A typical cast bronze amulet.
Thais are generally a rather superstitious lot. Many of them live in a world full of spirits, both good and bad. This belief predates most current religions, which can be said to be over-laid and heavily affected by these beliefs.
To protect themselves from the unwanted attentions of bad spirits, many Thais employ the use of amulets. Tattoos and spirit houses also perform the same purpose.
Amulets may be made of metals such as bronze and gold, or they can be ceramic. Most display a Buddha image, although former kings and famous monks can also be found. Among kings, Mongkut (Rama IV) and Chulalongkorn (Rama V) are the most popular. The back of an amulet will normally display a yantra, a combination of words and symbols that forms an incantation to ward off evil spirits.
A red clay amulet from Ayutthaya province.
A very typical white ceramic amulet.
Amulets are often made as part of the fund-raising efforts of a temple. Monks are often involved in the process, at least to bless the images. The value of an amulet will be determined by its age, who made it, where it was made, and who consecrated it.
Amulets can be purchased at temples, especially those that have particularly well-known monks or Buddha images. Amulets purchased inside temples will generally be new. The big market is for older images which can be found at amulet markets around the country. In Bangkok, the major markets are the sidewalks around Wat Mahathat and next to Wat Ratchanadaa.
So many Thais have such a craze for collecting amulets that there are no less than a half-dozen magazines devoted solely to amulets.
If you want to buy an amulet, there should be no problem taking them out of the country. Note however, that like any Buddha image, Thais use the term 'rent' when referring to the purchase of a Buddha image. You don't buy a Buddha, you rent it from its previous owner for a one-time fee.
For more information about Thai amulets, especially rare ones, you might wish to visit the Rare Thai Amulet web site.