Northern thailand is famous for its handicrafts. the high quality of crafts produced today, such as wooden carvings, silverware, fabrics, ceramics, silk, and lacquerware, reflects centuries of northern thai, or lanna, expertise. the region’s ethnic minorities and hill tribes also produce distinctive embroidery, paintings, and silverware. Chiang Mai is the main crafts center, while villages such as Bo Sang and San Kamphaeng specialize in particular crafts. in factory-shops, visitors can watch crafts being made. antiques and excellent copies are sold in outlets in Chiang Mai. though teak logging has been strictly controlled in thailand since 1989, wooden crafts produced from imported teak are still widely sold.
Ornate Akha headdresses feature silver coins and hollow baubles that are expertly crafted by the men of the hill tribe.
Animal figures, intricately carved from wood (in many cases teak), often feature in Northern wats. Such wooden crafts are still produced throughout the North, despite the ban on unregulated teak logging.
Northern lacquerwork typically consists of a red lacquer-coated wood or bamboo base decorated with a yellow pattern. This is a 19th- or 20th-century box.
Before the advent of the car, elephants were used for transportation in Thailand. People sat in howdahs, or elephant chairs, on the elephants’ backs. Howdahs stood some 5 ft (1.5 m) high, and their decoration revealed their passengers’ status. The most basic form consisted of a seat with raised sides. Howdahs used for transporting royalty and aristocrats, such as this one from Northern Thailand, featured ornate wood carving and usually had a roof.
Betel sets consist of several containers used to hold the ingredients for betel-chewing (a popular activity in Southeast Asia) – betel leaf, limestone ash, and the narcotic areca palm fruit. A gold set was a sign of status.
Wooden roof brackets, seen on religious buildings, are for decoration rather than support. They often depict nagas (serpents) and other animals.
Silver ceremonial jewelry is worn for village festivals and other important occasions. While hill tribes still use old silver, melted down from Indian and Burmese coins, many Thai silversmiths in Chiang Mai nowadays rely on imported silver of a lower quality.
In Thailand even everyday items are decorated, such as this wooden clapper, which is painted with a flower motif. A clapper is traditionally worn by water buffalo so they can be located if they stray.
Textiles of Northern Thailand
Textile production in Northern Thailand dates from the early Lanna period, and the region is known for its silk and cotton. Chiang Mai and San Kamphaeng are centers for silk clothing – also made in the Northeast– including the traditional pha sin (woman’s sarong). Outlets also sell furnishings and cottonware produced in Pasang such as the pha koma (man’s sarong). Chiang Khong factory-shops produce Thai Lue cotton fabrics in stunning colors, while hill tribes make and sell brightly patterned fabrics. Most textiles can be bought as lengths or as ready-made items.