Tourists from across the world flock to the island of Phuket, off the coast of Thailand, for two main reasons. The first is to seek spiritual enlightenment in the island’s many wats, or Buddhist temples. The other is the shopping, particularly for Thailand’s famous and gorgeous silks. From DVDs and household goods to designer handbags and local crafts, Phuket’s markets offer a variety of goods to please even the most discerning shopper. The only issue you’ll have is where to begin. Here are a sampling of the shops you’ll find in both Phuket and Thailand’s capital to the north, Bangkok.
The fresh/wet markets operate seven days a week in a fixed location. The vendors offer a wide variety of fresh and cooked foods and herbs.
- With an abundance of bountiful waters surrounding Phuket, it’s no surprise that many stalls sell fresh and prepared seafood dishes. From red snapper and anchovies to white squid and tuna, you’ll find an array of tantalizing delicacies in the island’s fresh markets
- The Thai people don’t believe in wastefulness, a notion that rings true at the several fresh vegetable and herbs stands located in the dozens of marketplaces scattered across Phuket. Garlic, potatoes, carrots, aubergines and prepared salads are a sampling what you’ll find.
- Stands featuring prepared food are generally found scattered among the fresh vegetable and seafood stands. Bamboo skewers featuring a combination of fresh seafood or chicken and vegetables are a convenient way to enjoy the menu while continuing your shopping excursion. If you’re feeling adventurous, sample a bowl of spicy curry or another Thai delicacy, fried grasshoppers or silkworms.
If you’re after a bolt of Thai silk, Thai-crafted furniture or a knick knack to bring home to Grandma, there are an abundance of street markets that cater to the needs of locals and tourists alike.
- Begin your shopping excursion in Old Phuket Town, which is located near the island’s central hub. There are a wide variety of shops located along the town's two busiest market roads, Thalang and Dibuk Roads. One shop of note on Dibuk Road is Oriental Origin. The store features beautifully crafted Chinese silk pieces and souvenirs from Thailand, China, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. While shopping along Thalang Road, visit Colonial Influences, which is run by an Italian/Thai couple that took over the store. The prices aren’t astronomical and you’ll find an interesting blend of Italian, Thai and Asian goods.
- Head towards the outskirts of Phuket to explore the shops found on Phang Nga and Rassada Roads. Oriental Pleasure on Rassada Road features an array of Thai silk goods and aromatherapy products at reasonable prices. One of Phang Nga’s most well-known stops, Island Paradise, is a boutique that sells clothing and household goods designed and produced in Thailand.
As the name would suggest, the weekend markets are held exclusively during Saturday and Sunday. The flair of these markets is different, as the stands generally don’t open until the late afternoon and stays open long into the night. The vendors offer a variety of goods, from fresh seafood to prepare that evening to bolts of Thai silk and the infamous friend grasshoppers. Visit the weekend shops in the late afternoon/early evening when the sun is beginning to go down, the temperatures are cooling and the stands aren’t inundated with tourists. Shopping at the weekend markets, you’ll also notice the role Western society has played on Phuket and Thailand as a whole. Don’t be surprised to leave the market with a DVD, CD or Adidas baseball cap.
Bangkok’s Floating Markets
Experience another amazing site by heading north to Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. There are dozens of floating markets found throughout the city proper and outskirts of Thailand’s largest metropolitan area. The largest and most well-known of Thailand’s floating markets is found approximately 60 miles southwest of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak. The well-established market was introduced to Western audiences when James Bond floated through the bustling waterway in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Head to Damnoen Saduak in the early morning before the heat of the day makes it difficult to navigate through the narrow canals and past the busy wives shopping for their family’s next meal. You’ll mostly find fresh fruits, seafood and vegetables for sale on the brightly-colored boats. The Thai government now supports these floating marketplace, as they have become as much about tourism as providing fresh food and produce to the locals.
Remember to wear comfortable shoes while exploring the outdoor markets of Bangkok and Phuket. You might even require a pair of rubber boots during the rainy season. Carry smaller monetary denominations in your pocketbook to ensure you don’t offend the local vendors. You don’t want to seem like a rich, overzealous tourist when the vendor doesn’t have change for your 500-baht note.
Other activities you might enjoy while in Thailand include attending a Thai festival and visiting the many and outstanding temples, out of which Wat Rong Khun really stands out of the crowd.
About the Author:Erica Gustafson currently resides in Australia. Erica works as a freelance digital media consultant, and she enjoys traveling the world and writing about her experiences. Photos via Flickr Creative Commons