What to Buy
Painting:Thailand has a rich painting history that can be appreciated by visiting any number of Buddhist temples, the interiors of which are typically pained with murals. Those looking to purchase works by Thai painters can find both traditional and modern themes, and may also commission Thai artists to paint custom made pieces. One popular practice is to provide a portrait or photograph to a Thai painter, who can then produce a likeness on canvas. These painters can often be found in popular tourist destinations including Koh Samui and Phuket.Thai Wood Carving:Thai wood carving is a traditional technique handed down through the generations since the Sukhothai period, over 700 years ago. Thai’s have become accomplished at wood carving in four different categories: furniture, household utensils, decorative objects, and souvenir products. As Thais have some spectacular hardwoods, notably teak, and Thai houses were traditionally built of wood, Thai craftsmen throughout the kingdom have become adept at carving nearly everything out of high quality wood. The most skilled craftsmen outside of Bangkok are found in the northern provinces of Lampang, Phrae, Nan, and Chiang Mai.Thai Handicrafts:Thai handicrafts are some of the most popular souvenir products from Thailand. Many are small and inexpensive and as such make excellent gifts that are easy to pack. Thai and tribal handicrafts are traditional Thai products that have survived generations of modernization thanks to tourism. Most Thai handicrafts are produced in the north of Thailand around Chiang Mai, which is the ideal place to purchase such goods, although street markets from Bangkok to Samui will sell nearly the same variety of goods (at slightly higher rates.) It should also be noted that Thai handicrafts come in a various levels of quality and some larger department stores and boutique shops in Chiang Mai or Bangkok will sell some exquisite handicrafts that are priced accordingly. Meanwhile, many less expensive handicrafts, often of amazingly high quality in comparison to their prices, are actually produced in neighboring Myanmar (Burma), Laos, China, and Vietnam.Thai Lacquerware:A unique Thai product, Lacquerware, consists of bowls, boxes, trays, vases and numerous other shiny, intricately decorated objects. Producing these articles is done with an age-old process that many visitors enjoy seeing as much as they enjoy purchasing the finished products. Lacquerware items are made of flimsy wood or woven bamboo frames that are coated in several layers of liquid lacquer made from the sap of a tree, which make the ware flexible but firm. Intricate hand-crafted designs, typically of shiny gold, red, yellow, and green are added throughout the multi-stage process. These unique items, created predominately in and around Chiang Mai, can be purchased throughout the kingdom.Nielloware:Nielloware is a unique Thai handicraft that originated in Nakorn Si Thammarat, in the south of Thailand not far from Phuket. Nielloware goods are made of gold or silver, which are then intricately etched and filled in with an alloy of lead, silver, copper, and sulfur. This niello makes the surface smooth and shiny, a process that is applied to objects from serving trays and vases to small boxes and tea sets.Pewterware:Thailand is renowned for producing some of the finest pewter goods in the world. Plates, vases, flasks, and other goods consist of 97% tin and 3% antimony and are typically decorated with relief decoration featuring Thai themes.Thai dolls & toys:Traditional Thai dolls are typically modeled on classical Thai dancers, hill tribe minorities, and rural Thai farmers. These and other plush Thai dolls are typically made to meet international safety standards. Puppets modeled on similar types of people as well as characters from the Thai version of the Hindu epic Ramayana are also popular decorative toys. Artificial Flowers:Artificial flowers made of silk, plastic, or even soap are skillfully produced by Thai artisans and are designed to decorate homes or act as clothing accessories. They can be purchased throughout the kingdom.Rattan & Wickerwork:Rattan, bamboo, sedge, and bulrush are plants that have been traditionally used to produce furniture, baskets, hats, and floor mats in Thailand. Yan lipao is a fern/vine from the south of Thailand that is particularly popular for producing high quality hand-bags, hats, and picture frames. For both simplicity and strength, these natural products have been popular with Thais for centuries and continue to be popular among visiting shoppers today.