For hundreds of years, gold in Thailand has been used in ornaments, utensils and religious amulets. In ancient times, statues in many Buddhist temples were made of thick golden layers. Wealthy nobles and merchants wore ornaments of bracelets, chains and rings.
When Bangkok was built over 200 years ago, gold was as popular as ever. As Bangkok grew in population and prosperity, small time merchants, mostly of Chinese descent, would purchase chains or bracelets with any spare money, as a hedge against bad times. If conditions got difficult, they would trade the precious chains for cash to continue the business. People who had emigrated from chaos elsewhere to relatively peaceful Bangkok knew firsthand that the bar, not paper, is a true store of value.
Early Bangkok precious metal traders were concentrated in the Yaowarat district of Bangkok, as well as the Silom section by the Chaophraya River. When you visit these two areas, you will still see some old two-story buildings where the ground floor shops, painted bright red, are lined up with glass case cabinets filled will yellow metal chains of all sizes. They also carry rings, bracelets, amulet casings, and pins.
The more established shops also carry bullion of various sizes, from half ounce to kilogram pieces. Established shops are trustworthy. Tang To Kung and Hua Seng Heng are the two top yellow metal merchants in Bangkok. These two giants have branches all over Bangkok and in other provinces.
Today these merchants are really metal traders and brokers. They sell gold in jewelry format and bullion formats. They will also buy back them from their customers in both formats. When they buy back from you, there is a small transaction fee, at current prices approximately one hundred baht per half ounce. A half ounce of the yellow metal in Bangkok is about twelve thousand five hundred baht today. So a hundred baht transaction fee is pretty small when you trade bullion for cash.
For foreigners in Thailand, one confusing aspect of Thai bar is the system of measurement. The weight unit for Thai gold is called baht. One baht is about half an ounce or 15.16 grams. Adding to the confusion, the Thai paper currency is also called baht. Thus one bar baht is about twelve thousand five hundred baht. It sounds confusing, but it is nonetheless accurate.
Gold in Bangkok is of high grade, though somewhat less than standard international investment grade. Bullion is 96.5% pure. By contrast, Swiss bullion is 99.99% pure. A jewelry such as a wrist watch bands might be a bit less pure to enhance the sturdiness.
The price of the bar is set daily by the Thai Gold Traders Association. Practically all bar transactions are done in cash. You walk into a metal shop, tell them how many baht of the yellow piece you want, and pay them in cash. By the way most metal shops do accept credit cards as well.
With all the uncertainty in international markets, it might not be a bad idea to have some bullions stashed away for a rainy day. It has stood the test of time as a store of value. It will continue to be popular in Bangkok for a long time to come.