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Five things not to leave Thailand without

In many ways Thailand is unique. The kingdom's take on culture, customs, food, dressing, and handling a vehicle weighing over 15 kilos is sometimes quirky and often downright bizarre. Yet in a country that boasts its very own monkey hospital you shouldn't be surprised to find that light switches are fitted upside down, the ground floor is really the first floor, and insects and grubs are considered delicious snack food. This is what makes Thailand lovable – its seeming wackiness. So here are some real Thai accessories to take home from your Thai trip.

Thai snacks

Mama Noodles are indispensable for that tangy, piquant reminder of Thai cuisine and come in several flavours including shrimp, chicken, and pork. Simply add boiling water and voila! You're instantly back in Thailand with no annoying waiters sniggering at your purple sweating face as you plough through a nuclear-hot bowl of noodles. Mama Noodles are even celebrated in song at Another Thai snack is Big Sheet (Toe Kae Noi) – and no it's not a laxative – it's delicious dried seaweed packed with vitamins. And please note: Big Sheet is not for sale in Mexico for obvious reasons. Taro packets feature slightly-spiced dried fish slices, a great companion to an ice-cold beer. The great thing about these snacks is that they're all both cheap and lightweight so they're ideal packing fodder.

Cost? Five-to 20 baht at most supermarkets

The Sarong

Consider the humble sarong. After all, it's just a rectangular piece of woven cloth yet it has so many uses that folks, once they've had a couple of sarongs, find that they can't live without them. The first and most obvious use for a sarong is as a towel – in the in the tropics that is – a sarong isn't much use in a northern municipal swimming pool except as a means of broadcasting, "HEY, LOOK! I'VE BEEN TO THAILAND!" Its uses are many,stretching from a baby cot to a sweatband/turban, a mop, a tablecloth, a water filter, a sun shelter, a dish dryer, curtains, tourniquet, an instrument of torture, andmore. The mind boggles…

Cost? About 100 + baht at a local market.


Thai unguents

and more Thai balm cures everything: At least that's what the locals claim and accordingly slap it on liberally for sore joints, muscle pain and even headaches. It's a herbal pain relief that really is quite effective but do wash your hands after use if you need the bathroom. It's not often you'll find whitening cream in the west and you're even less likely to stumble across whitening deodorant, no less, but does it actually make you go white? Of course not, but it sort of smells nice. Prickly heat powder is popular with Thai ladies of a certain age who cake their faces with it, come the evening. For wackiness you could hardly beat it as the effect feels like spreading spearmint toothpaste over your skin: it's a must-have item.

Cost? Varying, but no more than 100 baht.

Bespoke tailoring

An old joke runs that a tourist entered a tailor's shop in Bangkok some years ago and said, "I'd like a suit with one arm shorter than the other, the trouser seams coming apart and with sealed jacket pockets." The tailor was aghast and said, "But we couldn't possibly do that for you, Sir," "Why not? You did it last time I was here," the tourist rasped back. But honestly, when it comes to bespoke tailoring, bargains are there for the taking if you apply the simple logic of, 'give it time'. Never ever rush the tailoring process otherwise you may end up like the above punter. Surprisingly, standards are high, despite annoying tailor touts who have simply amazing abilities to mimic Melbourne, and even Cockney accents. Ignore them. Go talk to The Big Boss. Schedule your fittings to plan a complete job at least two days before your departure date.

Cost? Around 3,000 baht for a suit if your bargaining skills are honed well. And do bargain hard.

Thai silk and textiles

The Chinese had silk sewn up as a monopoly hundreds of years ago, simply because no one else knew how to craft this marvelous fabric. Thailand for a while soon cottoned on – forgive me – but it took the intervention of an American ex-espionage operator (I swear I’m not making this up) named Jim Thompson to resurrect the fading Thai silk industry of some 70 years ago. Nowadays in Phuket, there are several excellent high-quality Jim Thompson outlets including in Central Phuket Festival and on a nearby Chao Fa Road branches but frankly… they're stylish but rather expensive. So why not check out the parallel Thalang and Dibuk roads in Phuket Town where you can rifle through shop after shop selling a whole gamut of textiles? There you'll find silk, batik, cotton sarongs, and highly decorative cloths

Cost? Not very much at all.

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