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Arts and crafts from Thailand are rightfully famous all over the world. Thai silk, for example, is handmade by skillful artisans, and is famous worldwide for its high quality. But silk is just one of many arts and crafts you will find in Thailand.
Hill-tribe artifacts, from silver jewelry to bright dresses; lacquerware and ceramics; traditional musical instruments and puppets… all are beautiful examples of the mastery of Thai artisans, trying to keep alive the old traditions.
Check out our brief article below and learn more about arts and crafts in Thailand.
After a long tradition had been somewhat forgotten, Thai silk weaving was revived after World War II by Jim Thompson, a former OSS officer. Nowadays, it is one of the most important export businesses, with silk being perhaps the most popular of the crafts in Thailand.
Threads produced by silk worms are of different colors and length. Numerous threads are reeled together to form a thicker thread, a process that can take up to 40 hours for ½ kilogram of silk.
Reeling machines can be used to accelerate the process. The skeins of silk are then soaked in hot water; and the silk is bleached before dying.
In the end, silk is woven on a handloom. The process is slow and takes a lot of skill, guaranteeing every piece of silk is rather unique, something industrial production couldn’t do.
Silk is commonly used for ties, dresses, skirts, cushions, and hangings. Many high-quality shops will let you choose the piece of silk you like best and tailor clothes especially for you.
Surawong Road in Bangkok is one place to go for a vast choice: Jim Thompson’s is located there. Another good shop, Shinawatra, can be found on Sukhumvit Road.
Suits in Thailand may or may not be really expensive: it all depends on what you are looking for. Wandering around Bangkok, you will see an incredible number of tailors offering incredible bargains for a made-to-measure suit.
Depending on where you go, the process can take several days, so be sure to have enough time. First the tailor will take all your measurements and will help you choose each part of your suit.
Then the pieces are loosely put together; and during the third step the tailor sees if there are any adjustments to be made. After a final general check, the suit is ready at last, and you can decide to take it with you or have it shipped (3-4 weeks).
Narin Couture is one of the best tailors in Bangkok. It has a wide range of cashmere, cotton, and wool, and is often frequented by ministers and ambassadors. Quality is guaranteed.
Rajawongse Clothier (exclusively for men) uses cashmere fabric imported from Italy for its suits, and Egyptian cotton for its dress shirts. You can order your shirt online.
Hill-tribes, with their bright traditional costumes and heavy jewelry, are symbolic of northern Thailand. Among their artifacts, you will find pipes, knives, and basketry. Silver jewelry, however, is one of the most popular artifacts, as hill-tribes value silver as a measure of wealth.
The largest pieces of silver are used for neck rings, silver buckles, and bracelets. Nowadays, hill-tribe jewelry is mostly produced by lowland silversmiths, as the formerly important village silversmiths are long gone; and production is designed for tourist markets.
Hill-Tribe House in Chiang Mai is maybe the most popular shop for this kind of craft, with original crafts that draw inspiration from tradition. Street markets in Chiang Mai, and shops on Khon Kaen also have a large selection of northeastern items.
Northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, is famous for its wooden and bamboo crafts. The dense forests of the north are home to a huge variety of trees: including teak, bamboo, rattan, and mango; so it’s easy to understand why wood has always been a popular material for construction and furniture.
The tradition started with the arrival of Burmese woodcarvers a long time ago. Nowadays, the most popular crafts are boxes, vases, lamps, and wooden furniture, which use a great range of different woods, not only the traditional teak.
In Chiang Mai, Don Design creates beautiful wooden furniture using waste material: the skills of the artisans are incredible, and every piece is a small masterpiece.
For simpler objects (like baskets and wood carvings) head to Chatuchak Market in Bangkok or to the night market in Chiang Mai, where prices are more affordable but quality is also maintained.
Pottery in Thailand is a form of art, thus its high quality is not a surprise. It has been heavily influenced by Chinese ceramics, while always maintaining its own particular features. Lacquerware was originally used to preserve silk, but is nowadays also considered collectable.
Both ceramics and lacquerware are the result of old traditions that still influence modern artisans. The highest quality products are handmade and hand-painted, and can be quite expensive. It is possible, however, to find good quality objects for more reasonable prices.
One of the best spots for ceramics is Koh Kret Pottery, in Nonthaburi (north of Bangkok). Pottery is created by people of Mon ethnicity, and you can watch artisans crafting their modest yet beautiful objects. Chatuchak Market and Narai Phand Handicraft Center are two great places to look for some good lacquerware bargains.
Traditional musical instruments and puppets represent two of the main art forms in Thailand: orchestral music and puppetry.
Sueng, a plucked lute, and khim, a hammered dulcimer, are two of the most special Thai musical instruments.
Thai puppetry is an art form that is slowing fading away. Puppets are usually one meter long and are controlled by 3 people.
To buy musical instruments in Bangkok, try Fortune Mall, Chinatown, or the music school on Ekkamai Soi 2. Patpong Market (or any other street market) is a good place for puppets.
When looking for the best bargain, it is easy to end up buying fake items. By following a few tips, you’ll avoid most problems.
When you visit Thailand, you will have to bring back dozens of souvenirs! We know it is hard to resist the strong temptation to buy such beautiful objects and bring home some unforgettable memories of the country.
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