Koh Samui offers a great shopping adventure for those in need of a little retail therapy. From the shopping malls of Central Festival in Chaweng and The Wharf in Fisherman’s Village, to low price market stalls stocking everything from local designer brands to cheap knock-offs.
Whether you’re the type who takes it seriously and will happily pound the pavements for hours to find shoes in the exact shade, or if you’re one of those that have to be dragged to the shops to replace the jeans that have just fallen off you in rags, it’s pretty likely you’ll be doing some shopping on Samui. For serious shoppers, there’re plenty of bargains and quirky stuff to buy, whilst even reluctant types will find an unusual souvenir or a well-priced electrical item to take back home.
At Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village, East meets the Med, with French-style vintage boutiques mingling with elegant teahouses, and local Samui designer wear outlets are neighbours with seafront coffee lounges. Between these beautiful boutiques are a few no-name type shops selling the obligatory board shorts, corny logo T-shirts and mass-produced jewellery, but even these are in better surroundings and make for a more pleasant shopping trip.
At tourist spots such as Hin Ta Hin Yai and Big Buddha, one finds several shops selling clothing, statues, art and souvenirs. Remember that prices may be higher, but bargaining is still possible. Buying in these tourist locations will be pricier than shopping down the strip in Nathon, but a little negotiating can get you a long way. One rule to keep in mind is that the prices are seldom fixed, particularly in the market stalls.
Bargaining and negotiating is part of the process but should be done in a fun and light-hearted way. Generally speaking the stalls with the copies and stock to be found all over the island are open to negotiating, but the shops with air-con and price labels attached to the garments, work on a fixed price. Remember the term ‘paeng pai’ which translates to ‘too expensive’ and you will pass as a local and get local rates. If you want something handmade, go to the source.
Avoid the endless rows of carved wooden Buddhas and go to one of the many studios where one can watch the artists at work, be it carving or painting. Note: By law, one requires a permit to take a Buddha statue out of Thailand. Retailers seldom tell you this, as they want the sale. The paperwork is tedious and takes several weeks.
Realistically, customs is unlikely to stop you unless it is an antique piece, but bear in mind that they have every right to do so. Artists line the shopping strips painting knock-offs of famous pieces. The artist’s original pieces are also available, or paintings such as portraits can be commissioned. Order it on canvass only, as it can easily be rolled for transportation and framed once home.
Tesco has several shopping centers, with the biggest ones being in Chaweng and Lamai, and a smaller one in Nathon. There is also a Big C centre on the ring-road, not far from the Tesco. Other than the supermarket, these centers house a selection of shops including electronics, shoes, clothing labels and book stores.
There are several book stores on Koh Samui, from the chain brands to small independent or specialised shops. Most resorts have a book exchange system whereby one can add a used book to the shelf in exchange for one not yet read, and this works on an honesty system.
And you don’t have to restrict yourself when shopping here to whatever you can fit in your suitcase. Mae Nam, especially, is an area where there are shops dealing in interiors and furniture, from silk wall hangings to custom-designed and hand-made tables, offering shipping to anywhere in the world.
Shopping on Samui is often something you have to keep your eyes open for, not just for bargains but for those tiny shops selling unique souvenirs or jewellery that are often tucked away off the main road. It’s worth factoring in a bit of time if you’re planning to go somewhere for the day, because it’s almost certain you’ll find yourself in one of the many unusual little shops here. Even if you’re normally one of the ones having to be dragged to the shops to buy new jeans.