What would a holiday be without a bit of shopping? Gifts for family, friends and colleagues, something to hang on the wall or put on the mantelpiece to remind you of warmer times, something nice and skimpy to wear around the pool on those occasional warm days back home.
It’s all here in Phuket. Ready to punish your wallet? Let’s start with some souvenirs.
Enough of the old stuff? Ready for something more contemporary? Central Festival Phuket, on the outskirts of Phuket City is a 120,000-square-metre air-conditioned shopping mall where you can find brands such as Guess, Lacoste, Esprit, bebe, Nautica and Cerruti Jeans. If you are looking for Asian arts and crafts or fine jewelry, there are a good number of shops catering to pretty much every taste.
This is a very convenient and comfortable place for one-stop shopping. Ladies, drop hubby off in one of the restaurants where he can enjoy a beer or three, or - if you plan to do some major shopping - send him to the seven-screen Cineplex on the top floor. There are spas, a supermarket, beauty salons, even dentists and, of course, ATMs and currency exchanges to top up your wallet. The mall is open from 10:00 to 22:00.
In Patong, the recently opened Jungceylon complex has a floor area of 200,000 square meters right in the heart of the town. There are 200 shops in the mall and on the lower level a whole floor of more than 50 outlets selling nothing but arts and crafts. Also in evidence: Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, Swensen’s and Burger King. Jungceylon is open from 11:00 am to 11.00 pm.
The OTOP Market
The OTOP market on Rat-U-Thit Rd, Patong, behind the Holiday Inn Resort, is full of shops carrying arts and hand-made craft items from all over Thailand. Here you’ll find T-shirts silk-screened with some very funny slogans, leather items of all sorts, wooden carvings, fabrics, silverware, decorative items for your hair, silk flowers, candles and candle holders, Thai spa products and much more.
Or how about a traditional wooden puppet? A set of tiny ceramic plates full of tiny ceramic tropical fruits? Or maybe a flick knife with a water-buffalo-horn handle? Well, someone somewhere will probably buy one… This is a place to spend hours marveling at the inventiveness of Thai craftspeople, and a great place to get souvenirs.
Phuket is a major centre of very colourful batik, usually made up into sarongs, shirts or bags. Favourite patterns are scenes of brilliant fish swimming among coral, or vignettes from traditional island life. If you have enough time, some shops will make batik to your design. How about a shirt with a big red tuk-tuk on it? Jet-skis? Lizards and frogs?
Most batik is sold by small shops in Patong, Rawai and Phuket City. The best-known is Chai Batik on Chaofa East Rd, owned by award-winning artist Chai Chansongsang. Tel: + 66 (0) 76 354099
Thai Silk in Phuket
Thai silk is well known for its high quality and scintillating colours. You can find it made into a huge range of products including neckties, suits, shirts and blouses, handbags, cushions and a wide variety of other home furnishings. It is available in many places, including the Central Festival Phuket and Jungceylon malls. It is also available from shops in most beach areas.
When talking about Thai silk, it almost impossible not to mention the legendary American businessman, Jim Thompson, who played a huge role in reviving Thai silk and making it known all over the world. He arrived in Thailand at the end of World War II, fell in love with Thai silk and started a silk business that thrives to this day. Thompson himself disappeared mysteriously in the jungles of Malaysia in 1967, adding to the mystique of his name.
In Phuket, there are six Jim Thompson outlets, at Canal Village in Laguna, at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort, the JW Marriott Resort & Spa, the Kata Thani Beach Resort and Spa, Central Festival and Turtle Village in Mai Khao.
All good things, they say, are worth waiting for. So it is with pearls. Mind you, you used to have to wait longer for pearls than you do these days. Thanks to advances in pearl culturing techniques, pearl farmers have managed to cut the harvesting time for quality pearls to between eight months and two years, depending on the type. Produced in the warm waters around the island, Phuket pearls come in a variety of shades from black to cream or white, and in a variety of sizes. There are plenty of jewellers in Phuket who can make elegant settings for you.
To shop for good pearls go to reputable farms or retails companies recommended by the TAT, such as Phuket Pearl Factory in Sapam, Tel: + 66 (0) 76 238 002 or Wang Talang International on Chao Fah West Rd, Tel: + 66 (0) 76 217 175.
Patong in particular is the place to go for paintings. Try Soi Bangla, the beach road or Rat-U-Thit Road. The shops range in size from one-man shows to big operations with up to 50 artists quietly painting away. Many have original paintings for sale, and can also rustle up reproductions of classical or modern masterpieces. Many customers are particularly enchanted, too, by the Thai art on display.
Or you might want to order something special. Got a favourite photo of the family? Then pick one of these places to have it turned into an oil to hang over the fireplace. Alternatively, many of these artists can do a portrait of you from life, or even a comical cartoon.
Prices are flexible, so don’t agree to the first quote. If you bargain a bit and the gallery owner is in a good mood you can get significant discounts. Most of the galleries have efficient packaging and delivery services to anywhere in the world so you don’t have to persuade the airline to let you carry your 15-foot triptych onto the aircraft as hand luggage.
Phuket City does not have big studios, but it is home to galleries run by some local talented artists, producing originals rather than reproductions in galleries such as Sarasil on Phang Nga Rd.
Phuket cannot claim to be a centre for making furniture in the way that Chiang Mai is, but in the south of Thailand this island is definitely the place to buy fine wooden cabinets, chests, tables, beautiful lamps and other accessories for your home. There’s a huge selection.
To start with, try Island Furniture on Chao Fah West Rd, just south of Phuket City, Tel: + 66 (0) 76 263 707;
Intercraft Furniture on the same road, Tel: + 66 (0) 76 264 348,
@Fine Room Furniture in Cherng Talay, near the Laguna entrance, Tel: + 66 (0) 76 270 846.
Like the art galleries, the larger furniture shops will crate up your furniture and deliver it anywhere in the world.
Bangkok may have a bigger range of antiques than Phuket, but browsing here definitely beats trudging through the streets of the ‘Big Mango’, and there’s a surprisingly wide range, including some shops carrying items you simply cannot get anywhere else. Here are some names to get you started:
Kai Tak Furnishing at the Royal Phuket Marina has a small but extremely interesting range of antiques from India, including wooden doors and adult swings. Tel: +66 (0) 8 4140 3636.
Soul of Asia on Ratsada Rd, Phuket City, is the place to find Chinese pottery dating back more than 1,000 years. Tel: + 66 (0) 76 211122.
Chan’s Antiques on Chalermprakiat R.9 Rd (the Phuket City bypass road) was a pioneer in the art and antiques business in Phuket. It has more than 1,000 square metres of floor space jammed with antiques and art from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Tel: + 66 (0) 76 261 416.
Baan Boran antiques on Takaupa Rd, Phuket City is a charming Chinese shop-house with a large selection of decorative antiques including old silk in rainbow collections, ornate silver, classic clothing and glassware. Tel: + 66 (0) 76 212 473.
Copy DVD’s in Phuket
DVD’s are for sale at just about every West Coast beach: you just have to ask around and you’ll be shown a selection of DVD covers or a list to choose from. In many cases you will be shown a back room bursting with movies and games. Don’t be scared, this is the norm. Rates are between 60 to 100 baht a movie.
A hint: always try to test the movie’s quality. Most ‘shops’ will have a DVD player on hand for this purpose. If for some reason there is no player then gently explain that you will be back if the DVD is not up to par. Signs to watch out for include bad spelling on the cover sleeve. Brand-new movies are not recommendable as many have been recorded on hand-held cameras in a Hong Kong or Beijing cinema and have ridiculously inadequate subtitles.
Did You Know?
Most of the wooden handcrafted goods you’ll see for sale in Phuket come from two towns in Chiang Mai: Baan Tawai and San Kom Pang. In Phuket, the stated price can be as much as 40% higher than in Chiang Mai. Reproduction oriental furniture comes mostly from factories in Bangkok where prices can be as little as one third of the sticker price in Phuket. So bargain vigorously. There’s always room for the price to come down.
Larger shops will include 7% value-added tax (VAT) in your bill. As a tourist, you are entitled to a full refund when you leave the country. When you get to the airport, show the customs officer the items you have bought, along with the receipt, and get your 7% back.