Most people come to Phuket for the sun and fun, with shopping being furthest from their minds. Although Phuket is probably the last place in Thailand you should shop for Thai souvenirs and handicrafts, there are still plenty of places to find those last-minute gifts before you head home.
If you’re in search of handicrafts and unique Thai goods, as well as knock-off t-shirts, handbags and DVDs, the best place to shop is Patong Beach. Here, you will find a slew of stalls just across the road from the beach, stretching down into alleyways. These stalls are interspersed with tailor shops where you can have good suits, skirts and dresses made to fit for a fraction of what they would cost you in the West. Bargaining is the key to a successful shopping experience in this area, and while most stalls are open in the day, you might find it more relaxing to shop at night. This area also has plenty of restaurants where you can take a rest in between bargaining.
If you’re looking for art and antiques, there are many shops at the entrance to the Laguna Resort complex in Surin. In Phuket Town, you’ll find the main Soul of Asia outlet, which features some unique pieces from around Southeast Asia and farther afield.
Contemporary items and high-tech goods are found in the malls, with the most popular places being Central Festival (on the edge of Phuket Town) and Jungceylon in Patong. Central is an excellent place to shop for clothes and shoes in Western sizes, and you’ll find the selection as modern and appealing as malls in Bangkok.
There are even winter clothes featured during the low season - many tourists stock up before heading home. Central is also home to the SFX Cinema, showing newest releases in English almost the same time as they come out in the West. Recently opened is the Central Food Hall, a thoroughly excellent, if pricey, supermarket with many items that cannot be found anywhere else on the island. Central also has an inexpensive food court as well as a choice of restaurants on the third floor, and other restaurants and food outlets on the first floor.
Much larger than Central Festival is Jungceylon shopping centre in Patong (covering a whopping 200,000 square metres), which includes two hotels, a large Carrefour supermarket, a Robinson’s department store and 10-pin bowling and a cineplex. There are three main buildings, with dozens of boutiques, stalls, cafés, pubs and restaurants with a wide variety of Thai and Western cuisines. Jungceylon is just a short stumble from the bars of Soi Bangla.
In between the buildings is a huge plaza, covered with an enormous awning. In it is a large pool decorated with a full-size wooden junk, and fountains which burst into a musical son-et-lumiere display every evening. The plaza is also used for regular events, including concerts. In the enormous basement are dozens of craft and souvenir shops (hone your bargaining skills), along with a food court and what would seem to be an excessive number of foot massage places.
Robinson Department Store in Phuket Town was the island’s first upmarket shopping place, and it still attracts brisk business. It is much smaller than the other two but does offer some very good bargains. Across the road is the Ocean Shopping Mall, also with plenty of shops and a cineplex.
Near to Central Festival are Big C and Lotus, where you can buy groceries and cheap clothing, along with CDs and DVDs, cameras, and many other items. Big C also has a basement level with a food court and an astonishing number of shops selling mobile phones. The top floor in Big C has a limited range of Thai souvenirs and handmade furniture for sale. There’s also a 10-pin bowling alley. Both Big C and Lotus have stalls selling Thai souvenirs, wood carvings, games, and more. You may find the souvenirs to be cheaper than those at Patong. Also in the area is Index shopping mall, Homeworks, and the Kohler centre, with a large selection of furniture and home appliances.
Locals will tell you that for real bargains you should go to Super Cheap on the northern outskirts of Phuket Town. Prices here are inarguably cheaper than anywhere else. The downside is that it’s not exactly classy: a huge tin roof held up on an intricate scaffolding of rubberwood. There’s also no aircon and it’s very crowded, but for bargains, it can’t be beat.
To truly appreciate Thailand, you ought to spend time at one of the traditional markets. Try the recently rebuilt central market on Ranong Road in Phuket Town or head for the weekend market (also in Phuket Town, on Phang Nga Road), also known as Chatujak Phuket. It opens around 16:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. Here, you’ll find Thai food, clothes, jewellery, mobile phones, toys, home wares, shoes, and other cheap knick-knacks. It’s the biggest market on the island, so anyone should be able to point you in the right direction. The later it is, the busier it gets, and the more claustrophobic you may feel.
For arts and crafts, keep an eye out for the OTOP sign. This stands for One Tambon, One Product, which is a government initiative to promote the making of crafts in Thailand’s villages (tambon being a sub-district). These are good places to stroll around for Thai handicrafts and unique gifts at fair prices. Some of the items include woodworks, ornaments, jewellery, art and home décor items.