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Monday, July 22, 2024

3 Things to Buy in Phuket — and 3 Things You Shouldn’t

Thailand is truly one of the best shopping destinations in the world. You can get great bargains on local handicrafts, apparel and souvenirs at the markets, or you can step into a massive shopping center and come out laden with bags from premium brand outlets and eclectic boutiques run by local designers.

Traveloka’s Phuket tours don’t just get you into the jewel of the Andaman Sea for some well-deserved rest and relaxation; they also put you right in the heart of the shopping action. Before you start buying everything in sight in Phuket, however, you should know which products are worth every penny—and which ones aren’t.


Phuket Pearls

Pearls and pearl cultivation have a long history in Phuket—bout 40 years’ worth of it. There are three main varieties of this precious material sold in the province: Mabe pearls come from oysters known as Black Wing or Golden Wing, and can be harvested within a year; Akoya pearls can grow to up to 10 millimeters in diameter and are usually harvested after two years from Pinctada fucata oysters; finally, South Sea pearls come from the rare Pinctada maxima oysters, and their scarcity usually drives the prices for them up.

Pearls that have been grown and cultured in Phuket are exquisite and beautiful, but they are also quite reasonably priced, making them excellent souvenirs to take home to your friends, family, and loved ones. Many local shops have them on offer, but if you’d like to be sure you’re getting genuine pearls, head to reputable retailers such as Phuket Pearl Factory, Pearl Art Factorym or Amorn Pearls.


Looking for a pair of cheap flip-flops that’ll stand up to the sizzling heat of the sands on the beaches of Phuket? Nanyang flip-flops are a ubiquitous sight on the island and are worn practically everywhere, from the beaches to the night clubs. They’re made with real local rubber, are incredibly comfortable, and known to be nigh-indestructible. If you manage to keep your pair from getting lost in the ocean, it’ll serve you well for years to come!

The original Nanyang flip-flops come in a simple—utilitarian, some might say—blue and white colorway, but there are plenty of designs and patterns to choose from. They start at 100 baht and can be found everywhere, from the markets to sidewalk stalls on main streets. Nanyang also sells flip-flops made out of upcycled materials called khya (literally “trash” in the native Thai language) in an effort to reduce ocean waste. All proceeds are channeled to organizations focused on sustainable development. Seek out these flip flops if you’d like a meaningful story to go with your souvenir!

Thai Silk

Thailand produces 600 tons of silk annually, about 84% of which is used locally. Thai silk, especially the kind from the Khorat Plateau, is highly prized for its beauty and quality. The fabric is woven by hand, making it unique and impossible to duplicate. Thai silk scarves, shirts, dresses and sarongs are great gifts to give your friends back home or to keep for yourself as mementoes of your trip. They’re widely available at Phuket markets or at the Jungceylon shopping mall. For very high-quality silk products, seek out Jim Thompson shops in Central Phuket.


Gimmicky Souvenirs

In Phuket markets, you’re likely to find all kinds of quirky trinkets and tokens, including tuk-tuk figurines made with recycled beer cans or boats made with cut and polished shells. While they may seem foreign and exotic, we encourage you to spend your money on better-quality items. These bits and bobs are often poorly made and are likely to fall apart before you even make it back home.

Steer clear of products that will only create clutter in your home or items that have no practical use. It’s also a good idea to pass on clothes you know you’ll never wear outside of Phuket, such as cheap singlets or Muay Thai shorts.


Unless you are buying from an authorized reseller, it would be better if you skipped the electronics in Phuket altogether. Cheap knockoff items abound in the markets, and you may be tempted to pick up a portable Bluetooth speaker or a battery bank for your phone. However, it’s impossible to ascertain the quality of these items, and you may be putting your money towards a speaker that sounds no different than a tin can, or a charger that dies on you before your trip is even over.

Even if you do buy from an authorized reseller, your item may only be eligible for a local warranty. This means if it breaks or fails, you’ll have to return to the store where you bought it from for a replacement or repair services. As such, examine the prices with a critical eye and assess if the trouble is worth it. It’s possible to get the latest gadget for cheap in Thailand, but in the event of anything untoward, you may be on your own. 

Gems and stones

One of the most popular scams in Thailand is the “gem scam,” in which you are convinced by a network of unscrupulous individuals that a government initiative allows tourists such as yourself to buy jewelry and precious gems at duty-free prices. These con men will take you to a place that sells these baubles, and you will be pressured, heavily, to purchase something. They’ll offer it to you at a price tag that’s too good to be true, and will even go the extra mile of shipping it to your home address at no cost. Sure enough, you’ll return home to a box that contains the item you paid for, only it may not be as valuable as you thought.

These scammers even print out fake certificates of authenticity to convince you that the stones in their possession are the real deal. As such, before you take your wallet out, be sure that the establishment you’re in has a good reputation. Sometimes, a simple search online will uncover the truth. To rid yourself of these criminals, be as aggressive as they are when you insist, “no, thank you,” and leave the premises immediately.

Be discerning about the items you purchase and exercise fiscal restraint where necessary. Don’t just buy something on impulse because it happens to be cheap! In Phuket, you do get what you pay for. Stick to souvenirs you’d love to receive yourself and keep your wits about you, and your shopping experience shouldn’t be anything less than pleasant.

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