Shopping is one of the top reasons that many people travel; especially within Asia. Cities like Bangkok and Singapore have top attractions purely to shop till you drop if that tickles your fancy. But whether you live to shop or not, most travelers love picking up some ‘unique’, ‘local’ souvenirs along the way. Shopping is generally a part of most travel experiences. All across Asia, whether you’re hunting for exotic antiques or just like exploring sprawling markets with knock-off t-shirts, we think it’s worthy of its own episode. We’ll share some of our shopping tips, experiences and most regretted items purchased along the way.

Shopping in Asia Podcast

Souvenirs in Tibet

Scott and Trevor discuss their interest in shopping and talk about some of their first shopping experiences in Asia. Trevor mentions haggling for a souvenir in Sumatra that he thought he discussed on an earlier episode: either Tantalizing Travel Tales or Tantalizing Travel Tales II but turns out he was wrong: so he still owes you that story. Scott says it was something he was more interested in earlier in his traveling career and talks about purchasing a silver ring with diagonal angles and a black center that he’s still wearing 24 years later!

Hub Street Cocktails: Streets 21 & 308 in Phnom Penh

Hub Street Cocktails: Streets 21 & 308 in Phnom Penh

A special thank you to our sponsor, Hub Street Cocktails in Phnom Penh Cambodia. Aside from just being a great place to eat, drink, and meet up with friends, Hub Street Cocktails  is excited to announce their participation in the 2018 US Foods Week here in Phnom Penh from December 1 to 9.

To celebrate US Foods Week, Hub Street has created 4 new menu items for the event, utilizing imported US ingredients. Curious as to what the new menu items are? Come on down to Hub Street to try the new dishes out, featuring a variety of ingredients from the USA, including California Raisins.

U.S. Foods Week at Hub Street Cocktails: Streets 21 & 308 in Phnom Penh

U.S. Foods Week at Hub Street Cocktails

Hub Street Cocktails is located on Street 21, near the corner of Street 308 in the heart of Tonle Bassac. 2018 US Foods Week will be celebrated at many other distinguished restaurants in Phnom Penh in addition to Hub Street, but come on down to Hub Street from December 1st to December 9th and try out their new menu items.

Haggling for god prices: One place you might practice haggling is along Sukhumvit or Silom night markets. Just pick up something you’re curious about and find out what price you can get for it. Start at 50%, see how low they go, but then walk away: don’t get dragged into a prolonged negotiation as it’s kinda bad karma. 

How to Haggle

  • Smile, be polite: if they aren’t, they’re trying to pressure you
  • Remember they need to make a living and don’t get caught up on 50-cents: just getting the lowest price isn’t noble nor are you supporting locals
  • Have your price and know when to walk – compare at different stands
  • Practice
  • First purchase of the day
  • Read up on local customs to know how to act
  • Learn to recognize where to haggle and where prices are fixed
  • Don’t be in a rush – if it’s a large value purchase or really important, take your time
  • Buy a spare bag to take things home – either bring a spare suitcase or buy one of those large rice-sack bags which can be folded up and then used or for when you’re over-weight – also can mail it home…
  • If you really like it, buy it, you may not see it again – assume you won’t
  • Buy the really expensive items at the end if possible so you don’t have to carry them around your entire trip


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Shopping in Asia on Talk Travel Asia podcast

Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok

They then discuss some Bangkok places to shop and talk about products they love and hate to buy including…

Scott: Plates with my photo on them

Scott: Elephant Pants – hate them. Unless you need to be that trendy

Trevor: Better still go with the Fisherman pants: 100b for cheap one up to 300 for better you can even get them made out of hemp: I’ll share a link to order some hemp Thai fisherman’s pants online. I love the lightweight ones for the tropics, but the hemp ones are great in cooler weather. 

Trevor: Another one like that: sarongs, which are traditionally Indonesian. My Indonesian colleague Luke bought a nice Thai sarong as he transited through Bangkok and wore it as a scarf in London. I bought a longyi in Yangon 16 years ago and it’s still in the rotation. I love it because it’s a single sheet, like a tube and easier to tie off than a sarong. Just bought a random one in one of the big local markets.

Scott: Sarongs are great multi-use item as well: blanket, pillow, clothing, towel

Suits – can do a whole episode on this… just breeze through it. Be careful. Multiple fittings.

Scott tells a quick story: slim Italian cut pants, button doesn’t match the button-hole on a vest, not the same material that you agreed on – much lower quality

Trevor mentions his friend Mark’s $20 pants story: funny!

Trevor: I bought a good suit off the rack in Vietnam. some good clothes made in HCMC- throughout biz school i bought handmade off the rack for great prices. And they fit! I bought a tan suit… which seemed like something i would eventually wear at the Raffles but have only worn once I think… I guess now it’s time to pull that one out of storage…

Speaking of scams…

Fake watched at Patpong – bargain hard; last a long time or an hour

While you shouldn’t buy illegally copied products, here’s some tips:

  • Different degrees of knock offs
  • “Replicas” and overstock or damaged, some legit outlets
  • Bali has Lacoste, it seems like Paul Smith…
  • In Cambodia: near the old market in Siem Reap: North Face, Columbia, etc
  • Pirated CDs and software – this stuff can get you in a lot of trouble when going back to EU countries


Shopping in Vietnam on Talk Travel Asia podcast

Buy in Vietnam; don’t wear until you get home.

Trevor: Going back to my introductory example from Sumatra, in general I prefer buying souvenirs from the villages where things are made rather than at a touristy market. As I’m based in Cambodia I have a bit to say about shopping here in small craft villages vs night markets in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh…

Scott: War souvenirs from Vietnam or Cambodia are just weird, fake often and propping-up an entire industry about war. Bought a watercolor of Ha Long Bay – likely done by machine. Paintings are often straight off a machine. Or I have known someone to have their son paint his pictures – kind of paint by number

Trevor: Vietnam cheapest sunglasses – can get some polarized glasses for really cheap

Scott: Poor quality lenses can cause damage to your eyes – beware!!

Scott: Sri Lanka – bought some sandals – ethnic clothing usually is a mistake and gets worn 1-2 times at home then is forgotten about and you look like a tool to your friends.

Scott: The Vietnamese pointed hats are like this.

Scott: Nepal – brass ornaments. Things look old but they’re often new – you tend to pay by weight rather than the workmanship. Ashtray with a naked lady in the design – they look like wood but they are white plastic coated in blackish paint.

Trevor: Yeah, what other kitschy things are good… Shibuya? Isn’t that the cosplay area of Tokyo. I imagine around any corner in Japan you’d find something kitschy cool.

Scott: Sex toys are a good one to buy here or at least look in the shops!

Scott: Cooking spices: generally bad quality, stale, go to a supermarket or proper shop – not on the street – there’s a few good things.

Trevor: Kampot pepper obviously. We also buy some Blue Elephant Thai products and random other dried packed thai mixed ingredients for various ingredients.

Scott: Don’t wear Red Bull shirts or shirts of a destination while you’re still there – you have to leave first.

Trevor: LOL. Save your Beer Chang shirt for a trip to Columbia.

A few things you might NOT want to pack because it’s better to buy them here:

Market in Laos on Talk Travel Asia podcast shopping in Asia

Market in Laos

Scott: Pharmaceuticals in Bangkok, Cambodia and other countries (India especially) can be had, but be really sure you’re getting the real thing. And you can bargain too – I bought some pills in Bangkok for someone that  were three-times the price as another shop. 

Scott: Fake booze – often from Myanmar or in Laos – Johnny Walker Black is a big one

Trevor: Rice whiskey with a cobra in it. 

Scott: But not very PC.

Scott: Stuff made out of rice sacks are kind cool, supporting recycling and sometimes a social cause

Trevor: Instagram! So many asian cultures have moved shopping to the social network and some of the most fashionable items, including handbags, clothes, shoes, are available on hip young people’s IG pages

A little on Vat rules? Thailand has it pretty easy so it’s good to know. Maybe just a link?

When people shop at Central department stores they have fliers with good info on how to do it: here’s a link

Many countries have VAT refund programs – have a look when you’re buying – often you need a special tax refund receipt, then show goods for inspection when you exit. Allow 30-minutes to do this on your departure.


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