Shopping in Phuket
Shopping is one of Thailand's many attractions. The world has globalised a lot in recent years and many of the cheap items such as clothing that once seemed like absolute bargains in Thailand, are now available at similar prices in western countries. However, there are still plenty of bargains to be had and anyway, many people just LIKE shopping.
The best bargains are for Thai produced goods. Prices for imported goods such as electrical items are similar to western prices. Some of the best bargains include clothing, textiles, handicrafts, ceramics, gold, silver, pearls, jewelry, furniture, antiques and art.
Phuket has a wide range of shopping outlets and a tremendous variety of goods for sale. The best shopping is away from the tourist resorts where you will find much better deals. Phuket Town and the surrounding area have the best range of shops with good quality goods for sale at bargain prices. You should shop around to get an idea of the prices for the goods you want.
Haggling is an intrinsic part of shopping in Thailand. Remember not to take it seriously - a smile or a joke will get you a lot further. The prices in department stores and supermarkets cannot be haggled. In the independent shops away from the tourist resorts, you can negotiate small discounts. If the goods have marked prices then they are probably already competitive and you will not get a big reduction. Remember if prices are not marked then they will often quote a higher price to foreigners than to Thai customers, so you have more room for negotiation. At the tourist town shops and stalls the prices quoted are often much higher than they should be and you can negotiate big discounts and still be paying over the top.
If you are not happy with the price then smile and walk away - they will often call you back with a better offer.
Fake designer goods and copied CDs are widely available. Recently, the authorities have tried to crack down on this trade and for a while, they were successful. After numerous raids on the stallholders, they seized many millions of baht worth of fake goods and arrested several stallholders. The fake goods briefly disappeared but once the pressure eased, they soon came back.
As long as you understand the goods are fake, then it is your choice whether to purchase. Some of the fakes are good quality while others are very poor. If you want the genuine article then you should go to the department stores where the prices are still generally lower than you would pay at home.
You may see the acronym OTOP. It stands for One Tambon One Product. This is a government-sponsored initiative to create small local industries in Thailand. A tambon is the Thai equivalent of a district or parish. The idea of OTOP is to offer every tambon in Thailand the chance to create its own small industry producing a local product and providing employment for local people. The government provides packaging, distribution and marketing assistance. OTOP products are typically local handicrafts, clothing, dried fruits, wines, etc. The quality is usually good and the prices are reasonable, although not always the cheapest. If you buy OTOP products, you have the satisfaction of knowing you are supporting small local industries in Thailand.
There is an OTOP market in Patong at the north end of Rat-U-Thit Road behind Holiday Inn, although we must say that most of the merchandise sold there is not OTOP. There are often OTOP stalls at the major shopping malls or at the fairs that are regularly held across the island.
For the first time visitor, the initial introduction to Phuket's shopping opportunities is often the beachside stalls. You can find all kinds of trinkets, fake designer labels, copied CDs etc. The first thing to say is this is really not the place to do your shopping. The quality of the goods is variable and the prices are higher than can be found elsewhere. The beachside stallholders are paying high rents for their prime locations and of course, they pass this on to their customers. Their opening price may well be triple or quadruple what they are willing to accept. Even if you haggle them down to their bottom price, you can probably find the same product cheaper elsewhere.
Tourist Town Shops
You can find some good deals in the tourist towns but in general, prices are higher than elsewhere on the island. Land near the beach is very expensive. Rents are therefore expensive and this is passed on to the customer. The further you go from the beach the more likely you are to find good deals. There are many shops and stalls off Rat-U-Thit Road in Patong offering prices lower than the beachfront shops. These prices may seem cheap to most western visitors although in fact they are still high by Thai standards. Ocean Plaza in Bangla Road has some good deals for genuine goods.
Department Stores and Shopping Malls
The easiest places to find good deals are the department stores and supermarkets. The goods have their prices clearly marked and there is no haggling. The prices are good and you can find some real bargains.
The shopping malls contain a mixture of chain shops and independents. Most of the independent shops and some of the chains will haggle their prices but not by large amounts.
RobinsonsIn Phuket Town, on the corner of Tilok Uthit 1 Road and Ong Sim Phai Road, this five-storey department store sells designer clothes and accessories, sports goods, souvenirs, jewelry, toiletries, electrical goods, etc. In fact, just about everything. The prices are a little higher than other outlets but the goods are genuine and good quality.
Ocean Shopping MallIn Phuket Town, almost next door to Robinsons on Tilok Uthit 1 Road is Ocean Shopping Mall. This is a down-market shopping mall where you can find some good quality goods at very reasonable prices. It contains mostly clothing stores but you can also find CDs, souvenirs, toys, telephones and more.
The building includes a multiplex cinema which has some English language screenings with Thai subtitles. There is also a ten-pin bowling alley, games arcade, karaoke booths, a children's play area and a few restaurants.
new luxury shopping mall is on the outskirts of Phuket Town at the junction
between Wichitsongkram Road and Chalermprakiat Road (Bypass Road). Boasting
over 250 shops and more than 50 restaurants, it has just about everything
you could want under one roof. There is a big department store, a supermarket,
food hall and a fantastic variety of shops. Most of the shops are chains
selling genuine designer goods. The prices are therefore higher than other
shopping malls but still better than you will find in western countries
for the same goods.
The top floor of Central has turned into something of a cosmestic health centre with many weight loss, cosmetic surgery and other cosmetic shops.
There is a multiplex cinema screening English language movies with Thai subtitles. There are some children's activities at the very bottom of Central next to Office Depot.
Big CAlmost next door to Central Festival on Chalermprakiat Road is Big C. This supermarket and shopping mall chain is French owned. The building contains a large supermarket stocked with a wide range of products. It is hard to beat the prices at the supermarkets.
On the bottom floor is a shopping mall which includes a large number of mobile telephone and computer shops. Bus Computer has two shops here and they are one of the best computer repair shops on the island. There is also a food hall and a children's play area.
On the top floor are a ten-pin bowling alley, a music school and a dance school.
Tesco LotusThis supermarket and shopping mall is on Chalermprakiat Road north of Big C. The British supermarket chain Tesco has a significant presence in Thailand. The supermarket is big and stocked with a wide range of goods. A wander around the fresh food department is entertainment in itself. Check out the range of tropical fruits, vegetables, seafood and other exotic foods. The supermarket stocks a wide range of other products and all at prices that are hard to beat.
There is also a small shopping mall which includes shops, restaurants and a Home Pro DIY store. On the second floor is a food hall, games arcade and children's play area.
Index Living MallThis furniture store and shopping mall is on Chalermprakiat Road just north of Big C. The top floor is an Index furniture store. It is mass produced furniture and not the sort of produce you would think of exporting from Thailand. Downstairs is a small shopping mall including a nice Thai antiques and handicrafts shop. If you want to try sushi and other Japanese food, there is an Oishi restaurant that does an excellent buffet for 350 baht per person.
Jung CeylonThis major new development in Patong is now fully open. Business disputes delayed development by over a year but it opened in 2007.
Certainly, it looks impressive and is a welcome addition to Patong's shopping scene. It is a large entertainment complex containing shops, restaurants, bars, a cinema and accommodation. There is a large Carrefour supermarket (open 10am-10pm). There is a fountains and lights show every evening at 19:00 and 21:00 in the central courtyard.
There is plenty of parking underneath but not surprisingly they have started charging to stop people from using it as a parking base for their night out down Bangla Road. A shopping receipt from one of the major outlets will get 3-hours of free parking and only a small charge for staying beyond the allotted time.
This mall will certainly have a significant impact on the shopping scene in Patong. The beachside stalls selling their vastly overpriced trinkets and fakes will take a big hit. In the long run this can only be a good thing for visitors to Patong who have been overcharged for their shopping for far too long.
Ocean Plaza (Patong)On Bangla Road in Patong is Ocean Plaza. This small department store and shopping mall is an easy place to shop in Patong. The prices are reasonable and the goods in the department store are genuine. There are also some restaurants and a small ten-pin bowling alley.
Premium OutletThis is the latest shopping outlet to open in Phuket. It is an area of clothes and accesory shops selling genuine designer goods that are either out of season or have minor flaws. The merchandise is still good quality and is sold at significant discount. Premium Outlet is on the Bypass Road (Chalemprakiat Road) near the junction with Thepkrassatri Road.
Cash & Carry
There are two large cash and carry stores in Phuket. They are aimed at business owners and residents but anybody can shop there.
SupercheapAs the name suggests this is the cheapest place to shop in Phuket. It is on Thepkrasattri Road as you are driving out of Phuket Town immediately after an Esso Gasoline Station. It is a huge warehouse stocking just about everything. There is no air-con and the presentation is basic with boxes piled high on shelves.
The main savings come from buying in bulk but they also sell most items individually and still at very good prices. They sell such a wide range of produce that you can find many items here that cannot be found elsewhere. You do not need a members card.
MakroThe cash and carry chain Makro has opened a store in Phuket on Wichitsongkram Road, 500 meters before Central Festival. Again, the main savings here come from buying in bulk. They have excellent prices for fresh fruit and veg and also some difficult to find items in the frozen foods section. If you do not have a members card you can get a temporary card at reception.
If you want an authentic Thai shopping experience, you cannot beat a visit to one of the many markets. There are markets everywhere in Phuket. Most of them are selling fresh food such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish but there are also markets selling clothes and other merchandise. A wander around a Thai market is a colourful and entertaining experience. You will marvel at the extraordinary variety of bizarre foods many of which you will not recognise.
Phuket Town Weekend MarketThis very popular market on the edge of Phuket Town sells a huge range of products. Clothes, accessories, toys, souvenirs, CD's, handicrafts and all kinds of other stuff. It is a relatively new market located on Wai-Rat-Hong-Yuk Road. Drive from Patong to Phuket along Wichitsongkram Road. At the Central Festival traffic lights (Thai Naan restaurant is on the right hand side), turn right. At the next set of traffic lights, turn left. The market is on the right hand side of the road.
The market is open Saturday and Sunday from mid afternoon to 10pm. It is worth getting there early as it gets very busy later in the evening. It will take an hour to walk round even if you are not shopping.
Chatuchak MarketThis market in Phuket Town is a smaller version of its namesake in Bangkok and has in fact become very small since the opening of the weekedn market above. It is at the east end of Phang Nga Road. It was a lot bigger until the Phuket Town Weekend Market opened and a lot of the stalls moved there. This market only opens on Saturday and Sunday but there are some shops and garden centers that are open every day of the week.
Expo MarketThis indoor clothes and accessories market is on Tilok Uthit 2 Road near the Thavorn Grand Hotel in Phuket Town. It is one of the best places to get good deals on clothes. On the road outside are more shops selling more clothes and household products. It is open seven days a week.
Downtown MarketThis is the main fresh food market in Phuket. It is located on Ranong Road in Phuket Town. It is open 24 hours a day but the produce available varies depending on the time of day. The best time to shop is actually early morning from 2am to 6am. This is when much of the produce is at its freshest straight from local farms or the airport. Many local restaurant owners and distributors come to do their shopping at this time.
On one side of the road is the open-air market selling mostly fruit and veg. On the other side of the road is the new indoor market. This was recently rebuilt and is now a much more pleasant experience than the old rat-infested premises. You will find meat, seafood, fruit, veg and other food inside.
Other Fresh Food MarketsThere are many other fresh food markets all over Phuket. The smaller ones are not open every day. Some of the major markets are:
Patong Market - in a new building behind Jung Ceylon.
Kathu Market - out of Patong on to Wichitsongkram Road and turn left at the lights.
Cape Panwa - drive south along Sakdidet Road and turn right at the third set of traffic lights.
Chao Fa East - on Chao Fa East Road
Cherng Talay - in Cherng Talay village near Bang Tao beach.
JewelryYou can find good deals on gold, silver, gems, pearls and other jewelry. Thailand is a world centre in the jewelry trade and you can find items considerably cheaper than at home. Silver is an especially good buy. It really helps if you know a little bit about what you are buying but if not your best bet is to shop around and get an idea of the prices. If you are thinking about reselling back home you should know that it will be difficult to make a significant profit.
You should avoid the shops in Patong. There are also several tourist trap shops around Phuket that get most of their customers from tour companies and by paying commission to tuk-tuk drivers. If your tuk-tuk driver takes you to a shop you did not ask to visit then it is because they will pay him commission. You will not get a good deal from such shops and should not buy anything.
There are good jewelry shops on Montri Road in Phuket Town and more around Ratsada Road and Ranong Road.
If you are interested in pearls, you could consider a trip to the pearl farm on Naka Noi Island
Thai SilkThai silk is considered one of the finest fabrics in the world. Producing genuine Thai silk is a laborious, time-consuming and highly skilled work and the final product is almost a work of art. Unfortunately, most of the fabric that is offered to tourists as Thai silk is actually a replica made from polyester. It is still a nice fabric but in no way compares to the real thing.
One way to identify genuine Thai silk is the price. The cloth costs more than 500-baht a meter straight from the producers and by the time it reaches the shops it is far more expensive. Even small items of clothing selling for under 300-baht will not be genuine Thai silk. Of course, just because something is selling for more than that, it does not mean it is real silk.
Thai silk can be hand-woven or machine-woven. The hand-woven cloth is the most sought after and can be recognised by the small imperfections in the weave. Strangely, it is the imperfections that are a sign of authenticity while a perfect weave is certainly a machine produced cloth.
Another way to identify the genuine article is that any pattern will only show on one side of the cloth while on the other side you will see an outline of the pattern.
The safest way to get the genuine article is to go to reliable dealers such as Robinsons or Jim Thompson and expect to pay a significant price for the product.
TextilesApart from Thai silk, there are many other good textiles to be found. Cotton and satin is widely available. Batik is a cloth dyeing process that can produce spectacular patterns. The genuine stuff is produced by hand and it is a time-consuming process. The cloth is painted in wax to protect that area of the cloth before dipping it in dye. The wax is then removed and painted back on to dye a different area of the cloth with a different colour. The process is repeated for every colour on the cloth.
TailorsThe tailors may appear to offer good deals but in reality most of them are producing cheap sub-standard clothes at inflated prices. It may sound impressive to have a made-to-measure suit but the tailors actually all farm their work out to the same local sweatshops. The cloth is often poor and the standard of work only has to be good enough for the suit to last until the customer has returned home. That is not to say they are all cowboys. There are some good tailors around but picking the good ones out from the majority of scam artists is a challenge.
Antiques and ArtYou need a permit to export Buddha images or genuine antiques from Thailand. You need to contact the Thai government's Fine Arts Department. The easiest way to do this in Phuket is to go to the Thalang National Museum who can advise you if the item may be exported and arrange the necessary paperwork.
The best area for antiques and art shops is the old town area of Phuket Town. If you wander around the old streets of Dibuk Road and Thalang Road, you will find many interesting antique and art shops. It is also a chance to admire the Sino-Portuguese architecture of the oldest buildings in Phuket Town.
FurnitureIf you are a resident or interested in exporting furniture back home then you can find good deals on handcrafted furniture. Teak is an especially good deal. The best deals for teak are in northern Thailand where it grows naturally but if you are not visiting the north then you can still get good deals in Phuket. There are some good furniture shops on Thepkrasattri Road just north of the junction with Bypass Road.