Traditional Products Of Thailand
by Kevin Cain
Whilst most visitors come to the Land of Smiles to lay on pristine white beaches and enjoy the incredible food and culture, there are others who visit Thailand for a completely different reason.Thailand is famous for all its diverse tourist activities and places to see, and yet there is another very valid reason to visit exotic Siam. And that is to purchase the amazing products that are produced from quality craftsmen, often made by old traditional methods.
Silk is probably the best known commodity and Thai silk is famed throughout the world. In the past few decades the Thai silk industry has gone through something of a remarkable renaissance after nearly dying out in the late 60's. Thai silk is of extraordinary quality and some of the designs and types cannot be found anywhere else on the globe. Such as the luxurious Ikat silk from the northeast, which is formed using a unique tie-dying technique.
Most of Thai silk is produced from the cocoons of Thai silkworms and the weavers of the Khorat Plateau feed their caterpillars on a diet of mulberry leaves. If you are crazy about silk then Khorat is the place to visit as it is the center of the silk industry in Thailand, famed for its Rose Thai Silk that has been produced there for generations.
Look for the Peacock Emblem that Thailand's Agriculture Ministry uses to authenticate Thai silk to be guaranteed its quality and origin.
Precious stones, gems and jewelry, is one of the key industries that has flourished since ancient Siam and before. The Kingdom is well endowed with gemstone resources as well as many gifted artisans and craftsmen For many centuries Chanthaburi and the surrounding areas have been producing rubies and sapphires mined from the Thai-Cambodian border region, with mines lying both sides of the border.The deep red rubies discovered in Chanthaburi are known as Tab Tim Siam or Siamese Rubies and are so collectable they are sought after all over the world for their dazzling pure red colour and almost magical appearance.
The Thailand jewelry industry has developed from home enterprise to a large scale export trade and the sector has become one of Thailand's top-ten foreign exchange earners.
Paper and Silk Umbrellas are another specialty of northern Thailand, the art of manufacturing the umbrellas and fans from waxed paper or wonderful painted silk is in fact hundred of years old.The remote villages of San Kamphaeng and Bor Sand just outside Chiang Mai are dedicated to this old tradition and craft. The basic frames are usually bamboo and tied together with either cotton or silk thread. The frames are then covered with the waxy paper or fabric, then the elaborate and colourful artwork is added to bring unique designs and combination of colours.
Since ancient times and still today, umbrellas and fans are used in many ceremonial traditions around the country, which highlights the Thai reverence for this most exceptional handmade item.
Wood engravings, and carvings of all shapes and sizes are prevalent in northern Thailand where you can find entire communities and villages transforming wooden logs into beautiful decorative items.At the center of the industry is San Patong where there are row after row of carpenters shops, lining up to transform the wood into something quite spectacular. A little further south the two villages of Ban Tawai and Ban Wan are also both heavily involved in the art of wood transformation.
These craftsmen produce almost anything from religious deities, temple dancers and highly decorative wall panels that adorn the most prestigious of walls. Usually the wooden carvings are to be found embellishing many religious temples, but also can be found in royal buildings and on regal boats. Fine examples of this work can be seen in Pattaya's own Sanctuary of Truth, which is a must- see experience if you have yet to visit.
Silvercraft and northern Thai silver is among the most famous in the Kingdom, but the methods and styles do vary greatly from the central and southern Thai silver wares. Northern Thai silver origins date back to 14th century as a result of the Burmese and Shan silver production a hundred years earlier.Hundreds of Burmese silversmiths arrived in the new capital of Lanna, Chaing Mai. The Shan tribes also very adept at silver-work plied their trade in the region, thus forming the now famous Chaing Mai silverware.
The tradition of silver work in both Sukhothai and Lanna developed quickly and by the time the Thai Ayutthaya Kingdom of the 15th century came, an established industry was prevalent with fantastic combinations of designs and techniques.Still today, the regions around Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai are producing some excellent silvercraft, with traditional and a little more modern design to whet your appetite.
Ceramics of all types, shapes and sizes are yet another old and yet time-honoured speciality of Thailand. Way back to the middle ages, Celadon ceramics were one of the main and highly priced trading goods of Siam.
The small village of Dan Kwiang in the northeast was fortunate to have a very special clay that could only be found there. And this clay, with a high content of iron oxide, gave rise to ceramics with a unique reddish sheen. The ceramic products made in and around Dan Kwiang are some of the most sought after in the world and are in great demand.It is in the north of the country that the ceramics industry is centered, producing a wide range of goods both for domestic use and export.
Thailand has so much more to offer than sea, sand and leisure. Its craft products are indeed highly sought after. Hardly surprising when you consider the quality of the raw materials and craftsmanship.So the next time you have the opportunity take a trip up to Khorat to see the silk, or San Patong to purchase some fine wood carvings, it will be a change from the normal sightseeing and you might unearth a gem or two in Chanthaburi.