Saturday, May 3, 2008

Shopping For Thai Handicrafts

Most visitors to Chiang Mai head straight to the temples and to the surrounding mountains to see the hill tribes. The culture in Northern Thailand may be defined by the excellent trekking and historic sites, but one of the greatest attractions for a growing number of people is the excellent shopping at the Baan Tawai craft centre located just to the south of the city. There are many good cultural souvenirs, handicrafts and home décor items to choose from here.

The famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is probably the most popular destination for visitors looking for handicrafts to take back home. It's common for most people to buy far more than they had planned, with a huge choice of goods from interesting art and sculptures through to beautiful silk clothes and lamp shades. What most of these people don't realise is that it's possible to find all of these products and at cheaper prices at Baan Tawai.

The area has long been an artisan centre, but with the growth in tourism over the last several years, Baan Tawai has expanded considerably. It now boasts a completely new wing and features several arcades of small shops and stalls. There are also larger shops found on the road leading to the centre which sell outdoor ceramics, furniture and antiques. A number of overseas buyers regularly visit the centre to purchase items in bulk for their outlets abroad.

In Chiang Mai if you are looking for souvenir shopping, then it is definitely worth your while spending some time here. The products on offer are the cheapest you will find in Thailand and include wall hangings, antique reproductions, silk, candles, incense, soap gift packs, bamboo products, frames, vases, ornaments and a whole lot more.

You can probably find some of the items for sale in the tourist areas in Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok, but the prices are significantly higher and the choice much smaller. Many of the products at Baan Tawai are handmade from natural materials and are unique to this part of Thailand.

There are lots of skilled artisans at work in Chiang Mai, and one of their favourite materials to work with is wood. They produce some fine Buddhist art pieces, décor items, carved figurines and wall hangings. The range continues to grow according to demand, and some of the latest pieces feature striking contemporary designs.

Teak furniture is also very popular and can be found at several shops, which will happily make items to order. Don't be deterred by the task of trying to fit everything into your luggage, as there are professional packing and shipping companies who will take care of everything for you in Chiang Mai.

However, you don't have to buy anything to enjoy a visit here, as it's fun looking around and seeing the artisans practising their skills. They are very gifted and have considerable experience weaving rattan, painting, carving busts, colouring figurines and applying delicate lacquer work.

Something else worth looking out for at Baan Tawai is the beautiful tropical gardens that can be found in front of many of the shops. As is the case throughout Chiang Mai, the locals take pride in creating impressive displays, gardens, water features and small ponds.

A lot of visitors are also attracted by the Asian antiques, which are among the finest in the world. Chiang Mai has become established as a centre not only for original pieces, but also for impressive looking copies. When you consider how much you would pay for an original 18th century antique, you could furnish your entire apartment with some very authentic looking reproductions for the same price.

The market is growing in size as more people are opting for artworks that simply look old. Some of the customers include the country’s most expensive hotels in Phuket and Samui. The production process includes burying newly-made pieces soaked in acid to shorten the aging period. Among the fake antiques on offer are Buddha figurines, Burmese masks, bronze bowls and pewter items.

Thai handicrafts are beautifully crafted, excellent value for money and can be found wherever you go in the world. The distinctive styles show up in flea markets and decor shops in the most unexpected of places. You may not intend to do much shopping on your visit, but once you get here, you will probably find yourself buying extra luggage to carry your new possessions home!

Submitted By: Sue Mumford

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