Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise, especially for bootleg copies of famous brand-name goods. You name it, they copy and sell it. Some of the most popular counterfeit goods are watches, DVDs, and sunglasses. Some copies are of poor quality and will quickly fall apart, while others are well-made and will last. We’ll talk more about that below.
Fake Rolex watches are probably the most popular. You can find them for sale on almost every street corner. You can also find counterfeit Rado, Omega, TWC, Breitling, Movado, etc. Some vendors even have the manufacturer’s brochure available: you choose your watch from it and the vendor finds the same style. Prices range from 500 baht to 3000 baht. These prices are not firm. Negotiate.
Pay attenion to the details when buying a watch. Some watches may look the same, but they may not be of the same quality. For instance, some have fake dials that don’t work. Check for this. Also, closely check both the back and the band, and note if the crystal is glass or plastic. A glass crystal as better, as it doesn’t get scratch ed as easily as a plastic one. In addition, check if the watch is wind-up, battery-operated, or self-winding. Self-winding watches are best. Some of the more reputable dealers will even pressure-test your watch for water depth, and will install ‘O’ rings for this purpose.
These are a favorite bootleg item in Thailand. In fact, you’ll be surprized at the selection. You’ll find many of the newer titles, and even some that are not yet in the theaters. The most important thing to understand when buying DVDs is the levels of quality, as explained below.
Level 5: May have faded colors, lack of detail, non 5.1 Dolby sound, and pixilation.
Level 7: Uses more advanced compression and has better sound. Most likely copied from another DVD.
Level 9: Same quality as store-bought DVDs in the US. Dual-layer techology, with highest definition, colors, and sound levels.
Prices range from 130 baht ($3.25 US) for Level 3 and 5, and 200 baht ($5 US) for level 9. Ask for a multi-disk discount. For example, ask for 1 free for every 10 purchased, or 3 free for every 25 purchased.
Selling pirated DVDs is illegal, and recent raids have changed the way the vendors do business. Here’s how it usually works:
Decide the title(s) you want.
Give that information to the vendor, who then orders the DVDs via a network connection or runner.
You receive a slip of paper with the title(s) of disks ordered and the amount due.
You either pay up-front, or later when your title(s) arrives.
Don’t mix up multiple slips of paper, as they don’t have the vendor’s name on them.
Take a walk and return 15 minutes later. Your DVD’s will be waiting. Some vendors supply a plastic case with your DVDs, others just a plastic wrapper.
Also, make sure your DVDs indicate ALL regions, that is, they’ll play on machines from all countries. Otherwise, they may only be coded for the Asia region, which means they won’t play on your machine when you take them home. It’s best to bring a computer equipped with DVD drive or a portable DVD player to test your disks, as we found that 1 out of every 20 DVDs was defective.
Thai women love TV and movies, so having a DVD player equipped with movies can make you popular. You may get overnight sessions for short-time prices, just for having free flicks. Make sure you put the intermissions to good use!
Knock-off brands like Oakley and Rey Ban are everywhere.
Unfortunately, these will not have the same lense quality for UV resistance and clarity. Please be aware that looking through imperfect lenses can eventually damage your vision.
What about home electronics?
You’re better off staying home to shop for computers, TVs, and cameras. You may pay slightly more, but it will be offset by your travel costs. But, you can find good deals on computer peripherals. And, there’s always the option of inexpensive pirated computer software.
The best place to find pirated computer software is the multi-story Panthip Plaza on Phetburi / Petchburi Rd in Pratunam district (not far from the Amari Watergate hotel). There are dozens of vendors selling such software, and even the most recent software is available quickly. The Thai government, under pressure from the US, makes occasional crackdowns on Panthip Plaza. The result: pirated software is no longer kept with the vendor. Instead, it is kept in a building down the street and retrieved when someone makes a purchase. You can also find software originals on sale, but prices are no bargain compared to the US/Europe.
Where Else to Shop?
Charoen Krung road (New Road), Si Phraya Road, Mahesak Road, western end of Silom Road
On Si Phraya Road, near the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, is the 4-story River City Shopping complex. Here you’ll find many prestigious art and antiques shops. Prices are very high. It has several good, reasonably-priced restaurants that give impressive views over the Chao Phraya River.
The Oriental Plaza, part of the Oriental Hotel, is another up-market shopping arcade. Shops here sell mostly art, antiques, handicrafts, and clothes. Nearby is a street market, selling knock-off clothes, cheap handicrafts, etc.
There are many bronzeware shops along Charoen Krung Road (New Road) and at the western end of Silom Road. Quality is generally high, as are the prices. Note that many of the shops here also operate stalls at Chatuchak weekend market, where it is much cheaper to buy.
Chinatown (Yaowarat Road / Charoen Krung Road area)
This area is known for gold and jewelry shops, identifable by their gold and red trim. Another reason to visit is to see the markets, such as the one on Sampeng Lane, the Pahurat cloth market, the Nakhon Kasem/Thieves market, etc.
Panthip Plaza on Phetburi / Petchburi Rd in Pratunam district (near the Amari Watergate hotel)
This is the best place to go for computer shopping. Prices are low and the selection good, but not all vendors speak English. Panthip Plaza is very popular and can get very crowded, especially on weekends. Get there by taking ordinary buses 2 and 11 or air-con buses 5, 11 and 12. These pass outside of Panthip Plaza. All taxi drivers know it (it’s pronounced as pan-tip). Also, try Hollywood IT, located only 100m from Panthip, close to the Ratchathewi skytrain station.
A large commercial district, including branches of Robinsons, Tokyu, Jusco, Yaohan and others. It also has the showroom of the Department of Export Promotion for business interested in exporting Thai products.
At 500,000 sq km, the Seacon Square shopping center claims to be the biggest in Asia and the fifth biggest anywhere in the world. There are hundreds of shops and most goods are available here, including clothes, furniture, stereos, TVs, computers, cars, jewelry, food, etc. There are also 14 THX cinemas, a bowling alley, ice skating rink, many restaurants, a branch of DK Books with close to 1 million books (not many English language titles), a svirtual reality cinema, mini-golf course, Lotus Supercenter (a supermarket), and Robinson’s department store. Finally, there is Yoyo Land, an indoor theme park with roller coasters, a ferris wheel, boat rides, flumes, and other attractiond. Nearby is the Seri Center, a good place for buying anything computer related.
The biggest disadvantage of Seacon Square is that it’s too far out the way, located a long way south-east of Sukhumvit road. It could take several hours to travel there and may not be worth it, as the malls around Siam Square and Silom sell the same things and, for most people, are much more convenient.
Siam Square area (Rama I Road, Ploenchit Road, Ratchadamri Road)
This area, east from the top of Sukhumvit road, is a modern and fashionable shopping district with several large shopping centers. This includes the 8-story World Trade Center, which houses the Zen and Isetan department stores, Central Chidlom department store, Tokyu department store, Sogo, Narayana Phand store for Thai handicrafts, and the expensive and very upmarket Gaysorn Plaza, Peninsula Plaza, Promenda Decor and Amarin Plaza.
Siam Square is a large modern shopping area, consisting of interlocked sois, and is not really a square at all. It has a collection of cheap to mid-price fashionable clothes shops, many of which cater to teenagers. Nearby are book shops, internet cafes, fast food restaurants etc. Also nearby, next to the Tokyu department store, is the massive and very popular MBK shopping center. This has a many inexpensive shops and facilities (including restaurants, cinemas, games arcade, and a bowling alley). Nearby shopping centers include Siam Center, also with inexpensive clothes shops, and Siam Discovery, which has more upmarket clothes shops, restaurants, and other shops, including a branch of Asia Books.
Silom Road, Surawong Road, Rama IV Road.
This is Bangkok’s main business and commercial district, but it’s really only an average shopping area. Patpong night market is popular with tourists but is crowded and overpriced – you have to bargain very hard here to get a good deal. The larger hotels, such as the Dusit Thani, Narai and the Montien, have shopping arcades, but these are expensive for what they offer. Also there is the Silom Complex department store, a branch of Central next door to it, another branch of Central not far away, Robinson’s Department Store, the Charn Issara tower, the upscale Thaniya Plaza shopping center and many very good silk, antique, and clothes shops. Silom Village, near soi 24, is a complex of small shops selling antiques and traditional handicrafts.
Sukhumvit Road area.
Though the western end of Sukhumvit road (between soi 1 and 33) has a lot of foreigners, both tourists and residents, it is not an especially great place for shopping. There are many tourist shops (cheap tailors, camera shops, etc.) and up to around soi 11 there are street stalls selling knock-off clothes, handicrafts, and other merchandise. On soi 5 is a popular branch of the Foodland supemarkets, a branch of the Robinson’s Department Store chain is attached to the Delta Grand Pacific hotel (between soi 17 and 19), and Times Square shopping plaza is just opposite it across the street. There is also the Ploenchit center, near soi 2, and the Ambassador and Landmark hotels shopping arcades, but none are particulary inspiring compared to elsewhere in the city. The new and very upmarket Emporium shopping center on soi 24 has many quality designer labels, but it’s not a cheap place to shop. Further along Sukhumvit road, in the Phrakhanong district around soi 71, is a better shopping area but it’s not much visited by tourists. There are a few shopping centers and a market, and prices are cheap. The Bangna branch of the Central department stores is located all the way down near soi 103.
The Mall. Located in the Bangkapi area (about 30-45 minutes by taxi from Sukhumvit area), it contains many shops, restaurants, food courts, swimming pools, water slides, a bowling alley with over 20 lanes, and an amusement park featuring a mini-roller coaster, Disneyland-style decor, and other attractions.
How to Get the Best Price While Shopping
Bargaining when shopping is a way of life in many parts of Asia, and Thailand is no exception to this. Though it is gradually becoming less common, it is still something that any visitor will have to get to grips with if you want to get reasonable prices for most things you buy.
In some places prices are fixed (e.g. department stores, supermarkets, generally anywhere there is a price tag) while in a lot of other situations bargaining is expected and necessary to get a good price. Even in department stores and other fixed price situations discounts can be negotiated if you are buying high ticket items (e.g expensive jewelry) or a lot of one thing (you might be able to get 10 CD’s for the price of 8 or 9, for instance).
You’re in the strongest position if you know what the going rate for an item is, but figure on knocking somewhere between 10% – 40% off the starting price. Except in the most touristed areas (Patpong night market, for example) it is pretty rare that the first price quoted is several hundred percent more than the going rate. The more expensive items can generally be bargained down more. You will help your chances at getting a good price by being patient, friendly, smiling a lot and not raising your voice. Treat it as a kind of game to get the most out of it – getting angry or aggressive will never help to bring the price down. Note that if you offer a price which the vendor accepts, you are then expected and obliged to buy the item. Not doing so is regarded as breaking a promise and will certainly not endear you to the vendor, to put it mildly.
Speaking Thai can also help, as if you look and act like a free spending tourist it may be impossible to get a significant discount (many vendors will give cheaper rah kah poot tai dai ‘Thai speaker prices’). Though the asking price for a foreigner is likely to be higher than it would be for a Thai (sometimes considerably so), it’s not really two-tier pricing – if you’re good at bargaining it’s definitely possible to only pay local prices. A good idea to try and gauge the going rate is to compare prices to various other vendors, and see what kind of price the item you want goes for in fixed price stores if possible.
GEM SCAMS: Buyer Beware!
Bangkok’s infamous gem scam has ruined the holidays of many, many visitors to Thailand and it is an important thing to be aware of beforehand if you want to avoid becoming yet another victim. The scam is no secret – there’s warnings about it in every guidebook and in posters put up around Bangkok by the Tourist Authority, yet many people are still caught unaware of it. Though it does happen occasionally in other parts of Thailand, the vast majority of incidences take place in Bangkok.
The con-artists always targets the new, first time arrivals to Thailand and consequently you find them hanging around the main tourist attractions, particularly Wat Phra Kaew / Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the National Museum and Wat Arun. New arrivals are often somewhat surprised at the friendliness of people in the Land of Smiles, and unfortunately can become a bit too trusting of strangers which leaves them vulnerable to this scam. What we’ve described below is a typical example, but there are many variations.
It usually starts with a male stranger approaching you on the way to or nearby any of main tourist attractions, and telling you that you can’t go in at the moment. They can come up with dozens of reasons why: “Oh didn’t you know it’s a Buddhist holiday today”, “closed for cleaning”, “closed for repairs”, “closed because the monks are chanting now”, “it’s only open on Wednesdays” etc. By far the best approach is just to ignore anyone trying to talk to you on the way in, which may seem rude but it can be very difficult to get away if you start any conversation with them. In the vast majority of cases, there is absolutely no truth in what they are saying, it’s just a ruse to get you started in conversation with them. If the place really is closed, find out for yourself from the entrance and don’t take anyone’s word for it. No one is going to be offended if you try and enter, even if it really is closed for a holiday.
A lot of people understandably don’t want to offend or appear ignorant of Thai culture and so are talked out of going to Wat Pho or wherever it is they really intended to go. But not to worry, your new friend knows somewhere equally impressive that is still open – “the famous 100m high Standing Buddha temple”. It’s not mentioned in your guidebook for some reason, but he will kindly mark the location of it on your map for you. He may also casually talk about a special promotion on gems or jewelry that is on today, but will put no pressure on you to buy any.
After another 5 or 10 minutes of conversation, he will usually offer to arrange a tuk-tuk ride for you to the new temple at a bargain price (10B/20B, say, or even for free) explaining that tuk-tuks overcharge tourists and so he can get that the price that cheap for you because he is Thai. Alternatively, they claim that by taking you there and then to a special export shop they get free petrol coupons and so that is why it is cheap. Either way it’s worth remembering that tuk-tuks are no cheaper than taxis in Bangkok, and you can pretty much guarantee that if you are offered even a short ride for less than 40B there is something dodgy going on.
At the new temple (the so-called ‘Standing Buddha temple’, ‘Lucky Buddha temple’ etc – really just an average temple in an out-of-the-way location), the tuk-tuk driver waits outside while you go in. Inside you’ll be fortunate enough to meet a smartly dressed Thai man who speaks excellent English, and claims to be a university professor / business man / student / tourist official etc. You’ll chat for a while (they often have excellent knowledge about your home country), and eventually the conversation gets round to jewelry and gems, confirming the special deal on at the moment that the man on the street mentioned earlier. Essentially, this special deal involves bulk buying gems at a low price in Thailand in order to resell them for a vast profit in your home country. This is dressed up in any number of ways – you don’t buy from a shop but from a special “international export center”, today is a special export day, it’s an opportunity previously only open to Thai students to finance their studies abroad but now tourists can do it as well, there’s a special tax break today, it’s part of a tourism promotion, it’s a wholesale factory price, backed by the government, you get a certificate of authenticity and a money back guarantee etc etc…And if you don’t want to buy, why not come along anyway because the experts are happy to teach you about the famous Thai gems for free ?
This is all an elaborate set of lies of course, and you’re simply being set up to spend a small fortune on the ‘bargain’ gems. The man will even mark the location of the gem shop on the map in your Lonely Planet guide for you, so you can tell the tuk-tuk driver where to go. The tuk-tuk driver, who ten minutes before could barely speak any English let alone read a map written in it, looks at your map and strangely enough knows exactly where to go.
On to the gem shop, and you are well looked after with personal service from the manager, free drinks etc. There then follows a high-pressure sales pitch, after which far too many people are persuaded to spend in the region of 100 000B (US$2500), 200 000B (US$5000) or more on gems which they hope to resell at a profit in their home country. The gem shops often pay lowlife foreigners to linger in their shop posing as a customer and casually mention to you that for years they have bought Thai gems from this shop, sold them back in France / USA / Singapore / etc, and have made loads of money doing it. For many people, the knowledge that a fellow foreigner has done it successfully is what finally persuades them to buy. To ensure you get the gems out of Thailand safely, with no problems from customs etc, the shop will offer to mail the gems to your country for you.
What most people find out soon enough when they try and sell them is that the expensively purchased “gems” are really only worth a tiny fraction of what you paid for them. If you’re lucky, you’re just sold pretty bits of worthless cut-glass (if you wonder why this is lucky, see what to do after being scammed). Either way, virtually all the money that was spent on the gems is now lost. The receipt, money back guarantee and certificate of authenticity are barely worth the paper they’re printed on. The reason the shop wants to mail them abroad for you is, of course, to stop you coming back and demanding your money back when you realise what’s happened. Though chances of getting your money back aren’t great even when you still have the “gems” with you, they are non-existent if you have mailed them abroad.
Other Scams to Watch Out For
Though there are many good deals on offer, caveat emptor (buyer beware) is definitely a good rule to follow in Bangkok. Fakes passed off as genuine and overpricing are rampant amongst certain valuable items, particularly gemstones, art and antiques. Bear in mind that refunds are very rare in Thailand – goods are sold ‘as is’ and once you have bought something, that’s it. Barring pretty exceptional circumstances, you will have a lot of difficulty in getting any money back, even with a valid receipt. Chances of a refund are best at the big department stores (check their policy beforehand if you think you might need one) and are virtually nil at street stalls and small independent shops. Replacements and free repairs are often the best that can be hoped for, though even getting these can sometimes be a struggle. Don’t let a friendly stranger or tout take you shopping either, as they will take a commission on anything you buy. This will result in inflated prices being quoted to you so that the vendor can compensate your ‘friend’ for his/her efforts.
A lot of places only accept cash to pay for merchandise, though some more expensive and/or larger stores and department stores do take credit cards. Credit card fraud is a problem in Thailand so, while there is no need to be overly paranoid, it’s well worth trying to never let the card out of sight if possible.
Some things that are great to shop for are clothes and luggage. I never had the need to shop for suites but there are some really nice deals and plenty of options in that department (you can’t go 10′ without running into another tailor shop). What I usually stock up on while I’m there is Polo type shirts and dress shirts. Great prices and you can find some really good quality if you look around. T-shirts are also plentiful (all styles and designs) at really cheap prices. Luggage is also a great buy. You can find great Samsonite type luggage in all styles at a great price. If this is your first trip and you plan on doing a lot of shopping don’t worry about bringing an extra bag to carry your “souvenirs”. Just buy another bag before you leave to return home.
Nowhere else is the economic diversity more evident than in Bangkok. On one block you will see shacks and homeless people on the next block you will find multi-million dollar shopping malls that rival anything in the USA. You name it and you can find it in the malls in Bangkok. All the same stores you would find on 5th Ave in NYC. As well as multi-plex theatres, etc.
Another thing that you can get great deals on is anything that can be copied. i.e. Computer software, music, movies, etc. There are no copy write laws to speak of which is why this kind of stuff is dirt-cheap. If there any laws they are definitely not enforced in anyway.
Some shopping places to check out that I recommend is; Siam Center, The Emporium, (for window shopping and just the luxury of these places) for actual shopping I like MBK. There is another place that specializes on software, music, and that type of stuff but the name escapes me right now.
I expect to spend 100.00 a day in food, hotel and entertainment. Give or take 20-30 dollars. This depends on how much you drink at the bars and how long you stay out. Generally I’m at the bars by 8pm and I’ve picked my entertainment for the night by 10pm or so I’m not spending much time “partying” (drinking) all night. I’m there to work out but it’s not by lifting a glass of beer! I want most of my time spent enjoying the in’s and out’s of the many fine ladies All night with a lady should not cost more than 1500 bht. Sometimes you can find a better deal but beware. It is not always the thing you want to cut corners on. Be reasonable but don’t be taken advantage of either. I have tipped before but this is only after an exceptional time and it is rare that they ask for cab or other fare. Just remember what YOU pay for things in Bangkok is NOT what the locals pay. Look around, listen and watch at how business is conducted it will be an eye opening experience.
My recommendation would be to exchange about 300.00 at the airport and then exchange more as you need it. There are plenty of places to exchange the rates are about the same everywhere.
They buy the stuff for pennies, and sell it at way inflated prices. My take on haggling: If a vendor has something for 100 Baht, I offer 50. I always offer half no matter what it is. They act all hurt and stunned then tell you another price. My goal is to get somewhere near 75% of original asking price. This has worked almost every time. If not walk to the next vendor because they all sell pretty much the same stuff. Don’t feel bad they are still making a hefty profit.
Also shop early in the morning (they open around 11am. The Thais like to have a first customer that buys something. It has to do with them getting good luck the rest of the day. After you buy something they will take your money and rub it around their other merchandise. If you don’t buy then they think they are going to have an unlucky day. This really works in your favor.