Paris: I don’t buy many souvenirs when I travel but I love the jade bracelets that I bought in Thailand. Jade was The Royal Gem of Ancient China, influencing decorative art during almost all periods of Chinese history, until the present day. Many people from Thailand are of Chinese descent and jade is held in very high regards amongst Thai people as well. Thai jade is not as famous as the Burmese jade but still, you can find nice jade things around in the country. Some jade sellers in Chiang Mai gave me a couple of lessons on how to distinguish good jade but I also know this comes with very high prices. In the end, I like its colour and how it looks on me so I was ok buying cheap jade bracelets. You can buy jade everywhere in Thailand, especially in the north of the country. Also, Phra Chan Market (the amulet market) in Bangkok is a great place to find jade. My advice: don’t try to find the “little-hidden gem” in these Thai Markets, what it may seem a great bargain will actually become a big scam.
By Suzanne Jones at The Travelbunny: Go to any market in Thailand and you’ll see boxes of Tiger Balm on most of the stalls. The company’s motto is it ‘works where it hurts’ and the natural balm can be used for all sorts of ailments. Rub a little on the temples to relieve headaches, use for minor muscle aches or for congestion from colds or flu. I’ve used it to help soothe mosquito bites. Tiger Balm is a great souvenir to bring back from Thailand because it’s cheaper to buy there and is also a useful addition to your travel first aid kit. The main ingredients are camphor, menthol, mint oil and clove oil which provide a cooling sensation when rubbed on the skin. There are two types of Tiger Balm – red and white. The red version also contains cinnamon oil. I wouldn’t be without a jar of this on my travels.
By Mar Pages of Once in a Lifetime Journey: Chalong Bay Rum Distillery is a great place to pick up some very unique Thai souvenir: a bottle of locally produced rum made with sugar cane grown primarily in Phuket. The distillery was founded by two Frenchmen who brought distilling copper equipment from France and set themselves to produce rum with the sugar cane grown on the island of Phuket where they are based. While most internationally renowned rum brands use molasses, Chalong Bay Rum Distillery uses sugar cane making the rum smoother and sweeter, perfect for those tropical mojitos and cocktails. If you visit the distillery you will be able to join a short tour to learn how rum is made and also sample a few of their products. They make infused rums with tropical ingredients like lemongrass or lime which are packaged in nice bottles and come with cocktail recipe books. One of the nicest souvenirs from Thailand you can take home.
By Nancy of enSquaredAired: One of the prettiest things to buy in Thailand are the hand blown glass art figurines. You can find these beautiful hand blown art figurines in different sizes and shapes. Most are of animals, such as elephants, pigs and birds. There is quite a variety and you will find something that will delight you. One of the best places to buy these glass figurines is at the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai because you’ll get to see how your souvenir is made. Watch as the artist creates everything from scratch as he (or she) manipulates the fire to join the different pieces of glasses together. It is incredible to watch how the artist is able to create perfect balls of glass from the raw materials and adds colour to the clear glass. Once you are done watching the artist create his glass figurine, you will be delighted to know that these figurines are quite affordable. Prices are as low as 50 baht for a mini figurine!
By Cara of Crawford Creations: The nicest and most memorable souvenir I brought home from Thailand was a hand-carved wooden elephant purchased from the gift shop at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue centre that rescues abused and injured working elephants, rehabilitates them, and gives them a new home where they can roam free and never have to work again. After volunteering at Elephant Nature Park for a week, buying one of their wooden elephants has been a great memento to remember my time there as well as a great way to give back even more to the organization. All of the wooden elephants in the gift shop are hand carved by the mahouts (elephant caretakers) to resemble the elephant they care for. A tag on the elephant tells you which elephant you’re buying and which mahout it was made by. Another amazing thing about purchasing one of these wooden elephants at Elephant Nature Park is that all of the proceeds from the wooden elephant sales go directly back to the mahouts who made them, helping to supplement their income. By purchasing one of these wooden elephants you can feel good knowing that you’re supporting the mahouts, giving back to Elephant Nature Park, and coming home with a beautiful souvenir.