|Whereas in the past you needed to go to Bangkok for any serious shopping, Phuket now has shopping oportunities to satisfy all but the most fanatical shopaholic. In addition to the roadside stalls and markets there are quite a few shopping centres and department stores, as well as a good selection of boutiques and speciality shops. Fine examples of traditional handicrafts, textiles, gems, jewellery and antiques, as well as clothing and everyday items are sold all over the island.
The best bargains and widest range of goods are found in Phuket City and Patong, though there are plenty of shops and stalls to be found in beach areas such as Kata and Karon.
Prices are fixed in department stores and larger shops, but at most other places bargaining is expected, especially at markets and shops where the prices are not displayed. Roadside stalls will often quote double the price, and sometimes even more, which the seller will accept. So start low, maybe at a third and aim for half.
Some small shops that have prices marked can also be cajoled into giving a “special discount”. Don't expect to able to bargain down too much though. If the prices are already displayed, this should mean that they are fair. Nevertheless, its quite rare to find a merchant who won't budge at all.
Generally, shopping in Thailand is easy and fun. But remember to shop smart, go around and compare prices and obtain a receipt for expensive items. Be wary of touts, tour guides, taxi/tuk tuk drivers or friendly strangers who offer to take you shopping. In nearly all cases they will receive a commision, which of course is added to the price you pay.
Visitors entering the Kingdom on tourist visas are entitled to refunds of the 7% value added tax (VAT) paid on goods purchased at shops, department stores and other retail outlets displaying "VAT Refund for Tourists" signs, where tax refund application forms are available. Before leaving the country, visitors must present a completed VAT refund form, plus passport information and receipts, to a customs officer. Certain luxury goods must be shown to an excise official. Refunds may be in bank draft form or credited to a credit card. Call the VAT Refunds for Tourists Office (02 272 9388) for more information.
The TAT offers these tips for your protection:
- Be wary of any encounter that ends up requiring your presence in a gem shop. Most probably it is a scam.
- Buying gems or jewellery to resell at double or triple the purchase prices is an impossible proposition under any circumstances. Buy jewellery only for personal satisfaction for your own use or for loved ones.
- Make price comparisons in various shops before deciding to buy. Never be in a hurry.
- Never mail sapphires or other precious stones. Carry valuable items with you.
- Do not believe special (jewellery) sales of any kind. Reputable dealers hardly ever offer sales and never send touts to lure tourists to their stores.
- There are no promotions, shows or special sales on jewelry authorized by the government or any official agencies at any time of the year.
- The government does not own, operate, subsidize, or authorize any jewellery stores.
- As far as you can, take time to verify all claims. Words, promises, personal guarantees, unchecked documents, unauthorized verbal or written statements, casual references, encounters and the like do not constitute verification.
- Remember, you are your own best protection.
- Thai embassies, consulates or any delegations abroad are neither bound nor responsible for refunding goods that are bought in Thailand.