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Shopping in Thailand can be fun or a nightmare. There are a few things to remember before spending your hard-earned cash. Here are a few guidelines and recommendations to make your shopping experience enjoyable, purchasing high quality products at great prices.
Shopping is one of the great pleasures here in Chiangmai. There is the famous night bazaar, Baan Tawai wood carving village, Bosang Sa paper and umbrella village and Sankampang with its many handicraft factories.
People always ask - what is a good purchase and where? Here are some guidelines that may help you.
The night bazaar has some excellent bargains but be careful. The night bazaar is great for t-shirts, fake designer clothes and watches but not handicrafts. Lacquer-ware and wood products purchased here will split and crack after a year or so. It is not real lacquerware but only painted with a couple coats of sprayed-on lacquer paint. Wood products are not treated correctly unless you are from a hot and humid climate like Thailand.
This is also a big problem when purchasing wood products from Baan Tawai. These products are made for Thailand and should be purchased by those living here only. The problem is the wood should be dried outside in the weather for two years then heat treated in an oven. This way if you take the wood home to a cooler and drier climate or keep it an air-conditioned home it won’t crack or split. The wood products at Baan Tawai and the night bazaar are not treated properly.
Don't forget to look around the Artists Studio area, where having a favourite photo painted to canvas is affordable.
For wood and lacquer-ware, go to the factories in Sankhampang. Sudaluck is excellent for wood products and Lai Thai for lacquerware. Here the wood is treated properly and the lacquer-ware is treated with real gum lacquer with seven coats. Every coat is dried and polished.
Beware of the gem scams:
Make purchases of jewellery and gems from a reputable dealer or shop such as Princess Jewelry or Gems Gallery. The prices are a lot cheaper than western countries and the quality excellent. Remember, if the price seems too cheap to believe, then don’t believe the gems or jewellery are real.
Buying Prescription Glasses:
Promises of lifetime guarantees, even by the MOST highly regarded optical companies aren't nescessarily of any value. Read this forum thread by a genuine forum contributor speaking about his recent experience - LINK
Is another great bargain here in Chiang mai and much cheaper than, say, Jim Thompson’s in Bangkok. Here again be careful, if you don’t know much about silk then make purchases from a reputable shop such as Jollie Femme. Most of the silk at the night bazaar is partially polyester or made by machine in Chinese factories. Real Thai silk is handmade so the weave is very tight and will stay together after many years of wear and hand washing. Much longer than Chinese machine made silk.
Tailor made suits:
Clothes are well made here if you go to the right tailor. Be careful of these one coat, two pants, tie and shirt deals for $99 USD. The material is very low quality and one sleeve may be longer than the other. The biggest complaint is the pockets are way too shallow. Niramit Tailors is often recommended.
David Raju owner of CM CUSTOM TAILOR whose shop is directly opposite WAT CHIANG MAN on Rachapakinai Road offers a unique service by mailing your tailor made garment back to any european country.
Bargaining and Haggling:
When shopping at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai, Thailand, you can save money if you know how to bargain Thai-style. There is a wrong way and a right way, so know before you go.
When it comes to the open markets of Chiang Mai, most newly arrived foreigners are steered directly either by guidebooks, travel agencies, hotel desk clerks, and even tuk-tuk drivers to the Night Bazaar on Changklan Road between Tha Phae and Loi Kroh Roads. This sizeable market, with a gigantic, well-lit sign in English and surrounded by many familiar food chains of the West, is no doubt most oriented to foreign tourists. It's here where most Western visitors get their first taste of a traditional Northern Thai shopping experience. Once amongst the tightly packed stalls, visitors very soon become acquainted with the bargaining game.
When it comes to bargaining, there are a few things to remember. Some Asian people do not like to lose face an they don’t want you to lose face either. Here is how to bargain so no one loses face.
You first ask, “How much?” for an item. The vendor will come back with a price and you say, “Too much,” and they will come back with a 20% lower price. You offer about 50% lower than the second price they gave you. They will smile and probably say nothing. This means they know what you are doing. After a few seconds, they will come back with a price around 20% lower again. You then put out a price 40% lower. They come back with maybe 25% lower. You go 30% lower and hold. They will most likely sell it to you. This way, you can get the item at the 50% discount you wanted, but they do not lose face - and neither do you.
Try to make purchases all from the same shop or vendor and you can get the price even lower. Do not pay for your items one at a time. Set your first purchase aside, then bargain for a few more items. Put all your items together and ask, “How much for all these?” When the salesperson gives you a price, make an offer for 10% lower. If they say no, start taking items off your pile and act like you just want to purchase just the first item you bargained for. Nine times out of ten they will say okay to your 10% additional discount.
Hand-made or Cheap Import?:
There is everything available here, including handicrafts, food stuffs, clothing and shoes, jewellery, ceramic knickknacks, and more. Many of the items sold at shops inside the Night Bazaar building are of reasonable quality and handmade.
The vendors on the street sell cheap copied products made in China or Burma and are not genuine Thai handicrafts. One example is lacquer ware. The high-quality lacquer-ware houses of Chiang Mai today still apply at least seven coats of lacquer to each piece and allow approximately 1 week between coatings for drying. The lacquer ware sold by vendors is very cheap and painted with sprayed-on lacquer ware paint.
Remember, you get what you pay for. If you want t-shirts, knockoff designer brands, or imitation handicrafts, the Night Bazaar vendors have what you need. For high-quality handicrafts, textiles, shoes, and clothing at great prices compared to prices in your home country, go to the shops inside the Night Bazaar building.
The markets on Wualai Road on Saturday and Rajdumnern Road on Sunday are much different than the Night Bazaar.
While the Night Bazaar has it’s flashing neon signs advertising the western food chains and merchandise, crowded narrow walkways crammed with hawkers and tourists, the Weekend Bazaars offer a more relaxing experience. Large wide avenues are blocked off from vehicle traffic at 5 PM until 11 PM. Talented craft persons and northern Thai fresh food vendors politely sell they wares along the sidewalks and on colorful temple grounds. Both weekend walking markets are excellent however each is different in the types of wares sold, atmosphere and experiences.
The Saturday Bazaar on Wualai Road is the old city silver-making district and even today you can still hear the tapping of hammers as the silversmiths sculpture beautiful designs on bowls, cups, bracelets, rings and wall murals. You can watch them make their beautiful creations as they sit on the street in front of their shops.
There are several silver shops on Wualai Road so look at all of them before deciding on a purchase. Plenty of food and drink vendors along the street and small restaurants where you can take a rest and take in the surroundings so no need to rush.
The Sunday Bazaar on Rajdumnern Road begins at Thapae Gate and ends at the city police station about 6 bocks west. About half way up, at Prapokklao Road, the Bazaar continues south past Wat Chedi Luang for another block and north to the 3 kings statue and the old Provincial Hall, which is now the Chiang Mai City Museum. A stage is set up on the grounds of the museum where northern Thai musicians and dancers in traditional costumes give live performances starting around 7 PM.
Rajdumnern Road seams to have one temple after another. The temple grounds are where almost all the food stalls are set up. Here they have tables and chairs where you can sit and have everything from French Fries to Papaya Salad, soups and grilled Thai dishes. Lots of different foods and deserts you probably have never seen before are available. Soft Thai music is usually played on the temple sound system to add to the eating experience.
Both Bazaars are lots of fun and several hours can be spent here enjoying the culture, food, people and atmosphere. Unlike the Night Bazaar with its copied brand products, fake jewellery and handicrafts made in China or Burma both weekend markets have real hand-craft persons selling their goods.
The real fun is not the shopping but the ambience. Every block has traditional Thai Music being played by elders and children. The rich colours of the surrounding temples, the smell of garlic, grilled fish, sausages and chillies being cooked and roasted. People are eating smiling and just having a good time.
One last tip, get your snack and cold drink, then take it to one of the many foot massage operators set up on the side-walk.
Sit back in the comfortable cushioned reclining chair, just watch, listen and take it all in.
The Saturday Morning Bull and Water Buffalo market in Sampatong on the Hod - Chiang Mai road is worth the early wake-up call. You're not likely to purchase a buffalo, but you will experience a real slice of northern Thai life.