soie de Thaïlande

Buying a scarf in Bangkok

When we think about shopping for scarves in Thailand, we think silk, of course, the emblematic fiber from this country. Although Thai women don’t typically wear scarves in their daily outfits,

mainly because it is so sticky and hot. But they do wear them as add-ons to outfits, but not in local handmade silk. 

 

Silk, of course

What is really interesting for the visitor, are the scarves made of local silk. There is a lot of information on the web on Thai silk, how to recognize it, where to buy it, how to learn more about it. But getting to know the stuff in person is quite a challenge. Thailand is way behind China and India in terms of quantity productions, but it is most famous for its artisanal and handmade quality silk products.

 

thai silk 

Smooth or raw silk

Smooth silk comes from the finer inner fiber of the cocoon that has been cleaned from all the natural worm produced glue by extra boiling. Raw is the outer fiber, with the glue left and less cleaning. It has a knotting homey feel that I prefer from the other, and it much easier to buy as less likely imitated by fakes. Raw silk is Thailand's treasure to look for. Smooth silk is also nice, but the pure one is more expensive, more easily imitated, and usually comes in more traditional style weave. Raw silk is cheaper, it has almost a wooly feel to it, soft and of course… silky. Once you feel the raw silk, the real thing is unmistakable as it is not easily imitated.

 

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Thick spongy and ultra soft raw silk

Indigo cotton

Indo dyed hand weaved cotton scarves and garments is another popular artisanal product that can be bought in Thailand. Indigo is a natural rich blue dye created by boiling the garment with the leaves of special plants. Cotton takes on the color nicely. In some instance, yellow will be added with “dirt” dye, another traditional dying process combined with indigo.

 

indigo dyed cotton

Indigo cotton scarves

 

Other materials; Chiffon

Local ladies seem to prefer the light and gauzy style of chiffon scarves, so this what will be found in most scarves stores catering to locals. These scarves are well suited for the high heat and humidity, but only if they are made of silk. Often chiffon is synthetic and will feel very uncomfortable around the neck, but can be worn to cover the shoulders.

 

And then there is pashmina!

This word is used everywhere. In Thailand pashmina just means a stole with floral and paisley design, Indian style. It is not related to its original meaning, fine cashmere. Thailand doesn't produce wool. Pashmina is not misused in the way sellers don’t know any other meanings. If you need one of those, buy them but accept these are made in China viscose or synthetic imitations of the Indian style pashmina, which is also fake.

 

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Where NOT to shop for scarves

Bangkok offers a great range of shopping experience, from the street seller to western standard upscale store and anything in between. But beware of any tourist shops, whether in the malls or in the streets, as you might never be sure about what you are buying. Avoid all shops where they scatter randomly over there scarves handwritten signs saying Pashmina and Thai Silk. These are most likely all modal imports.

 

Run away from elephants!

If you see elephant printed or woven or embroidered onto a scarf, just avoid the shop! Elephants in Thailand are for tourists. Thai women don’t wear elephants, never. And weavers don’t print elephants into their designs. So if you see an elephant, it is an imported product or something made specifically for tourists. Just avoid.

rawsilk

 

Jim Thompson Store

According to all guidebooks and travel websites, the Jim Thompson store and museum are must go f interested in Thai silk. As of writing this, I didn’t visit the museum, but I went to the main store next to Lumphini park. It is very upscale and the stock is beautifully laid out. But their prices are over the top, like Thai silk scarves for over 100 $ca The sales person admitted all it is all machine made. The store also carries a lot of India imported printed soft scarves and squares sold a bit cheaper. It is a great place if you want an easy shopping experience, with a doorman in uniform, AC, and can afford it. Mostly the Jim Thompson tag that will make a good impression.

 Siam Paragon entrance

The chic shopping malls downtown

Because i love you so much so much and want to make you happy I did what I dread most, a shopping mall tour downtown Bangkok. I always feel out of place in the Siam Paragon and the other Siam suites, I just want to run away as soon as I set foot there. There are silk stores, scarf stores, even a specialized indigo store. All will be a bit cheaper than the Jim Thompson store, but still overpriced.

 Come Thai scarf store

Amarin Plaza crafts center

Just around the corner from those biggies, there is the Amarin Plaza, a great option if you don't want to go bargain hunting in the markets and like the comfort of an AC mall. Best of both worlds, normal prices, nice selection in a clean quiet mall environment. I second many who recommends Come Thai, a truly artisanal scarf store. Nothing is labeled and you don't get a fancy certificate, but at half up to a third of the prices in the more official stores, it is worth it. The lady working there was honest about the origin of the scarves, although not too talkative. Only 25% of the stock seems to be Thai, as they have lots of Indian silk and modal scarves mixed with some Chinese imports.

 

Couple shopping in MBK store
MBK fake 100% Thai Silk

Most tourists end in MBK, some kind of shoppers landmark mall in Bangkok. It is not what it used to be and is kind of characterless. Mostly, too many tourist shops. In one shop there was a couple of Indians buying quite a lot of fake Thai Silk stoles. I felt helpless looking at the man choosing nice colors for his wife, and asking the shopkeeping for confirmation that this is “Thai silk”. The pieces were quite obviously synthetic but with good imitations of the silk texture, both the smooth and the raw.

 A scarf store in Chatcuchak market

Chatuchak market

This weekend market is huge, with its 10 000 stalls and a highly disorienting layout. But it is the must-go on any shopping spree in Bangkok, for everything related to clothes, accessories, home decorations, crafts… Well, almost everything! There is even a large section for pets, selling everything that moves, to be loved and not eaten. Not for the faint-hearted.

Modal in tourist shop

All these are modal

This is the place to go to find good deals in all kind of scarves, with many shops selling cheap China imports, many for less than 100 baht. Finding artisanal scarves is a bit more a challenge, but possible. Obey my rule of “avoid elephants” unless you are into elephants or really simply souvenir shopping. Most of the touristic shops are in the front section of the market.

 

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This is silk, with a homemade feel and all its imperfections

For real artisanal scarves made of authentic thai silk or hand weaved cotton, you need to dig a little deeper. Expect to pay at least half up to the third of what you would pay in the big shops downtown. But without any labels. Research the reseller, test their knowledge, just listen with that gut feeling if they have a passion or not for what they are selling. And feel and smell the silk; it is unique and easy to distinguish from the fake once you know the product well.

 

A note on sizes

Scarves in Thailand don't follow the same guidelines as the Indian subcontinent scarf sizes. In Thailand come in four sizes, the most common are muffler and a smaller version of it. Also can be found the small stole and sometimes the larger stole which is equivalent to the stole size in India).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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