Thailand has long enjoyed a fabulous reputation for its handicrafts. With hard work, intricate skill and generations of knowledge, the people of Thailand are able to produce intricate and stunning objects that have found their way into homes throughout the world. Even if you’re not a big shopper, you’ll invariably buy a few cultural items when in Bangkok.
Thai handicrafts make excellent souvenirs and gifts to take home, or buy in bulk to sell in markets abroad. They are genuinely hand crafted, cheaply produced, and display excellent taste in cultural Asian bric-a-brac. Many are small and light enough to make good keepsakes and gifts from your Thailand trip, and the night vendors and hotel shops are full of these charming items.
There are various different categories of crafts within the country. Thai silk, for one, is known throughout the world for its price and quality. The silk is harvested in Korat (in the northeast, where cloth weaving is a traditional art), then dyed and woven to be transformed into a range of garments.
Wicker-work is another well-known and popular form of handicraft. The wide availability of bamboo and the skills passed down over the generations have led to beautifully designed-furniture, souvenirs and woven handicrafts. Pottery and ceramics in Thailand also have a long and varied history. Influenced by the Chinese, Thai pottery gradually established its own style and is produced in a wide variety of sizes and styles – look out for the royal-inspired Benjarong china!
Lacquerware is an ancient oriental craft that is alive and well in Thailand, too. It entails a repeated process of coating structural bamboo, or wood, with lacquer before hand-painting it with intricate designs. Generally, objects are produced either in gold and black, or yellow and green on a red-brown background. Lacquerware products include boxes, trays and dolls.
Wooden products are perhaps the most common, ranging from children’s toys to magnificently-carved wall hangings. Lamps, furniture, home décor and other gift items are common among handicraft souvenir sellers in Bangkok.
Where to buy Thai handicrafts in Bangkok
Although Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, is perhaps the country’s best place to buy handicrafts, those sold in Bangkok are still very cheap. As with any capital, much regional produce eventually finds its way to the bustling streets of a nation’s largest city.
The Banglamphu area of Bangkok is a good place to start if you are looking for good quality handicrafts. Although slightly more expensive than some other regions of the city, there is a wide range of goods on sale here and many of the vendors have a knowledge of English and are used to dealing with foreigners. You can find stunning wood-carved statues, table-cloths, clothing and baskets, for example. Alternatively, the vendors along Sukhumvit Road (near Nana BTS Station) offer all sorts of choices for last minute souvenir and gift shopping.
Chinatown, with its bustling streets and unique sights and smells, is a highly interesting part of Bangkok. Here you will find some great examples of lacquerware, pottery and Buddha statues. Some of these statues are simply enormous, so carrying them home may be a problem, but there are more than enough wares in Chinatown to keep any shopper happy.
Chatuchak Weekend Market is perhaps the most popular place in Bangkok to purchase arts and crafts. This huge, bustling marketplace is home to hundreds of small stalls, many of them selling wonderful crafts from all over Thailand. Bargain hard here and you are sure to come away with some great items.
You can also pick up Thai handicrafts in more luxurious surroundings; just visit some of the plush, new malls scattered around Bangkok. For the more expensive items, the exclusive Paragon Mall is the place to go, while for a larger selection at lower prices, Central Pinklao is a good bet.
If you are a wholesale buyer stocking a shop in your home town, you should head to the manufacturers’ source in Chiang Mai, where prices are significantly cheaper. When in Chiang Mai it is best to engage a local sourcing agent, such as Lanna Handicrafts, which can take you to a wide selection of suppliers and help you bargain the price, as well as handle packing and shipping.