Thailand offers an abundance of riches for the tourist or traveler, which includes some of the nicest islands, beaches, and natural scenery you’ll see anywhere in the world. Most tourists soak up the sun and play in the sand in places like Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and even at the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, and more. They will probably also play with baby tigers (and take photos with their momma or papa), bathe elephants at a rescue sanctuary, visit countless awe-inspiring Buddhist temples, and pig out on scrumptious (but spicy) Thai food all day long.
But, as we’ve documented before, there’s another booming industry in Thailand the attention of armies of tourists: counterfeits.
In fact, international anti-counterfeit taskforces (yes, they are highly illegal), estimated that Thailand’s knockoff market accounts for billions of dollars in direct and indirect revenue every year.
From RayBan sunglasses to Doc Marten boots, Gucci purses to Rolex watches, DVDs of just about every Hollywood movie and even high-end luggage, the knockoffs, counterfeit goods, and “copy” as the Thai people call them here, are everywhere.
What does it look like inside one of these counterfeit markets? There are night markets and street vendors selling this stuff literally everywhere you turn, but I was introduced to a bit more sophisticated market in a nearby mall, with two whole floors dedicated just to electronics, gadgets, and communications. It’s where the locals go mostly, and there are very few farang (foreigners) walking around.
That also tells me that the stuff they’re selling is, if not nearly as good as the original products, at least quality enough to be usable.
While they aren’t hiding these products at all – they’re in plain sight inside the mall – they also don’t advertise outside, so from the street, you’d have no idea such a bustling enterprise was contained within.
I make a bee-line for the mall’s second floor (past the genuine Starbucks and McDonald’s) where there must be 50 glass counters laid out in a row, along with other kiosks and displays, taking up the size of about two football fields – just in electronics.
Here, you can get every brand of Asian-made phone known to man (and there are some great ones!) but also Samsung and plenty of iPhones. Are the iPhones real? Nope, and it’s also nearly impossible to accurately copy Apple products, so it’s best to stay away from that brand.
But they are overloaded with Apple accessories, and I pick up two iPhone charging cords (best to have an extra since they break so often) for 100 Baht – or about $3 each. These are solid and will last me as long as I don’t pull them wrong and fray the wiring.
I also desperately need an external power bank to plug in and charge up my phone on the go, as I had a drunken date in Manila one time and the girl commandeered mine. The helpful salesgirl recommended a brand I’ve never heard of, explaining that it would hold about three hours worth of charge for my iPhone. The cost? Only 500 Baht, or $15.
Last thing, I desperately needed a new battery for my iPhone6. I’ve had it for a couple of years (just long enough to pay it off), but the battery is entirely shot (Apple obviously plans it like that), and goes from 78% to like 35% in a matter of 10 minutes.
To try and get a new battery in the U.S. would cost countless of hundreds of dollars, if it was possible at all. But here at the electronics mall in Thailand, the tech opened up my phone, did some magic, replaced the battery, and closed it all up again – all for less than $40.
You can even get them to jailbreak a phone here for next to nothing. Aside from these phone services, they have so many Bose-knockoff speakers, phone cases, knockoff GoPros and digital cameras, and just about every other electronic you could ever wish for.
I escaped with my iPhone like new, before I started spending more money on all of these gadgets!