Thai Language Tip
It is no secret that lots of fake goods are sold in Thailand. Shopkeepers are normally quite open about whether something is genuine or fake if you ask them. "Un nee kong bplom mai?" - Is this fake? or, "Un nee kong tair mai?" - Is this genuine?
Shopping - Page 1
Bargains do exist in Hat Yai but maybe not for things you were expecting. There are lots of vendors on the streets and at the local markets but I would not describe this particular shopping scene as offering good shopping. Most of the clothes, sunglasses, luggage, etc. that they sell is generally poor quality and won't last very long. The goods aren't actually that cheap either.
I stopped buying things from street vendors and markets a long time ago. Clothes just fell apart after a short time; sunglasses broke; and the luggage was no better. Aftersales service from these places is non-existent. The zip on a small holdall I bought for a trip to Phuket broke after a couple of days. I took it back to the shop after I returned but the woman was completely uninterested and refused to do anything.
On the other hand the big department stores in Hat Yai are very good. Robinson, Diana and Odean are fine but Central is probably the best. They have proper buying departments that check for value and quality, and what they sell is normally pretty good. If you have a problem with anything you can get it fixed or changed. What may come as a surprise is that the department stores are often cheaper than the street vendors.
All Thai banks now charge a Bt150 fee for withdrawing money from an overseas account using one of their ATMs. AEON, a Thai finance company, didn't use to make this charge. I don't know whether that is still the case.
The main AEON office is in Niphat Uthit 1 Road and there is an AEON branch and ATM in Carrefour. There may also be others.
Be aware that your bank at home will also make a charge for using an overseas ATM, and also you will be given a very unfavourable exchange rate. Using ATMs in Thailand is convenient but it's an expensive way of getting money from home.
Most shops take credit cards, although you will probably have a problem using credit cards with street vendors and at some of the local markets.
Department stores and the larger stores selling electrical goods don't add a charge for paying by credit card. However, smaller shops do, notably shops selling camera gear.
I believe that this practice is technically illegal, but this is Thailand. They all do it and they won't accept payment by credit card unless you accept the additional charge.
You are forced to pay the charge, or you can pay in cash, or you can walk away. The choice is yours. Whenever I see Thais buying expensive camera gear they always have a wad of Bt1,000 notes.
Changing foreign money is not a problem, especially if it is Malaysian Ringgits or Singapore Dollars, but other currencies shouldn't be a problem either. Most of the larger hotels will be able to do this, as can the many banks in Hat Yai, and also some travels agencies.
There is an authorised money changer in the Yong Dee Hotel at 99 Niphat Uthit 3 Road (Map 3). They can deal with any currency and the exchange rates aren't too bad.
Latitude: N 07° 00' 20.1" (N 07° 00.334')
Longitude: E 100° 28' 14.1" (E 100° 28.235')
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Have you noticed how mattresses are always sold at a supposed huge discount and never actually sold at the supposedly original price?
When something is permanently 'On Sale' with a 60% discount, are we actually supposed to believe this. Apparently so. It really bugs me shop assistants keep telling me "40% off" when I know this is complete garbage. Supposed 'Sales' are a complete joke and nothing is ever sold at the 'original' price. Items arrive on the shelves with two prices: a hypothetical original price and a sale price. Other countries have laws about this kind of thing but not in Thailand.
I wouldn't mind if it wasn't for the fact that sales assistants also try to insult my intelligence by repeatedly telling me about imaginary discounts. By definition, an item is only on sale if it was previously offered for sale at a higher price but that is never the case in Thailand.
It's all gamesmanship and shops will always do whatever they can to get the highest price for whatever is sold.
If you are just passing through Hat Yai and see goods supposedly 'On Sale' don't be tempted to buy, thinking that you have arrived at a good time. Everything is always 'On Sale' for 365 days a year. In other words, nothing is ever on sale.
I would suggest that buying anything electrical from the market or on the street is a gamble. Few items come in their original boxes but are just repackaged in a plastic bag. There isn't much choice either. At one point I was looking for a shortwave radio but all the market vendors had the same models - weird brands from China.
Basic computer and camera equipment is available in Hat Yai but I stress 'basic'. If you want anything that is a bit unusual it is unlikely you will be able to find what you want. Hat Yai isn't Bangkok or Singapore.
I have bought quite a few cheap memory cards and flash drives from Hat Yai markets. Most were fine but one wasn't. After taking about 150 photos I suddenly saw a message on my camera that said the memory card wasn't formatted. It prompted me to format the card but by doing so I would have lost all my photos.
If you buy something with a problem and then leave Hat Yai you aren't going to be able to take it back. Even if you live in Hat Yai, customer service can be bad. I returned my faulty memory card but it took four months to get my money back.
As I said, it's a gamble. Of course, you can reduce the risk by buying from a proper shop but then you will pay accordingly higher prices.
These things are all very much part of the Hat Yai shopping scene, and typical all over Thailand. At government level there is lots of rhetoric about what is being done in Thailand to clamp down on this trade. However, the image that is presented to you in Thailand is never representative of what actually goes on.
Locally, everyone knows what is sold, and where it is sold. If the authorities really wanted to stop the trade, they could do it in half a day.
The truth is that no one really wants to see it stopped. Many Thais make a living from selling illegal goods, and many others can afford to buy expensive music, DVDs and software, which they couldn't if they had to pay the full retail price. Expensive software would be beyond the reach of most Thais, were it not for cheap pirated versions.
Everyone benefits - apart from the original manufacturers. Thais regard what happens as a victimless crime. The manufacturers are a long way away and all foreigners are rich, aren't they? (according to the Thai way of thinking).
The police turn up at the illegal markets occasionally but all that happens is the vendors roll down their shutters and shut up shop for a few minutes. Then, as soon as the police move on, the shops re-open.
What is perhaps surprising is the scale of this business. In Singapore, I have seen small shops selling pirated software alongside lots of legitimate businesses. I'm not even sure that they exist any more.
In Hat Yai, it isn't just solitary shops but entire markets.
You can buy whatever you wish in Thai markets but I saw a sign at Hat Yai airport warning of the consequences of taking fake items home with you. If you are caught at customs with fake items in certain countries the penalties can be quite severe.
There are a number of places in Hat Yai that sell what I refer to as Big Boys' Toys. They sell, among other things, army and police supplies. However, instead of restricting sales to soldiers and policemen, these items can be bought by anyone.
Unlike Army Surplus stores in the UK which, as I remember, were just like big camping stores, these places in Thailand sell lots of equipment in addition to clothes and footwear. A lot of the stuff they sell is obviously illegal but Thais don't regard laws in the same way as Westerners do. Besides, if every illegal activity was closed down in Hat Yai there wouldn't be much left of the markets.
As far as legal stuff goes, you can buy good quality military clothing and footwear. For example, you can get a solid pair of brand new army boots that look as if they will last forever for Bt2,500.
They sell torches (flashlights), compasses, GPS navigation devices, night vision binoculars, Swiss Army knives, military watches, and multitools, etc. Most of the multitools are cheap knockoffs (I bought one for Bt400 but don't expect it to last very long before it breaks), but I have also seen genuine Leatherman tools. The genuine articles are a lot more expensive but will probably last a lifetime.
Walkie-talkie two way radios are also easily available. I'm not sure how legal these are in Thailand but because of the bandwidth they operate on they are probably illegal in most other countries.
Some of the weaponry on sale is quite frightening. You can buy full-size Samurai swords, metal baseball bats, nightsticks and batons, Ninja throwing stars, stun guns, laser devices, highly authentic looking BB guns, and a whole range of fearsome looking knives. I guess the legality of some of this stuff is questionable even in Thailand and if you were planning to take anything home you might get a difficult time at the airport.
You will find some of this stuff on sale at the local Sunday markets, for example the one in Hat Yai Nai on a Sunday morning. There are also a number of small stalls inside and around Suntisuk market.
Raan Daa isn't very conspicuous, and I think its location is deliberate. It is located upstairs and behind a shop at the front. It is the kind of shop that is known to certain people and not really intended to be found by casual shoppers.
The last time I went there the owner followed me upstairs and confronted me as if I had just walked into his home uninvited. "What are you doing here?" he barked at me.
There are a lot of items at these places that I would never consider buying, but a few I would. Nonetheless, the things on sale continue to fascinate me. Maybe it's because at heart I am just a big boy and I still enjoy looking at Big Boys' Toys?
In the photo above, Raan Daa is located between the eyeglasses shop and TMB bank. It is very near to the 7-Eleven store opposite Suntisuk market. You need to walk through the shop at the front to the rear and then go upstairs.
On its business card Raan Daa also advertises sex toys, if you're interested. However, I didn't see any on display.
Latitude: N 07° 00' 18.8" (N 07° 00.313')
Longitude: E 100° 28' 15.0" (E 100° 28.250')
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There are several small photo shops around Hat Yai that process photos and sell small point and shoot cameras but what if you are interested in something more than a small P&S camera? There are a few places in town and my favourite, by far, is Chia Colour Lab.
Chia has a good selection of equipment in stock and if they don't have an item they can order it within a few days from Bangkok. For ordered items you will need to leave a deposit. They stock original equipment from the big camera manufacturers and also cheap third-party accessories, which normally come from China, for example Yongnuo products.
I hate shops in Thailand where the staff fall about giggling whenever they deal with a foreign customer, as if you are dressed the same as Ronald McDonald. It's very unprofessional. I've experienced this quite a few times at the Fuji shop.
On the other hand I have always found Chia very professional. I'm quite friendly with the owner and he's a very nice guy. His son works in the family business and most of the staff know what they are talking about. Their prices are good too.
In early 2013 the price of a Canon 5D III at Fotofile in Bangkok was Bt89,000. Big Camera branches were selling the same camera for Bt99,000. The Chia Colour Lab price was Bt84,500. Their prices are very competitive and their level of service is good by Thai standards.
Chia, like many small businesses in Thailand, increase the price by a few percent if you want to pay by credit card. Big chains and supermarkets don't do this. When you see Thais buying cameras they normally have a wad of cash.
You can also find studio lighting kits quite easily in Hat Yai. They can be bought or ordered from Chia or Fuji. In between Chia and Fuji (also on Supasarnrungsarn Road) is another photo shop called Yin Dee Silp (pronounced Yin Dee Sin). This is where I bought a small studio lighting kit.
Yin Dee Sin seems to concentrate more on photographic services and processing these days. They used to stock more equipment but it has gradually disappeared and there isn't much now.
The Big Camera chain have some branches in Hat Yai and these are normally located inside shopping malls. Their prices are quite expensive. Similarly, the Photo Hut Group (another chain) have a branch at Tesco Lotus in Hat Yai Nai.
Chia (actually Jia) Colour Lab
Latitude: N 07° 00' 28.0" (N 07° 00.467')
Longitude: E 100° 28' 14.1" (E 100° 28.236')
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Nakorn Sin (what I call the Fuji Shop)
Address: 237/3-4 Supasarnrungsarn Road, Hat Yai, Songkhla, 90110
Telephone: +66 (0)74 221492
Fax: +66 (0)74 247824
Map: Map 2
Latitude: N 07° 00' 32.5" (N 07° 00.542')
Longitude: E 100° 28' 44.9" (E 100° 28.748')
Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View
Yin Dee Sin
Address: 94-96 Supasarnrungsarn Road, Hat Yai, Songkhla, 90110
Telephone: +66 (0)74 243406, 231093, 350497
Fax: +66 (0)74 238945
Map: Map 1
Latitude: N 07° 00' 29.5" (N 07° 00.491')
Longitude: E 100° 28' 16.5" (E 100° 28.275')
Google Maps: Street Map or Satellite View
These items are a good deal and there are lots of shops in town. Just remember to ignore the first price you are given. If you see something you like, start to leave the shop and wait to be offered a sensible price.
You'd be amazed at how even the 'lowest possible price' will be reduced further once you start to leave.
If buying glasses you would do well to already know your prescription. One of the big differences between many 'opticians' shops in Hat Yai and in the UK, for example, is the competency of the person doing eye tests. In the UK it is always a very highly qualified optician and I've always had complete confidence in that person's ability. Some shops in Hat Yai do have properly qualified opticians but not the places that are only open to sell glasses.
Why are brand name eyeglasses so much cheaper in Thailand than in Western countries?
At first, I thought it was because they were fake but they aren't. I bought a pair of Oakley eyeglasses (not sunglasses) for about Bt4,000. A pair of Oakley glasses would be significantly more expensive in Europe or the United States.
When I searched on-line, I found that they were an old design and no longer sold elsewhere. So, this seems to be the reason. Cheap eyeglasses in Thailand would appear to be end-of-line designs, and thus can be sold cheaply.
This doesn't bother me at all, but if you are a dedicated follower of fashion and need to always wear the latest fashions, it might.
On the subject of eyesight, there are places in Hat Yai offering laser eye surgery. It is not a subject I have done much research into but I believe that the prices are quite low. My experience of hospitals in Hat Yai has been fairly positive so I would expect doctors performing eye surgery to be competent. This procedure shouldn't be taken lightly. You need to do lots of research and in my opinion your decision on where to get it done shouldn't be based on cost.
I think shoes are a good buy in Thailand. Not the type of footwear that tourists wear in Thailand, but ordinary business shoes. I used to spend lots of money in England on expensive shoes on the basis that it was a false economy to scrimp on shoes or mattresses because you always depended on one or the other.
However, paying lots of money didn't always guarantee comfort. I have bought shoes in Thailand for a fraction of the price and they have been well made, smart and comfortable.
Diana and Robinson have probably the best selection of shoes but - as usual - Central has the best quality (and the highest prices).
Of course, tourists and backpackers coming through Hat Yai aren't going to buy furniture but if you plan to live in the area and rent a house you might need to. There are many shops a little way out of town with really nice home and office furniture at giveaway prices. I have bought things I know I will leave behind but even if I get six months use out of them they will still be good deals.
One thing I bought that I never expected to buy was a safe. It was Bt5,000 (about 70 UK pounds) and a real bargain for the peace of mind it gives. I'm sure that in the UK an equivalent safe would cost five or six times what it cost in Hat Yai.
Presumably shipping costs would wipe out any savings of buying furniture in Thailand and getting it sent home but it might be something that is worth looking into.
British-owned Tesco Lotus (near the Prince of Songkla University) is popular with Thai families at the weekend. In addition to shopping there are also restaurants and things to keep the kids amused. A huge plus-point for Thais is that the supermarkets are all air-conditioned and thus provide a cool sanctuary year-round, especially in the hot season. Many poorer Thais don't have any air-conditioning at home.
French-owned Carrefour (another huge shopping mall with restaurants and markets which is similar to Tesco Lotus) was the last of the big superstores to open a branch in Hat Yai and there are also branches of Big C and Makro.
Makro isn't really a supermarket, as such, but a cash-and-carry place where people buy in bulk. Makro tends to attract a lot of Thai Muslims. All of the big supermarkets have their pros and cons. Prices are roughly the same but certain goods are cheaper at certain places.
Use the following links for information about specific products and places.
The 'As Seen On TV' shop to Khlang Synn
Makro to Vichusin Center
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