the urbanist: bangkok

Handmade Lutes, Herbal Inhalers, and Other Souvenirs You Should Buy in Bangkok

Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: saiko3p/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Put down the snake-infused whiskey. Step away from the elephant pants. Bangkok has a plethora of high-quality, semi-unusual souvenirs for sale. What follows are ten things you should add to your shopping list, sourced from a host of in-the-know residents.  

Mother of Pearl Spoons
Chatuchak Weekend Market is the place to go for souvenir shopping. I would get mother of pearl spoons there. Classically, chefs use them for caviar service because it doesn’t react with the roe. It can cost up to $20 a spoon in the States, but you can usually deal it down to 150 baht [less than $5] a spoon here, so I grab a bunch for my chef friends back home when I visit them.” —Dan Bark, executive chef and co-owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Upstairs at Mikkeller

Handmade Lute
“When I first got interested in playing the phin (Thai lute), I bought one from a market and showed it to Kammao Perdtanon, the phin player in the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band. He said it’d make a good chopping board for cooking! Kammao makes his own instruments by hand, following the same techniques as his father. Only a handful of people know how to make a traditional phin anymore. It’s like a samurai sword you’d only find in Japan — very Kill Bill. If you’re looking to buy one, the tourist version costs around 2-to-3,000 Thai baht ($65 to $100 USD) and Kammao’s is between 6 and 9,000 baht ($192 to $290), depending on the size, the wood, and the parts. You can order one at our store.” —Nattapon Siangsukon, owner of ZudRangMa Records

POY-SIAN herbal inhalers. Photo: Courtesy of the Vendor

Herbal Inhaler
“Thai inhalers, or ya dom, consist of clove, cardamom, star anise, and mint. You can find them at most convenience stores, including 7-Eleven and Family Mart. Thailand’s most famous brand is called POY-SIAN. Its packaging is small, so it’s easy to carry around in your pocket, and it’s very useful when I feel sick, dizzy, have a headache, or motion sickness.” —Supoj Siripornlertkul, owner of TUBA Design Furniture & Restaurant and Papaya Design Furniture & Studio

Herbal Balm
“Most Thais carry herbal balm everywhere we go. I’d recommend the brand Wang-wan. Their factory is located in the Wang Nam Khiao district of northeastern Thailand. They use fresh organic ingredients from that area and their balm smells really good. I often use it to massage my legs; it does a great job easing muscle stiffness.” —Supoj Siripornlertkul

Locally Roasted Coffee Beans
“The quality of Thai coffee has really improved over the years; it’s just waiting to be discovered by the world market. Gallery Drip Coffee is really pushing Thai beans forward. The selection changes almost weekly, so you’ll have to check their Facebook page to see what’s available. I also recommend the Jom Thong Honey Process coffee from Brave Roasters.”Varatt Vichit-Vadakan, owner of third-wave café Roast and co-founder of community mall and creative space theCOMMONS

Hanuman neck pillow from Holen. Photo: Courtesy of the Vendor

Hanuman Neck Pillow 
“For globetrotters who want something well-designed but also useful, I recommend the Hanuman neck pillow from Holen, modeled after the lead character of the Hindu epic Ramayana. It’s highly versatile, makes a great gift for kids, and looks cool on a plane. You’ll definitely stand out from all those other boring neck pillows!” —Amarit Charoenphan, founder of the co-working space HUBBA

Bamboo Mat
“You can find locally crafted reed and bamboo mats at most markets [Chatuchak, with thousands of vendors, being the largest example]. They’re perfect as a decorative rug in your apartment, and great to throw over a grass lawn for a picnic or at a beach while you’re out surfing. Very multipurpose, durable, and, of course, beautiful.” —Varatt Vichit-Vadakan

SangSom Thai rum. Photo: Courtesy of the Vendor

SangSom Rum
“Most punches pack a wallop of booze. The Muay Thai Punch cocktail at WTF is more mild, because the base alcohol is SangSom, an inexpensive and delicious Thai rum that is a lightly spiced and slightly fruity. Even than hangovers are pleasant! It’s usually served with soda or Coke and lime, and shared with friends sitting on low stools on a sweaty Bangkok sidewalk. SangSom recently launched a higher-end line called Phraya; it’s aged in a charred oak barrel and has a more sophisticated taste.” —Somrak Sila and Christopher Wise, co-founders of WTF Bar and Gallery

Mortar and Pestle 
“If you like Thai food, pick up a wooden mortar and pestle at Chatuchak. They’re used for grinding spices and making som tum (spicy papaya salad). It’s hard to find a good one outside of Thailand. I even brought one with me to Canada when I was working in Toronto.” —Napol Jantraget, executive chef and co-owner of 80/20

WC PEEC’s portable toilet kit. Photo: Courtesy of the Vendor

WC PEEC’s Portable Toilet Kit
“Bangkok’s traffic is notorious and this Good Design Award winner is easy to use in the car, with pleasant packaging. A fun unisex gift you can give to your friends. Hey, you never know!” —Shane Suvikapakornkul, gallery director of Serindia Gallery

10 Souvenirs You Should Buy in Bangkok, According to Locals