If you’re wondering what to do in Bangkok after you’ve seen the sights, just walk into any shopping mall or market in Bangkok and you will see rows of silk items, from pre-cut dressmaking fabrics to neckties and cushion covers. Thai silk is as entrenched in Thailand’s culture as Muay Thai, Pad Thai and the Tuk Tuk. It’s not surprising that Thai silk is one of the most sought-after items to tick off your Bangkok shopping list.
While many of the store owners promote their items as “silk” most are not pure Thai silk but a less expensive blended fabric.
That’s fine if you’re looking for a low-cost gift but for the genuine item make sure you buy from an established Thai silk merchant.
What is Thai silk?
Thai silk is a type of silk produced from the cocoons of Thai silkworms.
The best Thai silk is handwoven in the provinces of Buriram, Khon Kaen and Surin in Isaan in northeast Thailand.
Ban Chiang in Udon Thani is believed to be where the first Thai silk threads were woven.
Weavers in Northern Thailand raise caterpillars on a diet of Mulberry leaves and the Thai silk is produced using traditional wooden looms that are usually operated by women.
Genuine silk material is available in an eye-catching rainbow array of plain colours, as well as a variety of rich geometric patterns favoured by Thai royalty.
A classic Thai silk design pattern has gold embroidery and elephant motifs.
Thailand’s love affair with the elephant is often reflected in the material designs.
Thai silk shopping tips
- High-quality stores usually provide the necessary documentation for travellers to claim the VAT rebate from the Thai government upon leaving the country.
- Cheap Thai silk dress shops are everywhere in Thailand but many items marketed as “Thai silk” are not the real thing.
- Do not expect to buy genuine high-quality Thai silk at a Bangkok market. You may be lucky but most fabrics passed off as Thai silk in markets are a blend.
Where to buy Thai silk in Bangkok
1- Jim Thompson’s Thai Silk Company
Jim Thompson’s Thai silk company in Surawong has four floors of high-quality fabric with Bangkok’s largest selection of colours and designs.
While in Bangkok, it’s worth visiting one of Jim Thompson’s outlets to touch and feel the quality of Thai silk on offer.
There are 24 Jim Thompson outlets, including outlets at major Bangkok shopping malls such as Siam Paragon, The Emporium, CentralWorld in Bangkok.
There are also outlets sprinkled across Thailand in Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiangmai and at many airports.
The Jim Thompson Thai silk scarf price might be a bit higher than other places but you know you’re getting a quality product.
Jim Thompson’s Factory Outlet is the place to go if you’re looking for a Thai silk bargain while in Bangkok.
The Jim Thompson brand brings with it an aura of mystery.
Jim Thompson was a New York architect who moved permanently to Bangkok after World War II. He marketed Thai silk to the world and vanished mysteriously in the jungles of Malaysia in 1967.
Thai silk fabric here is measured by the meter.
One-ply silk is suitable for Thai silk shirts; two-ply silk for Thai silk dresses or Thai silk jackets, and four-ply silk for Thai silk suits.
Of course, being a top of the range store for Thai silk, the cost of silk fabric isn’t the cheapest.
Jim Thompson has 24 outlets in Thailand and there’s even one in Singapore Airport.
2- Narai Phand
Narai Phand is partly owned by the Thai Ministry of Industry and has three floors of quality checked products from all over Thailand.
The silk at Narai Phand comes from Thailand’s northeast.
Thai silk material at Narai Phand is sold by the yard.
Two-ply costs 535Baht/$15 per yard and four-ply costs 875Baht/$22.
They have a variety of Thai silk jackets, Thai silk ties, Thai silk scarves, Thai silk cushions and some of the best Thai silk hats in town.
Thai silk dresses are a little harder to buy off the rack.
Narai Phand, President Tower Ground Floor, 973 Ploenchit oad, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok.
3- Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles is located in an Italianate-style building on the grounds of Bangkok’s Grand Palace (one of Thailand’s landmarks), previously used as King Rama V’s Ministry of Finance.
The renovated museum is worth seeing for inspiration and education about Thai silk and other textiles.
It has galleries, an education studio, library, lecture hall and a textile conservation laboratory.
The collection of beautifully embroidered Thai silk outfits worn by Queen Sirikit is impressive.
The range includes exquisite traditional Thai Dusit and Thai Chakri outfits as well as stunning westernised outfits made from the highest quality Thai silk.
The museum shop has a range of fashion and home decor items made from Thai silk for sale.
The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles is at Ratsadakorn-bhibhathana Building, The Grand Palace, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok.
The museum is open daily from 9am to 430 pm and entry to the museum is free if you have a ticket to the Grand Palace.
4- Old Siam Plaza
Most people head to Old Siam Plaza to soak up the Chinatown atmosphere and to sample local treats such as Chinese steamed buns filled with sweet pork or chicken and Thai delights, such as kanom sai sai (sweet coconut milk steamed in banana leaves).
Among the souvenir and craft stops at Old Siam Plaza, there’s a decent selection of silk and tailoring shops where you can have a dress or suit whipped up for you quickly.
The Silk Zone on the second floor has rows of independent silk merchants who offer silk for sale at competitive prices.
The Silk Zone is on the 2nd Floor in the Old Siam Plaza, 203-4 Treepetch Road, Pranakorn, Bangkok.
Thai silk in Chiang Mai
5- Shinawatra Thai silk
Thai silk feels luxurious and has a shiny finish.
At Shinawatra Thai Silk, the most popular colour is the iridescent two-toned shocking pink, which looks either pink or orange as it catches different angles of light.
Shinawatra Thai is a Thai-owned company from Chiangmai, in Thailand’s north.
The store has a home furnishings section where you can have your Thai silk curtains made in a week.
It has high-quality silk products and an extensive menswear section which sells quality silk ties, men’s shirts, boxer shorts, pyjamas and robes.
It’s a good place to pick up a Thai silk shirt, Thai silk scarf or have a Thai silk dress made to measure as a quality momento of your visit to Thailand.
Two-ply Thai silk costs from 850 Baht/$21.50 per meter.
If you’re interested in tailored clothes, a simple short-sleeved Thai silk dress will cost around 8550 Baht/$216 and can be ready in 24 hours.
They measure you in the morning, you return for a fitting at lunchtime and your garment is delivered to your hotel that evening.
If you have the time, you could buy 3.5m of material for 2550Baht/$65 and try your bargaining skills with one of the many tailors in Chiangmai.
How much is Thai silk?
Pure Thai silk fabric costs anywhere between US$15 to US$70 per yard depending on whether it’s two-ply or four-ply.
Two-ply costs at least US$15 per yard.
Four-ply costs from US$22 per yard.
Imitation Thai silk is far cheaper as the fabric may be mixed with other types of fabric.
From the humble silkworm, Thai silk has developed into one of the world’s most distinctive fabrics.
When in Thailand, it’s worth treating yourself to its lustrous feel, you’ll feel positively regal!