Taking home a memento of your trip to Thailand can be a fantastic way to savour the memories of your time away – but hunting for unique souvenirs and gifts can also quickly become a stressful last-minute rush that sucks the fun out of the final days of your holiday.
Fortunately, these days Bangkok has a thriving scene when it comes to gifts and souvenirs – whether for friends and loved ones or simply for yourself. Take a look at our guide to some of the more unique trinkets we would opt to take home with us if we were on a short visit to Thailand.
Make the most of the duty-free allowance of alcohol that you can take back to your home country with you! Rather than wasting it on generic brands of booze that you can already pick up with ease in your local supermarket (and which aren’t always as heavily discounted in airport duty-free shops as you might think, anyway), take the opportunity to stock up on a bottle or two of local liquor produced by one of the distilleries that makes up Thailand’s burgeoning independent spirits scene.
From Thai-inspired Iron Balls gin – created by famed Bangkok nightlife venue designer Ashley Sutton, in his tiny distillery (and attached ‘gin parlour’ in Ekkamai – to the heady Chalong Bay sugarcane rum that hails from Phuket’s southeastern coast, there’s now a handful of liquor producers in Thailand whose eau de vie is actually worth taking home with you. And though rougher round the edges, and without the kind of Instagrammable bottle that defines much of the industry these days, if you’re holidaying on Koh Samui then the Koh Samui Rum Distillery (formerly Magic Alambic Rum) is also worth a look (not least for a mid-morning shot or two of their variety of flavours of infused rum at the distillery itself).
Airport regulations mean you won’t be able to take your boozy purchases through security and onto the plane in the same way as you would those you buy from airside duty-free, but we regularly get our locally procured spirits safely from A to B by wrapping them carefully inside clothes in our suitcases.
www.ironballsgin.com (available at bars around Bangkok, and direct from the distillery)
www.chalongbayrum.com (available from Villa supermarkets and www.wishbeer.com)
www.rum-distillery.com (available direct from the distillery)
There’s no end to the fun foodies can have on a trip to Bangkok, when deciding which of the countless ingredients to take back home in an effort to recreate all the overwhelming smells and flavours of Thai street food.
Make a start with curry pastes and dried herbs and spices (like lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves) – as well as loose from local markets, it’s easy to find these kind of ingredients nicely packaged up in supermarkets, department stores, and even convenience stores like 7/11, which makes them easier to safely transport over long distances without fear of leakages and the like. In supermarkets and department stores, you’ll often also find pre-prepared herb and spice mixes that are ready to thrown as they are into, for example, a tom yum soup. One highly recommended place to pick up your pastes is “Namprik Nittaya” near Khao San Road.
Keen cooks may want to keep a particular eye out for the kind of regional ingredients that can be more difficult to source overseas than run-of-the-mill green and red curry pastes – for example, gaeng hunglay pastes from the north, spices like makhwaen prickly ash powder (which some chefs also add to gaeng hunglay, and which is hard to track down in Bangkok but can be scored at spots like Warorot Market in Chiang Mai), and dried edible flowers like those we use in our workshops at The Market Experience, such as butterfly pea flowers, roselle flowers, bael fruit, and chrysanthemum flowers, which can be steeped in hot water to make delicious herbal teas.
Or for something even more out there, consider taking home a haul of Mama instant noodles (often the food of choice for Thais living overseas looking for a taste of home!), packs of dehydrated fruits like durian and mango, or increasingly popular edible bugs such as silkworms, packaged up as convenient snacks by brands like HiSo that are trying to push these sustainable food sources into the mainstream.
Just remember that many countries have strict controls on the import of certain types of fresh foods, so be sure to check the rules for your destination – Australia has a reputation for being particularly heavy-handed, for example, while in the UK many foodstuffs can be imported for personal use, but fresh kaffir lime leaves are an absolute no-no (dried or frozen are fine).
It’s difficult to walk around a Thai market – whether one of Bangkok’s wonderful fresh markets, its many night markets, or perhaps the infamous weekend Chatuchak Market – without coming across a huge array of gorgeous cookware and utensils that are just begging for a spot in your suitcase for the trip home.
We have a particular weakness for the kind of retro enamel bowls and plates, in whites, blues, greens, and yellows, that have been on-trend overseas for the past few years, too. Beautiful wooden cooking utensils are also a must, and there’s something adorable about soap-holders crafted from coconut shells. Depending on your luggage allowance for the ride home, you might even want to pick up an authentic clay pestle and mortar to allow you to pound your very own somtum papaya salad.
Local markets across Bangkok and other Thai cities are worth exploring for these kind of gifts, as are more destination-type markets like Talat Rot Fai and Chatuchak. You might also want to peruse shops in the Chinatown area.
Thailand is famed for its beautiful, high-quality silk exports, especially in traditional Thai designs, made popular by the likes of American and architect and silk producer Jim Thompson, who became fascinated with and enormously helped to boost the profile of the country’s weaving industry. Whether you’re looking to pick up a simple scarf or something more intricate, you’ll find various silk products available at markets across Bangkok (especially if you go to The Old Siam shopping center) – but for perhaps the best quality, head to the gift shop at the Jim Thompson House itself.
Aside from silk, for other quality Thai handicrafts, check out Heritage Craft and Café by ThaiCraft Fair Trade, near the Giant Swing in Bangkok’s old town.
Jim Thompson’s House: Daily, 9am-6pm; adults, 150 baht, students under 22 years old, 100 baht; 6/1 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road (BTS National Stadium); www.jimthompsonhouse.com
Heritage Craft and Café by ThaiCraft Fair Trade: Monday to Friday, 11am-6pm; Bamrung Muang Road (Tha Chang river boat pier); www.heritagecraft.org
Been on an Expique Bangkok Night Lights or Evening Food and Tuk Tuk Adventure and loved every second of it? We don’t currently sell these tuk tuk batiks – which we received from Santa, who in turn got them from Khlong Toey’s Human Development Centre Mercy Centre (a charitable organisation helping street children and families, especially those with HIV and AIDS) – but we think they would make the perfect Bangkok souvenir, so we’re considering it!
Finally, if you’re considering buying Buddha images or statues, or other gifts incorporating the image of the Buddha, here’s our advice: don’t. There are strict rules against taking Buddha images out of the country, and penalties can be harsh.
At Expique, we’re experts at showing you the unique parts of Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand that most tours don’t take you to – and which you probably won’t discover on your own. Joining one of our tours or experiences (or having us create a custom tour for you) is a great way to make the most of your time in Thailand and ensure you leave with a memorable experience.
Are you visiting Thailand? Take a look at our expert recommendations for:
What are your favourite gifts and souvenirs to buy in Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Iron Balls; SeaDave; aotaro; RoyalSiamBeauty; Expique
Want to explore more of Thailand? Contact us about arranging to come on a custom-curated adventure with Expique.