Trust us, there are so many souvenir shops and stalls in Thailand that most visitors will easily feel overwhelmed - even on their first day in the country! Now if you are anything like us, the typical trappings and trinkets simply will not suffice. We tend to only lay down our hard-earned cash on souvenirs that are a bit out of the ordinary, items that are hopefully not available from one stall to the next. And yet, chances are that if you are coming all the way out to Southeast Asia, friends and family back home are going to expect a Buddha or two! If you are seeking a classier alternative to the schlock that abounds around town, we have another option for you. Look no further than the Amulet Market, conveniently located just off of the Chao Phraya River near the Grand Palace.
What makes the Amulet Market so unique is that the top-notch quality of the artistry is fairly consistent, and seemingly authentic. The unique array of religious amulets, talismans and statues on display have been forged out of every imaginable material, from fine teak wood to beautiful oxidized copper. This is the perfect place to discover that small jade charm for a loved one back home, or conversely, if you are looking for a huge antique headboard to spice up your bedroom, there’s a high probability you’ll find it here, albeit wrapped under some inconspicuous sheet.
We suggest veering off the main drag of Thanon Maharat and checking out the smaller side streets instead. Here you will find Buddhas and bodhisattvas of all sizes, some large enough to sate your garden or shrine, while others are compact enough to grace the top of your desk back at work.
The Amulet market is open daily from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM, making it also a great space to wait out an afternoon rainstorm since many of the stalls are dutifully tented! Bargain away and have fun. These are items that you will be proud to gift later on down the road!
Amulet Market - near Grand Palace (between Thanon Maharat and Chao Phraya River), Bangkok
Khao San Road
Banglamphu’s Khao San Road is easily the epicenter of Bangkok’s “tourist hell.” And yet unlike other traps that we would just as soon avoid (Times Square or Pier 39 anyone?), there is something quite invigorating about Thanon Khao San that seduces upon arrival. Maybe it’s the food stalls that sell a variety of crunchy arachnids and junebugs with hot sauce as accompaniment (see “eats”). Or perhaps it’s the cavalcade of colorful weirdos that populate surrounding side streets. These cats are so much more clever and edgy than the ones you might find along Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade. (Blokes painted in silver or gold never seem have a sense of humor!) Yes, sightseers along Khao San Road will undoubtedly sense a special electricity popping in the air as they stroll past countless Internet cafes, trekker hostels and ladyboy massage therapists! You may not want to spend all day here, and yet, there’s no denying that a couple of drinks at dusk will provide an experience unlike any other in the city!
Of course, no mention of the famous avenue can be made without a nod to its vast shopping opportunities. While you might expect to find the usual souvenir suspects - magnets, keychains, shot glasses, etc. - we do not recall their presence along Thanon Khao San. What shoppers can expect is a series of makeshift clothing stores that run the gamut from passé to posh. Surprisingly, these vendors have an ear to the pulse of what is going on. We arrived only a couple of days after the passing of Michael Jackson in 2009 and the Khao San stalls were already filled with commemorative T-shirts paying tribute to the fallen superstar. Elsewhere, trendy hipster duds were on offer at prices well below what one would pay stateside. (Set of Drifter Brady loved his red 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea-themed shirt for a couple years... that is until he started seeing variations sold in Los Angeles-area boutiques!)
But it is not all about clothing - or tattoos! The pulse of surrounding Banglamphu continues well into the wee hours of indulgence, and across Thanon Chakrabongse. This “other side” of Khao San was far more trendy and chic, replete with modern bars, restaurants and vendors who unexpectedly sold contemporary lighting and home furnishings! Make sure you spend time browsing both the high end low elements of Khao San before laying down any baht!
Set of Drifters tip: Desperate for that ubiquitous “Same Same But Different” T-shirt? You will not be disappointed. Vendors along Khao San offer the design in every color of the rainbow, even Tie-Dye! Just do yourself a favor. Don’t wear the shirt while in Southeast Asia or you will look like a total dork!
Khao San Road - Banglamphu, Bangkok
surprising good finds at Suvarnabhumi
Tis true, we have traveled quite a bit, both internationally and domestic. Yet no matter where we are in the world, there is always one constant that can be compared and contrasted... a destination’s airport. Some are quite good, entertaining even, while others are remarkably intolerable. Of course, “Murphy’s Law” states that you will be graced with long delays at the most boring terminals that lack style, and unnecessarily hurried through the ones that offer multiple attractions and high design! We may spend more time dissecting this topic at a later date, but for now, we will concentrate solely on Bangkok’s surprisingly enjoyable Suvarnabhumi International Airport. (That’s "su-wan-na-poom" naturally.)
Five minutes upon our arrival at Suvarnabhumi, and we were already feeling The King and I vibe. Monolithic representations of colorful yaksha figures are whimsically placed in the most unexpected locales. In fact, one of our favorite photos from the entire Southeast Asia trip piques with the juxtaposition of Indian devas "churning the ocean milk" right outside the duty-free Chanel boutique! And while the kitschy larger-than-life temple created entirely out of candle wax was the airport’s apex of lunacy, what truly made Suvarnabhumi shine was its shopping!
Normally, airport souvenirs are one of two things: cheap and poorly made - or constructed of higher quality, yet overpriced and lacking any real design. At Suvarnabhumi however, they seem to have gotten things right! The magnets, patches and other trinkets on offer here are richly detailed and seemingly exotic, even though we can surmise that, like the patriotic gewgaws at your local Cracker Barrel, they are all mass-produced somewhere in China!
We especially liked the line of Propaganda housewares that were sold in even the most banal of souvenir shops. While these days the line is seemingly based out of more fashion-forward Japan, the duo of designers behind the cutesy-poo products are both ex-pats from Thailand! Their imaginative designs easily rival those of the more popular Alessi Brand! Make sure to check out the goods while you are waiting for your next connecting flight! Trust us, your friends back home will be impressed by your taste! (Our little ceramic toothbrush holder - in the form of a large molar - is the perfect addition to our medical/ pharmaceutical-inspired bathroom back home!)
High-techy Suvarnabhumi International Airport is quite large, spread out over four floors that almost topple over one another. If you have a long layover, make sure to check out their website ahead of time to see all that is on offer.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport - 99 Thanon Bangna-Trad, Moo 10, Samut Prakan, Bangkok, 011 (66) 2-132-1888, http://www.bangkokairportonline.com/
Propaganda - http://www.propagandaonline.jp