Few cities seem to be better positioned for earning the title of capital of the Multipolar Global Village than Bangkok. The cosmopolitan population, the myriad of visitors it hosts every year and the lack of imperial connotations, make it an ideal candidate. Beyond that, it's a shopping paradise which will keep troublemakers busy for eons.
Shopping what? A Wat? Crossing the world and shopping the same brandish jeans available at my neighborhood's shopping mall? Here is my list of the seven best items to shop for while in Bangkok.
1. Thai Silk
Thai silk is the flag product of the Thai economy; a timeless product, it is renowned for its beauty and quality. It is considered one of the finest fabrics in the world, and it certainly provides unique patterns and colors.
Recognizing the original item is easy; it burns like hair and into dust while synthetic fabrics smell and drop like plastic while burning. It is admissible to ask burning a little bit of the fabric being purchased.
Thailand's Agriculture Ministry certifies the product quality using a peacock emblem. The best quality is marked with the Gold Peacock, while the others are, in decreasing quality order: Silver, Blue and Green Peacock.
2. A Tiny Buddha
Ubiquitous, Buddha's tiny statues are a good souvenir from Thailand; care should be taken to ensure that taking it out of the country is permitted. The most popular designs include the Seated, Reclining, Standing and Emaciated Buddhas; usually, they include a protuberance on the top of the head (symbolizing his intelligence) and long earlobes (symbolizing his perception). The statue poses (asanas) and hand-gestures (mudras) give an additional meaning to the item; the most popular one are the Varada (Wish Granting) and Abhaya (Fearlessness and Protection) mudras.
3. Electricity Socket Adaptors
Thailand uses electricity sockets similar to the ones in China; they are incompatible with western ones. Sturdy and compact adaptors - which conveniently split the connection into three - are available for a fraction of a dollar. Moreover, they have served me in three continents, proving to be an excellent investment for travelers.
4. Rubies and Emeralds
Cambodia and Laos are important producers of colored gems. However, the best place for buying them is Bangkok. Care should be taken to authenticate the merchandise; the big shopping malls in the city host reliable jewelers.
5. Thai Cuisine and Massage Courses
Few cuisines have been so extensively recognized for their quality as the Thai one; bringing its secrets back home is the perfect way to prolong a cherished vacation. Its massive use of fresh vegetable ingredients balancing the flavors (hot, sour, salty, bitter, sweet and pungent) creates a rich kaleidoscope of flavors able to dazzle the most sophisticated tastebuds. Using rice as the staple carrying upon its flexible back complex flavors, Thai food is easy to reproduce once its secrets are discovered. Many schools in Bangkok provide intensive courses on the art.
Thai massage is a must experience while in Thailand; luckily, it is possible nowadays to learn the art and bring it back home - no customs' officer can yet confiscate knowledge. Nuat Phaen Boran involves stretching and deep massage techniques and is best studied at Wat Pho in Bangkok. The technique makes use of the hands, feet, elbows and knees of the practitioner and requires at first a lot of trust from the customer. However, these professionals are worthy of complete trust; few massage techniques are so capable of fixing small motoric problems of the body.
6. T-shirts and Starbucks China Mugs
Stamped T-shirts featuring the best sites in the country and stylish china mugs sold by Starbucks in Thailand and featuring logos of the main cities make good, light souvenirs.
7. Thai Fisherman Trousers
A friend from Santa Fe asked me to bring her an impressive amount of Thai fisherman trousers back from Thailand. This item is a long time favorite of Thai massage practitioners, as she was. I couldn't refuse and the event almost caused me troubles with the customs. "You don't smell like a fisherman," the officer dryly remarked while contemplating the colorful package.