Cheap Shopping in Thailand and Vietnam

Updated on October 12, 2018
Leann Zarah profile image

Leann is a freelance researcher. She has visited places in Southeast Asia, Africa, and North America.

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Visiting Southeast Asia is not complete without shopping in cheap markets. The region offers plenty of these opportunities. Thailand and Vietnam are two top destinations for budget-conscious tourists who like to shop.

Welcome to Thailand - The Land of Smiles

Travel to Thailand and shop in many cheap markets.
Travel to Thailand and shop in many cheap markets. | Source

Finding Low-Cost Products in Thailand

Known as one of the shopping meccas in Asia, Thailand has many cheap markets, such as Bangkok's 35-acre Chatuchak Weekend Market which has over 8,000 market stalls. It opens from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. on Fridays and from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. According to, this market "has reached a landmark status as a must-visit place for tourists...this is where you can literally shop ‘till you drop’."

Other weekend markets include the Ratchada-Lad Phrao junction night market which is only open on Saturdays from 6:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. It sells many second-hand items, as well as motorbikes and scooters. Used merchandise can also be found in Klong Thom Market which opens at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays until the next day. It sells car parts and accessories, toys, DVDs and CDs, and electronics.

On week days, tourist shoppers in Thailand can visit the Patpong Night Market in Soi 1 which is open from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Khao San Road is a fave spot among backpackers. It has travel agencies, book shops, Internet cafés, banks, money changer nooks, and convenience stores. Its Banglamphu Market offers very affordable items.

Except Wednesdays, the Saphan Phut Night Market near the Memorial Bridge is open daily, starting early evening until 12 midnight. Vendors sell fake designer clothes, food stalls, entertainment goods, and other cheap items.

The Chatuchak Market in Bangkok - A Quick Tour of a Shopaholic's Haven in Thailand

Uniquely Thai - Some Things to Buy in Thailand

Wondering what goodies you can bring home to your loved ones from Thailand? Here are some suggestions, though several of these belong to the country's list of exported products:

  • Moniegold Chewy Tamarind Candy - These brown, pebble-like edibles fuse the flavor of tamarind with cane sugar and glucose syrup. Each tiny chewy candy oozes with a good amount of sweetness and sourness that can make you eat quite a handful or until you've consumed the whole pack or mini-canister.
  • Edible Insects - These are unusual specialty foods that have piqued the curiosity of adventurous tourists. People who like to eat grasshoppers, bugs, crickets, worms, queen weaver and scorpions, and other insects are aware of its health benefits. These foods provide vitamins and lysine.
  • Thai silk fabric - Made from the cocoons of silkworms, Thai silk is used in producing colorful garments such as scarf, blouses, and sarong with captivating designs and patterns, some of which are tie-dyed or referred to as Matmi silk. These represent a part of Thai culture.

According to Chiangmai and Chiangrai Magazine (2014), when buying genuine Thai silk, one has to consider the:

  • Price (range is 600-2,500 baht)
  • Weave (100% handmade of a natural fibre, with "...small flaws or joins in the thread along the warp and the weft.")
  • Luster (using a light test, "...the overall color tone will change depending on the angle of light.")
  • Print (the printed pattern can only be seen on one side "...with only an outline of the print on the reverse side When both sides are held up to the light, only the full print side will change color. The colors are not evident on the reverse side.")
  • Burn Test ("If you take a thread or two of 100-percent Thai silk and light them with a flame, it will leave a fine ash and smell like burnt hair. As soon as the flame is taken away the threads will stop burning.")

Souvenir Fabrics from Thailand

Thai silk scarves are among Thailand's popular trade products for local and foreign tourists.
Thai silk scarves are among Thailand's popular trade products for local and foreign tourists. | Source

Venture Into Vietnam

A glimpse of Sapa Valley in Northern Vietnam
A glimpse of Sapa Valley in Northern Vietnam | Source

Haggling in Vietnam

Tony D'Altorio and Karim Rahemtulla of Investment U, an online newsletter for investors, describe Vietnam as "a fast-growing emerging market" that is "undervalued...underrated" for investment potential in Southeast Asia. Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Hoi An are viewed as its top shopping areas.

Places that sell cheap merchandise include Cho Bình Tây, Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown where many stores sell wholesale goods. Cho Bình Tây supplies the items for many traders in nearby Ben Thanh Market.

Ben Thanh joins equally large An Dong and An Dong II markets in selling a myriad of items, ranging from souvenir knickknacks, garments and handicrafts to food, cigarettes, and beer. For cheap military paraphernalia, tourists can go to War Surplus Market (or Dan Sinh Market), while Huynh Thuc Khang serves as a nest for low-priced counterfeit electronics.

Crowd-infested Dong Xuan Market is based in Hanoi. A tourist attraction, it is one of the four popular covered markets (or "cho") in the city. The others are Cho Hang Da, Cho Hom, and Cho 19-12. Tourists can buy various commodities like ceramics, food, fabric, shoes, and fresh produce from these areas, as well as in many street markets.

A haven for silk is Hoi An. This place has many clothing and tailoring shops, as notes. Vendors of art works, pottery, ceramics, Chinese lanters, and woodcarving occupy its Tran Phu Street.

Ben Thanh Market in Saigon - A Shopper's Delight in Vietnam

Souvenirs and Consumer Goods to Bring Home from Vietnam

Like Thailand, Vietnam offers many products that shopping tourists can enjoy. These include:

  • Non la or conical hat - This customary accessory formed using palm leaves, bamboo sticks, and Moc tree bark is also referred to as the "Asian rice hat". A myth involving a goddess who shielded people from the rain inspired non la's birth. Men and women, as well as young boys and girls from different socioeconomic classes and regions across the country wear this hat, making it a symbol of Vietnamese identity. Among its many variations is the non bai tho or poem hat. Its poetic verses only appear the moment sunlight touches the hat's surface.
  • Áo dài - A traditional silk clothing that consists of a long figure-contouring gown with lengthy side splits and quite loose trousers. It is reportedly patterned after the body-hugging cheongsam or qípáo worn by Chinese women.
  • Ca phe or coffee - One of the top exports of Vietnam, simple ca phe making process involves the use of a phin or drip filter to produce a dark aromatic brew from ground coffee beans. It becomes more flavorful with the addition of sweetened condensed milk. The northern region of the country prefers brown coffee (ca phe nau), while the southern part opts for milk coffee (ca phe sua).
  • Nuts, fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood - Edible goods have significantly helped boost the national economy, with Vietnam being the world's primary producer and exporter of cashew nuts. Durian (sau rieng), pomelo (buoi), mango (xoai), mangosteen (mang cut), mushrooms, water spinach (rau muong), chayote (su su), cabbage (bap cai), bamboo shoots (mang), shrimp, pangasius, shellfish, tuna, and oysters, among others, comprise the country's perishable agriculture and marine aquaculture products.

Eat Healthy in Vietnam

Vietnamese markets sell fresh produce.
Vietnamese markets sell fresh produce. | Source

Shopping Tips for Tourists in Thailand and Vietnam

Before visiting a foreign country like Thailand or Vietnam, do some research first. For your own good, keep in mind the following tips as a shopping tourist:

  • Know something about the country's culture and language

Learning about the host country's culture can make you aware of particular behaviors that are considered not acceptable and which one should avoid as a foreigner. Reading about other tourists' experiences, both positive and negative, would be useful. Such information will help boost one's confidence in navigating the market scene.

Likewise, it is best to learn the basics of the local people's language, such as common phrases. It helps build rapport with vendors when a tourist shopper greets them using their native tongue. You may hone your Thai or Vietnamese language skills through a local friend, a translation book, or an online site.

  • Wear casual fashion items

Spending time in cheap markets in tropical countries requires tourists to don light clothing and comfortable footwear. If one chooses to shop during the day, it is recommended to use sunscreen, a pair of shades, and a headgear. Look simple and wear minimal accessories to ward off potential thieves (which may be a local or a fellow foreign tourist).

  • Protect yourself from emergencies and frivolous spending

The fun in shopping disappears whenever a health, money, or safety and security situation comes up unexpectedly. It is advisable to bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated, have enough cash or change to facilitate transactions, and check a prepared shopping list to give focus to your market trip.

When haggling, remember to smile. If you have local friends, they can do the haggling for you to save you from spending too much. Otherwise, observe and/ or ask other customers how much they paid for certain items.

In addition, a traveler should carry her/his own bag. Some Vietnamese storekeepers use color-coded bags to notify other sellers of the customer's buying nature - i.e., whether or not he/she is stingy or generous. Valuables should always be carried. This means that tourists should be mindful of their belongings to avoid falling prey to pickpockets.

Prior to paying the seller, check the merchandise carefully. Cheap markets do provide a higher value to a tourist's money, yet it is better to check for quality so that you can immediately have a damaged item replaced.

Charm Market Vendors with a Smile

Remember to smile while haggling for cheap goods in Asian markets.
Remember to smile while haggling for cheap goods in Asian markets. | Source

Come and Visit Southeast Asia's Cheap Markets in Thailand and Vietnam


get directions

Check the shopping map of Central Bangkok in Thailand.

A shopping guide for tourists in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the nest of Bến Thành Market.
A shopping guide for tourists in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the nest of Bến Thành Market. | Source
Visit Đồng Xuân Market and other shopping landmarks of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Visit Đồng Xuân Market and other shopping landmarks of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. | Source

For Budding and Seasoned Tourists

Do you plan to visit Southeast Asia?

See results


Bray, Adam. 2007. "Bargain Hunting in Vietnam". (accessed April 10, 2011).

D'Altorio, Tony. 2010. "Vietnam’s Emerging Market: An Asian Value Play". Investment U. December 6. (accessed April 10, 2011). n.d. "The Best Shopping". (accessed April 10, 2011).

____________. n.d. "Shopping". (accessed April 10, 2011). n.d. "Shopping in Vietnam". (accessed April 10, 2011). n.d. "Hanoi's Markets". (accessed April 10, 2011).

_________________. n.d. "Ho Chi City's Markets". (accessed April 10, 2011).

Rahemtulla, Karim. 2011. "The Most Irresistibly Undervalued Country in Southeast Asia". Investment U. January 28. (accessed April 10, 2011).

Van Vliet, Bek. "Blasting the Plastic: High End Shopping in Southeast Asia". Southeast Asia. (accessed April 10, 2011).

Additional References:

Phuong Mai, Dam Thi and Barbour-Lacey, Edward. (2015). An Introduction to Vietnam's Import and Export Industries. (accessed October 6, 2018)

Das, Koushan. (2017). Vietnam's Aquaculture Exports to Reach US$13 billion by 2020. (accessed October 6, 2018)

Entzian, Mareike. (2015). The Seafood Industry in Vietnam - Aquaculture, Five Year Plans, and the TPP. (accessed October 6, 2018)

Hoian Food Tour. n.d. Top Tropical Fruits in Vietnam. (accessed October 6, 2018)

International Food Policy Research Institute. (2002). Fruits and Vegetables in Vietnam: Adding Value from Farmer to Consumer. (accessed October 6, 2018)

Pike, Matthew. (2018). Made in Vietnam: The Countrys Top 10 Exports. (accessed October 6, 2018)

Rajapaksha, Piumi. (2018). Why Do Vietnamese People Wear Conical Hats? (accessed October 5, 2018)

Rosen, Elizabeth. n.d. A guide to Vietnamese coffee. (accessed October 6, 2018)

Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP)

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Leann Zarah


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        4 years ago

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        6 years ago

        great information

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        Leann Zarah 

        7 years ago

        Thanks for reading, Simone. :)

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        Simone Haruko Smith 

        7 years ago from San Francisco

        Oh, what an adventure this would be! Great Hub!


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