The sheer number and variety of buying opportunities in Thailand is astonishing – department stores, shopping malls, boutiques, markets and even plastic tables on the roadside. But what is worth buying in Krabi, and what is best saved for a trip to the shopping capital of Bangkok?
And what can you expect to find in shops in Ao Nang and the touristy beach areas?
Shopping malls in Krabi
By city standards, or even by down-the-road-in-Phuket standards, Krabi’s malls are no great shakes. There are various reasons – political and economical – for this, which are too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say you will not find the typical huge mall experience in Krabi. This may of course be a blessed relief, depending on your point of view!
There are three “malls” in total in Krabi, all conveniently located along the same side of the main highway (route 4), heading south out of Krabi Town towards the airport. Two of them are based around a big supermarket, Big C and Tesco Lotus respectively, with smaller stores and food courts on the ground floor; between them you will find Premium Outlet Village, selling discounted brand name clothing, shoes and luggage. As most goods are imported, the reductions may not be as impressive if you come from outside of Thailand.
Apple products can be found in iBeat, the one authorised seller in Krabi, located upstairs in the Tesco Lotus mall; these can be a good buy if your country has high VAT / sales tax (it is 7% in Thailand). They can also do repairs on iPhones, iPads and Macbooks if you have a holiday emergency. Otherwise, computer or electronic products are better bought in Bangkok, if you have the time.
Malls are usually open 9am to 9pm, 7 days a week.
If you are staying in town, you can often pick up genuine brand name clothes and accessories in the Vogue department store (e.g. Levi’s, Lacoste, Guy Laroche, Adidas) for up to half the price at home, as well as some good quality local brands. Of course, if quality or authenticity is not a problem, then even cheaper copies of top designer goods are widely available in the beach areas (see below).
Note: malls are one of the few places, along with bigger hotels and restaurants, where credit card payments are accepted; elsewhere cash is the norm, so prepare accordingly. Some hotels also impose a surcharge of around 3% for card payment, so be warned.
Handicrafts & local products
Handicrafts are perhaps Thailand’s biggest value buy. Thousands of products, both contemporary and traditional, are on offer, made from bamboo, cane, silk, wood, paper, ceramic etc. From things for the house, to bags and jewellery, all make great gifts, as well as unusual souvenirs of your trip.
You will find a generic set of mass-produced Asian “handicrafts” all over the country – things like wooden elephants, bead bracelets, mango wood plates and vases, frames and fishermen’s pants – so it makes little difference where you buy these. However, each region of Thailand will also have its specialty: the North is renowned for wooden furniture and carvings, as well as nielloware, silver and silk; the far south has its colourful woven grass bags, baskets and mats. Krabi has never been a centre for the arts, so its offerings are limited to folksy coconut shell products, and technicolour marine-themed batik.
In Klong Haeng village, some 3km from the beach you will find Ban Nateen cultural centre where you can see these coconut shell items and batik cloth being made by hand, and even try your own batik design for a small fee. There is also a goat farm and homestay on the same property, which are run by a friendly Muslim family.
For the generic stuff, you will find 60+ shops like the one pictured at the top of the page, along the beachfront in Ao Nang. Crammed with clothes – beachwear – bags – handicrafts – jewellery – flip flops, they all seem to have a fairly similar inventory, so check the prices in different places and bargain hard. (Note: in larger / fancier stores it is not normal practice to bargain, so do not offend or confuse people by trying it.)
One standout boutique that is worth seeking out on the Ao Nang strip, for its tastefully curated and displayed selection of gifts, is Ananya Shop. The owner, Ms. Natty, buys directly from Chatuchak Market in Bangkok and sells at a minimal markup. There is a particularly strong collection of silk scarves of all qualities, as well as interesting handmade pottery.
Our favourite handicrafts shop, however, is in Krabi Town. A real “treasure trove”, Pakarang (on Uttarakit Road, just past Bangkok Bank) is an old wooden shophouse full of narrow passages piled high with generic Asian items, clothes and second hand books, but also unique crafts, contemporary and traditional, that you will not find elsewhere. Best of all, there is a “hidden” coffee shop upstairs, with 2 eclectically furnished rooms overlooking the river.
What Krabi lacks in handicrafts production is more than made up for in food: you will find a great range of locally-produced dried goods here. So take a taste of Thailand home with you, or to give away as souvenirs. Try Sri Krabi in Sai Thai village (on the main road from Ao Nang to Krabi Town) for anything from shrimp and curry pastes, to dried durian chips, tamarind candy or delicious locally-grown cashew nuts, all in giftworthy packaging. Mother Marché (branches in Ao Nang, Krabi Town and Klong Haeng) also stocks a decent selection of snacks and treats.
Another interesting buy are natural toiletries and cosmetics. The wonderfully aromatic Panchivaprai, on Chao Fah Road in Krabi Town, has ranges of organic shampoos, soaps and baby products, all made with Asian herbs and grains, as well as wild rice, teas and honey. This is authentic stuff, based on the ancient traditions of Thai medicine and natural healing, and the owner is happy to advise and share her knowledge. The gorgeous packaging again allows for gifting.
Contemporary stores with handmade items (as opposed to traditional handicrafts) include the super cute Shinkiba, between Family Mart and KoKo Nest Cafe on the Krabi River road (Uttarakit), that specialises in wood products – the store itself is handmade! They can also personalise items, or make to order with a 1 – 2 day lead time.
Jewellery in Krabi
Cheap jewellery can be found in any of the generic shops along the beachfronts, as mentioned above. Expect beaded, wooden and leather bracelets, chokers and necklaces in both ethnic and contemporary styles, as well as fashion earrings (non-hypoallergenic). Another cheap jewellery Mecca is the Shell Fossil souvenir stands in Laem Pho. There is no need to buy an entry ticket to visit the stalls; all sell authentic, but often badly strung, pearls. They are easy enough to restring once back home if required. Also available: a huge selection of shell and mother of pearl jewellery, as well as some fashion jewellery and shell handicrafts (wind chimes etc.). Bargaining is accepted here, but as most customers are Thai tourists, prices tend to already be quite low.
The cheapest jewellery of all can be found in the Krabi “Walking Street” weekend market, with most pairs of (fashion) earrings going for 20 baht – at this price and this level of cuteness, it is worth picking up a few pairs if you are not nickel-allergic.
Moving up a level (or three!) you have the contemporary jewellery makers. Chok Dee on Ao Nang Beach Road is the longest running such enterprise, once famed for silver designs, but now also working in gold and diamonds – engagement and wedding rings made to order are a specialty. Silver Fish in Railay offers a selection of their own and others’ handmade silver and can also make pieces to order. Or why not make your own? The jewellery workshop at Dragonfly Silver will teach you the basics and allow you to create your own special piece in a day at their garden workshop. Longer courses also available.
Finally, a word about the numerous local jewellery shops around Krabi Town and Ao Nang. The “gold shops”, recognisable by the bright red interiors and dazzling yellow counter displays, are mainly used by locals and provide a buy-back guarantee, so can be considered trustworthy: their designs, however, are often crude and may not be to international tastes. The “gem galleries” – white interiors with lots of mirrors – on the other hand, are often selling synthetic stones at vastly inflated prices. So caveat emptor; this holds doubly true for Phuket and the capital, where jewellery scams are rife.
Tourist shopping & counterfeit goods
Speaking of scams, be on your guard generally while shopping: if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is. Tailors – ubiquitous in Ao Nang – are especially notorious for offering unbelievably low prices, but then skimping on materials and workmanship. This does not mean all tailors are bad, however.
In Ao Nang, King’s Fashion is probably your best bet; Kent Tailor in town also has a good reputation locally; or ask around for recommendations (preferably from other customers – most tailors pay a commission to drivers and tour guides). Always allow at least 3 days for your clothes to be made; 24 hour turnarounds may sound convenient but your hands are tied if anything needs re-doing before your flight leaves.
If you are looking for fake designer goods, the beachfront areas are the place to find them, though there are considerably fewer items on offer in recent years due to crackdowns both here and in airport customs on arrival back home. However, you can still find copies of bags, watches and sunglasses, though the latter two are somewhat of a false economy. Other than looking good, they rarely do what they are supposed to: offer proper UV protection or keep accurate time.
Genuine designer sunglasses, with prescription lenses if required, can be found in S.K. Optik, run by the helpful K. Billy. This is a family business rather than the chain opticians found elsewhere so the level of service and quality is more reliable.
Visiting local markets in Krabi
Local markets offer a wonderful insight into the life of Krabi people. There are markets in almost every village, as well as the early morning and night markets in town, where you can spend an hour strolling around the stalls – there are genuine bargains to be had, especially on holiday footwear, and clothes as well if you are Thai-sized (i.e. very small). And, for a true flavour of Krabi, you should also sample some of the food on offer – it’s clean and cheap, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
For the bargain conscious, the weekend “Walking Street” market in Krabi Town is a must, held on (dry) Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings behind the Vogue Department Store in Krabi Town. It’s a wonderful place to visit with a huge range of cheap handmade goods, clothes and souvenirs, as well as excellent street food and live street performances. Tip: the market gets extremely busy and hot during the peak hours of 7 – 8pm. For more comfortable browsing go earlier or later than this – most stalls will have set up by around 5.30pm.