In a city of knock-offs and fake designer gear, David Whitley discovers what the anti-counterfeiting operation is up to


A stroll down Thalan Silom and through the Patpong Night Bazaar reveals a cavalcade of blatantly obvious fakery. It’s a world of dodgy D&G belts, fraudulent Facebook flip-flops, blagged bags and rip-off replica kits. Obviously photocopied DVD covers sit in plastic, waiting for a recently burned blank disc to be slid inside; watches are Swiss in the Swiss Toni sense of the word and the Oakley sunglasses probably offer all the sun protection of rubbing lard all over your eyeballs. It’s even possible to buy an unlicensed 7-Eleven t-shirt, should you wish to show your allegiance to your favourite convenience store without being loyal enough to it to buy the genuine merchandise.


For connoisseurs of Ralph Laurain’t, Phooey Vuitton and Hello Shitty, this must be some kind of paradise. Personally, I don’t get it. If the point of being clad in Versace, Rolex and Jimmy Choo is the quality, then you’re not getting the quality. If the point is to walk around showing labels off to people, then getting faked versions of those labels will only serve to make you even more of a phenomenal arsehole.


Thais tend to have an enterprisingly liberal approach to intellectual property law. Counterfeiting is often seen as fair game, much to the disgust of multinational corporations that rather like making lots and lots of money from selling expensive things.


Elsewhere in Bangkok, it’s possible to get a glimpse into the fight against just about everything on the Patpong Night Bazaar.


In the south of the city lies the Supalai Grand office tower. It is the home to Tilleke and Gibbins, a law firm specialising in international property on the behalf of numerous corporate clients around the world. If you ask them nicely (it’s best to set up an appointment at least a day in advance), they’ll show you around their carefully acquired Museum of Counterfeit Goods.


There’s quite a collection, with some of it amusing and some of it deadly serious. The huge wall of T-shirts is the immediate attention-grabber. All are labelled with an F for fake or G for Genuine, and the two different approaches become immediately apparent. Some are attempts to pass off copies as the genuine article – such as the knock-off football kits – while others are trying to cash in on well-known brands. There is, for example, a shirt with a Ralph Lauren-esque crocodile on the front going under the world famous “Chemise Lizzard” brand.


Moving on, there are attempts to show how best to identify the fakes. In the shoes section, for example, the illegal imitations from Vietnam are obvious from the cheap glue used to stick them together.


Elsewhere, the fakes are hilariously poor. The ‘Tamborine’ version of Toblerone looks like it has been wrapped in coloured-in A4 paper. Others are perplexingly pointless. Why would anyone go to the bother of creating fake Staedtler pencils, for instance?


But the more serious side of things raises involuntary chills. One case is full of fake medicines – heaven only knows what’s inside them – and the cheap and nasty phone batteries could lead to some very unpleasant incidents.


But perhaps the most interesting aspect of all is how these counterfeits come to be in the museum. I’m told that the companies being ripped off ask Tilleke and Gibbins to keep an eye on the people infringing their copyrights. Thus, when the rip-offs are spotted, they’re bought as proof. The most reliable customers of these counterfeit goods, therefore, are the very companies who want to get rid of the counterfeits.


Disclosure: David was a guest of the Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park. It’s a good option in the Silom area.