You Can Get Anything You Want – Almost
January 1, 2017
When we were packing our 40’ shipping container on our way to a retirement in Thailand one of the things we thought about was what stuff should we ship that we just couldn’t get here in Thailand. We made a long list, went shopping, packed it all up in boxes, and sent it on its way. It turns out that we were way off with our list, and in today’s Thailand you can get just about anything you want or need – almost.
Thailand is now quite a modern country where just about everything is available. Maybe a little history will help us see why we were so mistaken about what is available here now. We’ll start with an anecdote about coffee.
I choose coffee because it seems that within just a 7-iron drive’s distance from my computer (for me that’s not very far) there are at least a dozen coffee shops. The shops have on their signs (in Thai) “Kafae Sot”. This literally means “fresh coffee”, but should be interpreted as “freshly brewed” coffee.
When I first arrived in Thailand coffee was rarely encountered. Maybe if you had a meeting with a high ranking official he would offer you a cup of coffee in his office. This meant Nescafe instant coffee, at the time the only coffee available. There were no coffee shops as we know them. If coffee was ordered at a hotel or a high end restaurant, it was Nescafe, the brand name that became synonymous with “coffee” itself. The reason the ubiquitous coffee shops today need to emphasized “fresh” is to differentiate it from the instant, powdered, variety so popular in the past.
I remember when the first real coffee shop was opened in Chiang Mai, circa 1970. Its very appropriate name, “First Coffee Shop”. And coincidentally, it was just one or two shops down from where currently sits the Starbucks on Tha Phae Road.
As with coffee, so many of the things we wanted or needed that were unavailable to us back then are encountered just about everywhere in today’s Thailand. Here is an example.
My son on a visit here saw how much ice we used (it was the hot season) and he decided that we needed an ice maker. We couldn’t find one in the market here so back in the U.S. he checked out Amazon.com and got one for us and the next time he visited he schlepped* it all the way here in his luggage. It was 110 v so we needed a heavy duty electricity converter, but the thing works great.
We later learned that all we needed to do was a little on-line shopping right here and we could have found just about whatever we are looking for. Ice makers are here. So is the food dehydrator that we were thinking would be our next “schlepping” purchase from the U.S. All are available right on a number of Thai web sites and they are of the 220 v variety so no electricity converter is necessary.
The two on-line sites we have used are Verasu and Lazada. They seem to be reliable and fast, with good prices. Besides these two Thai sites there are Chinese on-line stores that ship directly here and so does Amazon and Best Buy and lots of other international companies. For many items, especially foreign made, their prices are often much lower than the Thai prices. But to the lower prices must be added overseas shipping costs which can be quite high, and the possibility of having to pay taxes. Because of that our son is bringing a new Android tablet for me on his next visit. In this case, schlepping will be worth it. On Best Buy the price for the Android tablet I chose is 1/3 the cost here in Thailand.
The list of what I need from back home is getting shorter and shorter. But there are still some things that are either hard to come by here, are much more expensive, or the specific brand you like may not be available.
Here are a few examples.
Thailand seems to have a plethora of western sausages, none of which for me are edible (although Thai sausages are quite good). I absolutely love American hot dogs. Not to be found here. When in the U.S. I buy about 10 lbs. of Hebrew National Hot Dogs, freeze them, wrap them really well, and put them in my check in luggage when I travel back to Thailand. They make it here fine, still mostly frozen, but with all their nitrates and nitrites they stay fresh and are a great reminder of home.
We also pack a bunch of good quality cheese. You can get good cheese here but the prices are quite high and the selection is limited.
I also love those Blue Diamond almonds you can get on sale in U.S. pharmacies.
But the food I crave most is Trader Joe’s Belgian Milk Chocolate. I bring about a dozen 1 lb. bars back here with me, frozen. I eat two small pieces each night. It lasts me about 6 months that way. I have one 1 lb. bar left from my last trip. Just thinking about what happens when it is finished sends me into chocolate withdrawal. Locally produced Kit Kats just don’t suffice.
I am a little guy in America, but large for here. Luckily I am right at the maximum range for Thai clothes and shoe sizes so I can usually get what I need. Anyone larger than I am, and that includes most westerners, might need to get their clothes, and especially shoes, back home. This includes both men and women.
Electronics and sports equipment
As mentioned above, electronics, computer equipment, tablets, smart phones, computer games, and their like, are quite expensive here. U.S. on-line sites have much better prices. The same goes for sports equipment. I priced a Ping driver at a department store here the other day and it costs more than $1,000. It is more like $300 back home (I ended up buying mine used from a friend for 2,000 baht.). An archer friend of mine said he had the same experience with his bows and arrows. Best to check prices.
Vitamins and supplements
These aren’t considered medication so they carry a big tax. Vitamins, even the one-a-day kind, can be quite expensive. I take one tablet of Glucosamine a day. Keeps my joints lubricated. Very expensive here. They are pricey at Costco back home but still lots cheaper than here.
We like good quality American tools, especially Craftsman from Sears.
I like a specific brand of after shave and deodorant that I can’t get here (It’s as Hannibal Lecter said after sniffing the Edward Norton character in Red Dragon, “The one with the ship on the bottle.”)
If I eat spicy foods for dinner I get stomach troubles at night and America’s Alka-Seltzer it’s the only thing that works for me, but it isn’t sold here.
We can get fitted sheets here but for some reason they don’t come with a matching flat sheet, so we buy good quality sets at home and bring them here. Be careful with these since the mattress sizes here can be different from those in the west.
What I really crave is good ice cream. Most Thai-made ice cream has never seen cream and is made with palm oil as a substitute. That is a big no no for an ice cream aficionado. You can get Haagen Dasz Ice Cream here but a quart costs about as much as a good wristwatch and I won’t pay that much for an ice cream with a made up Scandinavian sounding name by two kids from New Jersey. I prefer Breyers Butter Pecan all natural ice cream and if I find a way to bring it in my luggage then the world will be spinning correctly. (As a substitute, Thai coconut milk ice cream, sold in push carts, is quite good.)
Request: For those already living here, to help those planning on making the move, please leave a comment if there is stuff that you can’t find here and that you bring to Thailand whenever you return from a visit home.
I just checked and it turns out that Lazada website carries the stuff with the ship on the bottle.
I did another search and found ice cream makers and scoops but no Breyers Butter Pecan.
*schlep: to carry or pull (something) with difficulty: to drag or haul (something). A Yiddish word that is part of the New York vernacular I grew up speaking. No standard- English word seems to carry the same feeling.