Bangkok is a riotous, beautiful city bursting with surprises: a mesmerizing mishmash of shops and stalls, sprawling malls and jewel-colored night markets, and ancient and modern architecture. It’s the beating heart of Thailand, and one of the best places in Southeast Asia to find beautiful souvenirs that you’ll treasure forever.
The City of Angels is full of hidden treasures, but the shopping scene can be confusing and overwhelming. Shop like a local, and you will score some incredible deals, avoid common scams, and have the time of your life in the capital of Thailand.
Let’s take a look at some of the incredible finds that you can uncover if you know where to look.
Good leather bags are a steal in Thailand. You’ll find traditional styles and funkier cuts and colors depending on where you shop. Although you can get quality products for less than you’d pay elsewhere, beware of prices that seem too good to be true. A fine large bag with the marks of good craftsmanship can be had for roughly 2,000 to 2,500 baht, or between $65 and $80. Prices are always negotiable, so don’t be afraid to bargain hard to get what you want.
Want to find out if you’re being ripped off? Real leather has a distinct texture and smell. Fake leather bags are often smoother and much less pliable. Don’t be afraid to give your new bag the sniff test!
Get your leather at the Mahboonkrong (MBK) Shopping Center, right off the Skytrain BTS Silom Line at National Stadium. MBK is an absolute maze, so grab a Thai iced tea before you go, and plan to spend some time on your treasure hunt. Another spot to get amazing leather bags is Chatuchak Weekend Market, known locally as JJ Market. Chatuchak, located right off the Skytrain BTS Sukhumvit Line at Mo Chit, is a haven for fashionistas and local designers, so expect the bags here to be a little trendier and less traditional.
Carved soaps make fantastic gifts for folks back home, and these tiny treasures are small enough to tuck into your suitcase without taking up too much space. Thai carved soaps are heavily fragranced and shaped like fruits and flowers, and you can get them for 30 to 60 baht, or $1 to $2, apiece.
For the best selection, head back to Chatuchak Weekend Market, open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Fridays from 6 p.m. until midnight. If you’re visiting the market during the day, remember to wear comfortable footwear and sunscreen. Petty theft can be an issue, so keep a close eye on your belongings as you’re winding your way through.
Thailand’s famous salve can be found all over Bangkok, but if you want to have your pick of the potent balm, head to Ratchada Rot Fai Train Night Market, located at the Thailand Cultural Center on the MRT’s Blue Line. It’s open Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight. This fabulous night market is a cornucopia of the weird, wacky, and wonderful, plus some of the best street food in the city.
Thai people swear by Tiger Balm to soothe joint pain and relieve chest congestion. It’s a menthol-based salve that you can easily pack into your suitcase, and at 30 to 60 baht, or $1 to $2, it makes an affordable and portable authentic gift.
To find the most incredible wood carvings in Bangkok, you have to venture out of the city to the neighboring suburb of Bang Sue, where you’ll find Soi Pracha Rat 24, a street famous for its intricate and beautiful carvings. The artisans of Soi Pracha Rat 24 specialize in furniture, decor, sculptures, and engravings. The carvings are all unique and handmade, so they aren’t cheap.
The cost of a carving depends largely on the wood used and how detailed the carving is, but you can certainly expect to pay upwards of 1,000 baht, or $32. You will find commercial carvings in every nook and cranny of Bangkok, but the carvings on Soi Pracha Rat 24 are the real deal. If you want something authentic, and want to support local artisans, make the trip to Bang Sue. Although you can technically get to this street using public transportation, it will take at least twice as long as it would by taxi. Depending on traffic, you can get to Bang Sue by taxi in 15 minutes.
Bangkok is rife with taxi scams, so make sure that you agree on a price before you enter the cab. Use a smartphone application like Maps.me to track your route, and don’t be afraid to challenge the driver if you’re not going in the right direction.
Local High-End Fashion
Bangkok’s high-end malls like Siam Paragon are full of designer stores, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to be a fashionista in the City of Angels. Asiatique is accessible from the Saphan Taksin Skytrain BTS station. From the pier, simply take the ferry to Asiatique, a 10-minute journey that will take you across the river and into the carnivalesque world of one of Bangkok’s most celebrated markets.
Asiatique is equal parts entertainment and shopping, with a massive Ferris wheel that dominates the space and provides a breathtaking view of Bangkok. Local designers flock to Asiatique, and you can get one-of-a-kind pieces for as little as 500 baht, or $16. The fashion here is eclectic and fun, where flowy dresses rub elbows with more structured pieces.
Fine Thai Silk
Thai silk is renowned worldwide, and you can get it for a song in Chinatown. Chinatown is a little off the beaten path -- you’ll have to either take a taxi or the Chao Phraya Express Boat to get there. Boats run regularly throughout the day, and traveling by river is a fun way to see a whole different side of Bangkok.
China World is the best place to buy authentic Thai silk. Plan to spend at least 2 hours navigating the mall and haggling with shopkeepers. You’ll find plenty of knockoffs, but you’ll be able to tell the real deal from the fakes by taking stock of the fabric. Check the lustre of the silk and see if it gives off a prismic glow when you move it in the light. Real silk also has a semiwaxy texture and is incredibly smooth.
Price also matters. No matter how hard you negotiate, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an authentic silk item that retails for less than 1,000 baht, or $32. Stay away from so-called "silks" on the street. At best, these items are blends.
Elephant Print Clothing
Sure, they’re touristy, but loose elephant print pants are the most comfortable pants that you’ll ever own. Breezy elephant print pants and long scarves will come in handy when visiting temples, and they make ideal souvenirs for people back home. You can find these pretty prints all over the city, and they usually retail for 100 to 200 baht, or less than $10. Popular places to stock up are Khao San Road and the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Always check the seams and don’t be afraid to walk away if the price doesn’t seem right. You’ll find another stall selling elephant print clothing right down the street. The beauty of these clothes is that they’re incredibly lightweight and easy to pack into the nooks and crannies of your suitcase.
A Cautionary Word About Buddha Souvenirs
You’ll see plenty of Buddha figurines in Bangkok and might be tempted to bring some back home with you. Don’t. The Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums Act, BE2504, prohibits taking Buddhas over a certain size out of Thailand.
Exporting parts of the Buddha, like hands, is strictly forbidden. Buddha’s image is sacred in Thailand, and although you'll see plenty of shirts with Buddhist iconography on them on Khao San Road, plenty of locals find this kind of clothing to be in bad taste. It’s far better to stick with the ubiquitous elephant prints and avoid any unpleasantness or problems at the airport.
You can find the most unique and memorable souvenirs in Bangkok if you shop like a local and know where to look. Spend a little time, support the local artisans, and keep your wits about you when haggling, and you’ll wind up with some great treasures to bring back home!
Planning a trip to Thailand? Check out these eight things to know before you go, this guide to cultural etiquette in the country, and this list of the best things to see and do while you're there.