You Can Get Anything You Want
April 18, 2010
Shopping in Thailand
There may not be an Alice’s Restaurant in Thailand, but you can get just about anything you want or need at markets, supermarkets, malls, shopping centers, and home improvement centers all over Thailand.
One question that a lot of prospective retirees have before making a decision about where to retire is what kind of lifestyle they will have. This includes whether they will be able to buy the “stuff” of their lives. Will the foods that they are familiar with be available? Can they buy clothes, and the latest electronics, and their favorite cosmetics, and their necessary medicines?
Years ago these were big problems. Western “stuff” just was not available and if it was it was taxed so high as to make it prohibitively expensive. I am thankful that we now live in the 21st century and a global economy. Except for a very few items (like my favorite chocolate bars – from Trader Joes), and some brand name products, I can get just about everything I need here. Occasionally my favorite brand of underwear won’t available here and I will ask a friend (a good friend) to bring me a dozen pair when he comes to visit. Sometimes a brand name of an over the counter drug can’t be found here but if you know the generic name you will be able to find a substitute. And if you like good cheese, you might want to have one whole checked bag full the next time you return from a trip “home”.
But mostly, if you search hard enough, you’ll find what you are looking for, Below are examples of where most expats and retirees in Thailand do their shopping and where “you can get anything you want”.
Traditional Market Places
A lot of expats and retirees, especially the ones who live upcountry and far from population centers, do their shopping in the traditional Thai way. They go to their local market. Thais normally will shop at the market daily, getting their produce and fruits fresh and eating them the same day. You can get most Thai foods and foods indigenous to the local area there. Rice, boxed milk, juices, fish, and meats (freshly killed that morning usually) are all available.
One thing you will see at almost all markets is ready made foods (homemade by the vendors themselves). In a large percentage of Thai families both partners work. That leaves little time to prepare a meal after returning home in the evening. It has become a tradition now to pick up some plastic bag wrapped dishes that “go with rice”. Depending on the size of the market you could have dozens of traditional Thai dishes to choose from. You can even pick up the cooked rice. This has led to a phenomenon where few Thai young people cook, or even know how to cook, for themselves. But it does make it convenient for a lone expat or a retired couple to have dinner at home without having to cook. Most lunches are eaten at small restaurants, food courts, or cafeterias.
Weekend markets, or more accurately, markets by appointment, open on the same day(s) once or more a week. They usually take over a small field or a temple courtyard. They carry much of the same stuff as a traditional market carries and lots of other goodies. Clothes, tools, music CDs and Videos, electronics, plants, orchids, trees, live chickens and ducks, and even water buffalos are featured at some of these markets. The most impressive is the Jutukak Market, or Weekend Market, in Bangkok. It is so huge that most locals living in Bangkok have never seen the whole thing. It is one of the few places in Bangkok that I enjoy going to. There are lots of strange and exotic flora and fauna for sale at the Jutujak Market. Weekend markets are also great people watching places.
You might think that convenience stores, where you can pick up drinks and snacks is a western thing. You’d be really wrong about that. 7-Eleven is now a Japanese owned company and Thailand has over 5,000 stores. It ranks only behind the U.S. and Japan for the most 7-Eleven stores in the world. I have been in very small villages in upcountry Thailand and found one. There are more than 1,500 in Bangkok alone. You can pay your telephone and electric bills there, buy phone cards for your cell phone, and pick up a late night snack just as you might back home. Pretty convenient this convenience stores.
Most population centers will now have modern supermarkets. These are usually large international chain stores that carry all kinds of Asian foods as well as a large variety of western foods. You can find supermarkets at the shopping centers that have sprung up around the country. The largest ones in Thailand are Tesco/Lotus (British), Carrefour (French), and Big C (Thai). There are also now big-box-stores where you can buy your food in bulk (Macro). People still shop at their local outdoor marketplaces but supermarkets are becoming more and more popular and their prices are the same and sometimes even cheaper than what you can get outside.
There are first rate pharmacies, especially if you live in a large town, where you can get both Thai produced and imported medicines. Quite often you won’t need a doctor’s prescription. If you have medication that you are taking just bring it into the pharmacy and you can get a refill without having to see a doctor first. I often go to a pharmacist and tell him/her a symptom and ask what I should do about it. They usually come up with a good answer and the correct medication to treat the problem. I mean, you don’t really need to go to a doctor to identify and treat ringworm, do you? Not that I would know anything about that, of course.
Home Improvement Centers
These have sprung up all over the country. Global House and Home Pro are chains that carry everything from plumbing, and electrical, to kitchen equipment. If you are a do-it-yourself type then you’ll most likely find what you need there.
As modern as any mall anywhere in the world. I was walking through one with a visiting friend a while back and his take was “This could be anywhere. London, Paris, Tokyo.” My favorite time to go to the mall is when it is 40 degrees out and I am about to raost. They are by far the “coolest” places in town. Some malls will have Versachi next to a McDonald’s, next to a Thai food court, next to Thai handicrafts shops, bookstores , Samsung TVs and a cinema multi-plex.
You could be a purist and elect to shop only at “real” Thai shops but for me, I like having the Malls available, especially on those scorching days in the hot season. And just like anywhere else in the world, there is no better people watching than at a nice cool, modern shopping mall.