Leann is a freelance researcher. She has visited some parts of Asia, Africa, and North America.
A trip to Southeast Asia is not complete without the experience of shopping in cheap markets. The region offers plenty of these opportunities, and Thailand and Vietnam are two top destinations for budget-conscious tourists who like to shop. In this article, learn about the best markets in Thailand and Vietnam, as well as some tips for smart shopping in both countries.
Where to Shop in Thailand
Known as one of the shopping meccas in Asia, Thailand has many cheap markets. One of its most famous markets is Bangkok's 35-acre Chatuchak Weekend Market that has over 8,000 market stalls. It opens from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. According to Asia Web Direct, 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 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 p.m. on Saturdays until the next day. It sells car parts and accessories, toys, DVDs, CDs, and electronics.
On weekdays, tourist shoppers in Thailand can visit the Patpong Night Market in Soi 1 from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Khao San Road is a favorite 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 on Wednesdays, the Saphan Phut Night Market near the Memorial Bridge is open daily, from early evening until midnight. Vendors sell food, entertainment goods, replicas of or fake designer clothes, and other cheap items.
Unique Items to Look for in Thailand
Wondering what goodies you can bring home to your loved ones from Thailand? Here are some suggestions, though some of these products are exported from Thailand as well:
- 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 the whole pack.
- 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 ants, scorpions, and other insects are aware of their 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 scarves, blouses, and sarongs with captivating designs and patterns. Some of these are tie-dyed, which is referred to as Matmi silk. These represent a part of Thai culture.
Factors to Consider When Buying Thai Silk
According to Chiangmai and Chiangrai Magazine (2014), there are a number of factors to look at when buying genuine Thai silk:
- Price: A good range is 600–2,500 baht.
- Weave: Look for those that are handmade from 100% natural fiber, with "...small flaws or joins in the thread along the warp and the weft."
- Luster: Use a light test to determine luster, as "...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."
Where to Shop 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 [and] 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 and 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 Market joins the 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 Frommers notes. Its Tran Phu Street is occupied by vendors selling artworks, pottery, ceramics, Chinese lanterns, and woodcarvings.
Souvenirs and 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, women, and 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 garment that consists of a long figure-contouring gown with lengthy side slits and trousers that are quite loose. It is reportedly patterned after the body-hugging cheongsam or qípáo worn by Chinese women.
- Ca phe or coffee: This is one of the top exports of Vietnam. The simple process for making ca phe 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, oysters, and more comprise the country's perishable agriculture and marine aquaculture products.
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 unacceptable and which ones should be avoided 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, translation books, or websites, such as 101 Languages.
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 head covering. Look simple and wear minimal accessories to ward off potential thieves who may be locals or fellow foreign tourists.
Protect yourself from emergencies and frivolous spending.
The fun in shopping disappears whenever a health, money, safety, or 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 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 don't need to have a damaged item replaced or even regret shopping and feel duped for being a spendthrift.
For Budding and Seasoned Tourists
- Bray, Adam. 2007. "Bargain Hunting in Vietnam". ThingsAsian.com. (accessed April 10, 2011).
- D'Altorio, Tony. 2010. "Vietnam’s Emerging Market: An Asian Value Play". Investment U. December 6. (accessed April 10, 2011).
- 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)
- Frommers.com. n.d. "The Best Shopping". (accessed April 10, 2011).
- "Shopping". (accessed April 10, 2011).
- GuideVietnam.com. n.d. "Shopping in Vietnam". (accessed April 10, 2011).
- Haivenu-Vietnam.com. n.d. "Hanoi's Markets". (accessed April 10, 2011).
- "Ho Chi City's Markets". (accessed April 10, 2011).
- 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)
- 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).
- Phuong Mai, Dam Thi and Barbour-Lacey, Edward. (2015). An Introduction to Vietnam's Import and Export Industries. (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)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Leann Zarah
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