By our Guest Blogger, Abhi
My uncle is a businessman; he can be irritating at times but he’s a good man overall. He has 3 huge showrooms in Jaipur-Delhi and Chandigarh, where they sell, everything and nothing – from antiques, fine clothes and accessories to expensive decorative pieces and amazing rare leather goods, so yeah, pretty much everything. Recently he fell ill, very ill (you’ve heard about the dengue and malaria in news, haven’t you?) and that was two days before he was supposed to go to Thailand for shopping for his showrooms. Long story short, I went to Thailand in his place, with a long list of items to purchase and drop at the harbor which would be shipped to India. Now I won’t be telling the exact prices or other details of the things I bought but I can surely tell you where to go shopping for things that you won’t find in India.
Thailand is world-famous for its silk industry, and rightfully so. Thai silk has in the past few decades experienced a remarkable renaissance after having almost died out by the late 1960s. Thai silk fabrics have a reputation for not only being the pinnacle of luxury, but the country boasts some types that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, like the incredibly beautiful “ikat” silk from the country’s northeastern region, which is produced using a unique tie-dye technique. While many buyers opt for reams of raw or dyed silk fabrics, you can of course, also purchase ready-made clothing or home décor items like pillow cases and even bedding. Not just silk, Thailand is also home to an enormous textile manufacturing industry. Whether it’s simple t-shirts or polo shirts, denim jeans or dress shirts and blouses, the quality if often surprisingly good for the price quoted, particularly when you’re looking for cotton textiles. Many manufacturers work for international brands but also have established their own, local brands, which often are exactly the same items, just with a different label. But if you are in Bangkok you should wander the maze of tiny alleys that make up Pratunam Clothing Market, where you’ll find outlets of large factories next to small shops of textile artists and if you bring your own designs, most shops will gladly transform them for you into any item you want.
Wood carvings in all shapes and sizes are a speciality of northern Thailand, where you can find entire village communities engaging in nothing else but transforming logs into beautiful décor items. Just a few kilometres from the northern city of Chiang Mai lies the village of San Patong and is there where you’ll find entire rows of wood workshops. In Hangdong district, just about an hour south of Chiang Mai, the villages of Ban Tawai and Ban Wan likewise, are dedicated to the art of wood carving. The artisans produce anything from wonderfully detailed statues of mythical deities, Thai temple dancers and richly decorated wall panels to absolutely tacky stuff like Indian Chief heads and buffalo horns. But just wander around San Patong or Hangdong and it’s almost certain that you’ll see one or another item that catches your fancy.
Thailand is not particularly famous for the quality of its cow leather products. However, more luxurious merchandise made from crocodile, ostrich, and even stingray leather is a wholly different story. There are numerous crocodile, ostrich and stingray farms around the country, where those animals are bred commercially. Leather made from their skins is noted for both their subtleness and interesting surface texture and is transformed into anything from belts to wallets, ladies handbags and more.
The art of manufacturing umbrellas and fans from waxed paper or painted silk fabrics is again a speciality of northern Thailand and is, in fact, centuries old. The basic frames of umbrellas and fans in all sizes are usually made from bamboo, skillfully tied together and fastened with strong cotton or even silk threads. Those frames are then covered either with sheets of waxed paper or silk.
What makes Thailand’s rattan and bamboo furniture industry interesting is the often quite unique designs – apart from the very low prices for larger orders, of course. Water hyacinths, a ubiquitous weed choking rivers and ponds everywhere in Thailand in recent years also have been discovered as the raw material for aesthetically rather tasteful furniture items like chairs and floor mats and rugs. When dried, the hyacinths’ woody stalks become very tough and sturdy, yet incredibly light in terms of weight.
Thailand is an important manufacturing base for many of the world’s most iconic brands of sports shoes, like Nike, Adidas, Puma and several others. What is less well known is the fact that Thai manufacturers have established an enormous range of local brands, practically all of which are very rarely seen outside the country. Quality-wise they generally are on par with their more famous international cousins, yet are very low priced, especially if you’re buying in quantity. Thais also have a penchant for playful design, thus you can find quite unusual types of sneakers among local brands.
Ceramic items of all shapes and sizes are yet another time-honored speciality of Thailand. In the middle ages, celadon ceramics were one of the main and highly-priced trading goods of ancient Siam and were shipped as far away as China. The small northeastern village of Dan Kwiang until today has a reputation for the unique appearance of its ceramics, the result of a special type of clay only found in the vicinity. It has a high content of iron oxide, which after firing gives the ceramics a unique reddish sheen. But northern Thailand also supports a large ceramics manufacturing industry, with goods ranging from large planting pots to crockery, vases, and other decorative items being shipped around the world. Just as Celadon, Benjarong pottery likewise is a speciality indigenous to Thailand.
I carried a Prepaid Forex card with me and kept reloading in as and when I required money. This is a much better option than swiping your credit card which incurs high Fx conversion costs. I didn’t want to carry large sums of money on me either, as it is not exactly recommended to walk around crowded markets loaded, so the prepaid card turned out to be somewhat of a saviour!