Phuket's shopping district is bigger than ever, with an even mix of touristy markets, department stores and upscale boutiques. Prices are high, but bargains persist in unexpected places.
Patong Beach is the epicenter of tourist shopping, with the fasting-growing retail district found along Rat-U-Thit Road. The biggest shopping complexes are found here, while the back alleys leading to the beach harbor a ramshackle collection of merchants selling beach accessories, seashell jewelry, sarongs, hammocks and all manner of tourist kitsch.
What many tourists never realize is that Phuket Town has a tantalizing shopping district of its own. The atmosphere is much more laid back, with quirky boutiques that deal in handicrafts, antiques and artwork. There is also an artists' colony near Rawai Beach that contributes to the local art and handicraft scene.
JungCeylon is one of Phuket's most relaxed shopping centers, which is to say it feels more like a regular Thai mega-mall rather than a supercharged tourist stop. In addition into the fashion boutiques, electronics shops and food court, JungCeylon also boasts a massive handicraft market on its basement level.
Central Festival is the biggest mall on Phuket, and it serves as the region's definitive designer retail and entertainment complex. The emphasis here is on international brands and prices, so it mainly appeals to tourists and expatriates.
This collection of 12 boutiques deals in everything from audiovisual equipment to silk textiles and spa products. It's all within reach of Surin Beach and is backed by a few upscale restaurants.
Robinsons department store and mall is a mainstay of Thailand's shopping scene. This particular branch is located near Phuket Town and attracts more Thais than foreigners, though its pleasing selection of international brands is convenient.
After sunset the road fronting Patong Beach transforms into a lively marketplace. Vendors hawk beach clothes, silk garments, bootleg CDs, leatherwork, jewelry, handicrafts and much more. Prices start high in this area, but a round or two of bargaining is likely to bring things down.
Phuket has a reputation for inflated prices, and this becomes most apparent in tourist markets where merchants may start out asking an exorbitant price. They'll always come down, but prices here simply won't reach mainland lows. Bear in mind that department stores and boutiques usually have fixed-prices, and bartering doesn't enter the equation here.