By comparison with Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Phuket offers the serious shopper a rather narrow selection and too few shops to build up a head of steam. But for the past years there has been quite a development in the local shopping industry. With more and more vendors in patong offering a very wide range of oppertunities, and with the shopping mall at Lotus and Big-C, and soon the new Central available it is to say that you will not leave phuket empty haded, you will more or less find everything you need. There are a few local handicrafts but most gift items are imported from other regions of the country. If you plan to visit other parts of Thailand, spend your time enjoying Phuket and save your shopping for later. If you do not plan to travel elsewhere in Thailand, then you should not leave Phuket empty-handed. There are a number of superb items that will seduce you into reaching for your wallet, not once but several times. The low prices may weaken whatever sales resistance you may possess. Since the devaluation of the baht, the bargains are all more enticing. Yet there is still scope to bargain a price down.
Pearls: Phuket is known as the Pearl of the South and produces international-standard natural, cultured, teardrop and artificial pearls (made from pearl dust glued to form a globule).
Pewter: Thailand is the worlds third largest tin exporter and most of the metal comes from Phuket. Thus, pewterware, an amalgam of led and tin, is a traditional craft here. Steins, plates and other items are sold at prices lower than in other parts of the country.
Nang Thalung: These bright-coloured shadow puppets cut from buffalo hide make excellent wall decorations.
Batik: The shouth is a major batik centre, producing both readymade clothes and lengths.
Purses: Yan lipao is a fine grass that southerners weave into beautiful purses. The art has been revived by Queen Sirikit as part of her SUPPORT project to bring prosperity to village women.
The crafts listed below are produced in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Thai Silk: This iridescent cloth has achieved world fame, and for good reason. It can be cut into beautiful dresses as well as pilow slips, scarves and ties. It is also sold in lengths.
Clothes: Phuket has a wide range of beach clothes and summer evening wear at very attractive prices. You could arrive with the barest wardrobe and find everything you need right here. Phuket artists produce beautiful T-shirts that make excellent gifts. Many shops and stalls in Patongs Soi Bangla and along Thaviwong Road sell good quality cotton T-shirts with prices from 150 baht up.
Wood: Antiques are in increasingly short supply in Thailand so artisans have turned to creating copies. There is no attempt to sell them as qntique items and the craftmanship is often quite remarkable. Images of gods, animals, precocious children, and betelnut boxes in a variety of finishes are very popular. Shops also offer wooden furniture and will ship your purchases for you.
Gems and Jewellery: Thailand is the worlds largest coloured gem cutting centre and has a huge jewellery industry so prices are low. I hesitate, however, to recommend specific shops except those in large hotels, but even these I have some reservations about. The reason is the number of stories visitors tell of being charged high prices for jewellery that have turned out to have a gold content less than stated, or a gem that is not of the quality advertised. If the shop provides a certificate of guarantee attesting to the quality of the item, then but it. But even then, you may have trouble getting your money back if you discover that your purchase is a fake.
Baskets: Wicker and grasses are made into storage boxes, mats, tisue boxes and other practical household items.
Metal art objects: Bronze deities, characters from the Ramakhien, animal and abstract figures are cast up to 2m tall and clad in gleaming brass skins. Bronze is also crafted into cutlery sets while silver and gold are pounded into jewellery items, boxes and other decorative items.
Home decor items: Artificial flowers and fruits made of fabric and paper are virtually indistinguishable from fresh varieties. Burmese kalaga wall hangings - stuffed with cotton to create a bas-relief effect - and depicting gods, kings and mythical animals are commonly found. Papier mache products make super gift and home decor items.
Lacquerware: These come in two varieties, gleaming gold and black, and matte red with black and/or green details. Items include ornate containers and trays, wooden figurines and other items.
Ceramics: Most Thai ceramic items are produced in the north. These range from the jade green glazed celadon pottery to earthenware, stoneware and Chinese blue-and-white items.
Leather: The items are prosaic enough - shoes, bags, wallets, attache cases, belts - but the animals who have contributed their hides include snake, armadillo, lizard, crocodile, cow, lizard, frog and even chicken. Check your home countrys import restrictions.
Umbrellas: Chiang Mai produces lovely umbrellas and fans made from silk or Sa paper (made from tree bark).
CDS, DVD & VCD: Since the crack down on pirated goods its been harder to get hold of these precious items, but do not fear you will find all you need on the streats of patong (Bangla Road) prices are around 100 - 150 Baht for a pirated DVD, make sure you let the shop show you the quality of the movie, as you do not wish to come back with some 2nd rated DV-cam cinema copy, but the real DVD-master copy with full Dolby Digital / DTS sound. The newest movies are often DV copies, and not worth the money. Usually full DVD-master copies are available 1-3 months after the cinema release. Waring, even if the shop tells you its a master copy they may not be, so let them play it and judge for your self. CD that are sold as originals are often copies, you will notice that on the quality of the cover, even if the sticker says 300 Baht, dont pay more than 100 if it is an obviouse copy.
Charcoal portraits: Artists work from live sittings or photographs to create superb charcoal or oil portraits. A family photograph from home can be transformed into a painting. The price depends on size: a 40cm x 60cm charcoal portrait costs around 1000 baht. There are several studios in Patong that offer this service and there is an artist in residence at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Patong during the high season.
If you join a tour, it will very likely stop at a shopping emporium. Although the tour guide receives a commission, th eprices are usually quite resonable. If you lack transportation, this is a good way to reach large shops on the outskirts of town where most of them are located.
Silk Master (open daily 09:00 - 18:00, Tel 076-239060/2), on the left at KM9 off H402, specializes in Thai silk but it also sells leatherware, pewter, cotton, brass, bronze, batiks and elephant hide shoes. Like emporia, ignore the fixed price signs and barter.
At Thai Village (open daily 10:00 - 22:00, Tel 076-214860/1), 1km off H402 at KM2.5, there is a wide range of items for sale. In addition you can see artisans at work. The emphasis is on southern crafts, so you will see more use of sea shells, bamboo, coconut husks, rubber plantation wood, and bright batiks here than at most other retailers.
Thai Style (open daily 08:00 - 19:00, Tel 076-215980), on the right at KM9 off H402, is an up-market wood carving centre specializing in the Chiang Mai, Mandalay and Khmer styles. You will find mostly raintree and gold teak carvings, ranging from tabletop items at a few hundred baht to furniture and teak wall murals for over 300,000 baht.
If you are interested in jewellery, you will find a handfull of high class gem shops, including JS Gems, VA Jewellery, and Chai Dee Gems, in Bangla Road near the Thaviwong (Beach) Road junction in Patong.
In Phuket town, most of the better handicraft and souvenir shops are found along Rasda, Phang-nga, Yawaraj (southern end) and Montri roads. The main shops are Puk, Nonglaks Collection, Nida, Rasda Souvenir and Land & Sea. Two stand out from the crown: Ban Boran Antiques (39 Yawaraj Road, Tel 076-212473) has a limited but impressive collection of antiques laid out almost like a museum. Antique Arts (68 Phang-nga Road, Tel 076-213989) has a collection of exquisite Chinese porcelains, brass and lacquerware displayed in glass-fronted cabinets.