Chiang Mai Shopping

A trip to Chiang Mai was long overdue. Over eight years had passed since I was first there and over three years since I moved to Bangkok. Living in Thailand, it’s hard to escape the allure of Chiang Mai. Every Bangkokian tells you how it’s a shopping haven, a creative paradise and a beautiful, peaceful place. So when Nisha asked if I could go there for a few days to source for Arastan, the decision was easy.

Chiang Mai is the creative cradle of Thailand. Nestled in a valley surrounded by the Doi Inthanon mountain range in the northwestern part of the country, it’s the second largest city in Thailand. Yet, time moves much slower there. The verdant mountains and misty cloudy sky create the perfect backdrop to the slow paced, relaxed vibe of the city. Upon my arrival, I wandered through the town, covering the major section on foot, admiring the ingenuity of the artisans, soaking in the creativity and naturalness of the people, chatting with the shop owners and artists. It was completely relaxed, convenient and interesting – a true shopper’s paradise.

Hmong Market

Hmong Market

My second day was devoted to textiles. Influences from neighboring Myanmar and Laos along with the colourful traditions and skills of Thailand’s own hill tribes lend a distinct and beautiful touch to the goods found in the city. Vibrant intricately embroidered and adorned textiles for everyday life are the trade mark of the hill tribe people. Life’s milestones are always marked with hand woven textiles that incorporate the most beautiful and treasured materials and symbolic designs e.g. the baby wrap, the wedding sarong or the funeral cloth. Weaving styles, colours, embellishments like beads and pom-poms, they all start to take on a meaning, a name and a purpose. It’s addictive and fascinating to sift through textile shops and Chiang Mai has its share of choice ones.

Day three I focused on silver. The Karen people’s skillful silversmiths create hand-hammered pieces that never stray far from everyday symbols and the natural environment around them e.g. the frangipani flower, a woven cloth, the roughness of a stone, insects, fish or tree bark. Several streets around town are devoted to silver so there is plenty to look through. A trip to some of the nearby villages dedicated exclusively to silver making will be on my itinerary next time, for sure.

Eggshells on Lacquer

Eggshells on Lacquer

Bamboo Base for Lacquer

Bamboo Base for Lacquer

Lastly, it was time to hunt down some special lacquer. Lacquerware is another handicraft that has been cultivated and refined in the Chiang Mai area. The patience and skill necessary to finish one piece is inspiring. First the shape must be formed with strips of bamboo then a coat of lacquer and glue is applied and allowed to dry. Next, seven layers of paint must be applied, allowing 1 week between layers and polishing with sandpaper between each layer. Once the piece is formed and painted the artist can begin the decorative process such as gold leaf, eggshell, engraving or painting. Being able to see some of these steps in progress, it’s easy to understand the spectrum of workmanship and quality when shopping for lacquer.

Vastly different from my first trip to Chiang Mai when I was on a cooking mission – but no less enjoyable that’s for sure. Chiang Mai, continue on your artistic path, I’ll be back soon.

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