As the walls and shelves of our house house will confirm, Bangkok is full of wonderful shopping opportunities, particularly with regard to silks, gemstones, jewelry and handicrafts. But finding the quality shops takes some effort — they’re frequently buried in vast commercial complexes and at first glance tend to appear profoundly unremarkable. On a recent short trip to the city, we focused primarily on handicrafts, but also had a welcome run-in with several square yards of silk creations.
As always, Bangkok shoppers should exercise a healthy amount of skepticism, especially when it comes to handicrafts and antiques. More and more forgers are turning their talents toward certificates of authenticity. As we are no expert in these matters, we have devised a simple rule of thumb: If it is something we really like, and it doesn’t look like it came out of a factory, and the price seems reasonable, we will buy it. We came away with purchases from five establishments that we can confidently recommend.
First was a place called Jim Thompson (9 Surawong Road) are hardly a secret, but we did make a stop there, and have to say that it must be on any serious shopper’s list. We came away with several gifts for people back home — all easily accommodated in our luggage — including some exquisite pillow covers, scarves and shirts.
We had resisted the River City mall near the Oriental as being too overtly commercial, but toward the end of our stay, we had not found a gift for a dear friend who has a passion for wood carvings. Steeling ourselves for the worst, we hopped on the water taxi and cruised up the river. And sure enough, it was a fairly depressing tourist shopping mall experience, but just when we were about to pack it in, something caught our eye — an elaborately carved wood panel depicting a deer that was just the kind of thing we’d been hoping to find.
It was in a small store on the second floor of the mall called Darlene. We left with that panel and several other charming objects that made wonderful one-of-a-kind gifts: compact yet intricately carved Thai prayer houses, small animal marionettes (the elephants being our favorite), miniature carved temple-guardian heads painted in vivid colors and topped with gold helmets, and lovely silk scarves in a rainbow of hues. We rode back to the hotel as conquering heroes.