The range of quality products is huge, ranging from personal items to bedding, bedspreads, curtains and bathroom accessories in silk and cotton, dressing-gowns with matching slippers or a collection of little cotton and silk purses in which to keep cosmetics. These goods can be found everywhere, in shops inside hotel lobbies, sidewalk stalls, markets, malls and department stores - you can even buy silks in the Floating Market at Damoen-Saduak. Thailand is a veritable paradise for shoppers for fine textiles.
Shopping for Silks and Cotton in Thailand
It’s still regarded as the bargain centre of East Asia and despite the fluctuations in the money supply, Thai silks and Thai cottons are two of the best buys in textiles.
Thai handicrafts have long been noted for their unique style and beauty. The dexterous fingers of the young girls who fashion the jewellery, who sew the fine buttons on the clothes and who hand paint the exquisite orchids on scarves and blouses, may have their equals in other parts of East Asia, but the Thai ability to provide goods for all pockets has no equal.
Jewel like colours and a lustrous sheen makes Thai silk a priority on most shopping list but Thai Cottons and a polyster the Thais call Japanese silk are also good buys.
Jewel Colours of the Scarves
Probably the most famous hand made product is Thai Silk, a lustrous fabric which can be bought in a wide variety of designs, weights and widths. The famous Jim Thompson shops that are found in most cities and large towns in Thailand carry a wide range of silk goods.
Most wealthy Thai ladies dress in this silk, their elegance embellished by the jewel colours of the material. Men can also look elegant in silk evening jackets, safari shirts and evening shirts in black, silver or oyster silk. Tailors will make up garments quite quickly, but bear in mind that even in Thailand the silk is not cheap and the tailor will probably need extra time to deal with it. Don’t try to have a suit or a dress made up in 24 hours – that’s not fair on the tailor or yourself.
Look around the better tailor outlets in Bangkok if you are there, and see the designs on offer. Photograph one or two and you can then show this to a tailor in another town or city, or in your chosen price range, and he will make a good copy.
You will find a lot of lustrous black silk trimmed with patterned silk, matching silk handbags and even shoes. Remember though, that because this is Thai silk, the black is not as deep in colour as perhaps the black top you may wish to wear with it so always know what you will be wearing with it.
Japanese Silk - a form of Thai Polyester
A form of polyester which the Thais call Japanese silk is a popular alternative to Thai silk. It doesn’t crease, can be made up into jackets, trousers, suits – whatever the customer wants – and comes in a wide range of colours. For those who don’t like ironing (caring for Thai silk is labour intensive) this is a good alternative.
It also has the advantage of easy-care and the range of colours is impressive. You will find maybe five greens, six browns, seven blues, not to mention an assortment of patterns. The patterned version makes up into excellent men's shirts, and you will find that all the tailors can hand make a casual shirt for you very quickly if you can merely give them the collar size.
Jackets hang well in this material which is always lined, and you will find that the Thai tailors always include two pockets on the inside of the jacket - even when making a jacket for a woman. You can have covered buttons, bone buttons or even copy buttons from the major brands if this floats your boat. They can even provide pocket badges!
Thai cotton is excellent, especially if it comes direct from one of the specialist shops. The range of striking patterns, plain colours, stripes and checks make it a good choice for most things. Perfect for shirts and blouses, or skirts and jackets in the heavier weights, it is a good buy and perfect for the climate. Safari shirts for men in a good Thai cotton look very elegant.
The waffle cotton bathrobes and slippers are really nice and usually they can offer to personalize these by embroidering initials on the pockets. They also offer hand and bathtowels in a waffle pattern which are the best drying towels I have ever used.
Damnoen-Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok
Where to Buy Off the Peg Items in Silk & Cotton
Embroidered jackets from the northern provinces, hats, belts, purses and handbags are good buys, as are the batik cotton wrap-arounds sold in the markets (most of these 5 m long lengths come from Indonesia). Pure cotton overshirts and fishermen’s trousers are ideal for beach wear: these are usually found in beach resorts, often from the vendors who hawk their wares on the beach itself. Bangkok markets can often supply the visitor with a complete wardrobe for a fraction of the cost in Europe, the USA or Canada. Try Peninsula Plaza, Gaysorn Plaza and Central Stores.
The massive MBK with a direct link to the Sky-Train is an eight-storey indoor market selling just about everything from DVDs to silks and cottons. Here you can choose your textiles, search out a tailor or seamstress and have your dress or shirt made up. Or you can purchase off the peg and see what you are getting. Some great Chinese and Japanese designs here also.
Patpong, the notorious red-light district has a great night market selling a range of leather belts, bags and shoes alongside other items like copy watches and DVDs. Has a great buzz.
Rot Fai Train Market is good for the one-off item or the hard to locate item. More quirky than the others but further out.
Department stores offer designer goods in silk, cotton and man-made fabrics, but naturally the prices for designer goods are higher. Nevertheless, there are still bargains to be had.
Shopping, whether in the Malls of Bangkok, the markets of the capital, or the smaller establishments of towns and cities like Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket and Koh Samui, will still give the visitor value for money. Hua Hin offers exceptional value in both bespoke tailoring and off the peg clothing. Hotels have their own shops and outside there are outlets in the big indoor supermarkets.
Just remember, excess luggage charges are pretty high if you go over the limit