The Taste of Lanna
Traditionally, the local people of north Thailand did not rest idle in the period between the harvesting and next planting of the rice paddies. Hence, they have developed a reputation for producing some of the most beautiful and diverse handicrafts in Asia. The range of products is endless because Lanna artisans are famous for furniture, leather work, hilltribe costumes, gems and jewelry, and beautiful paintings.
Not so long ago, shoppers visiting Chiang Mai required a lot of time to buy the speciality items produced in separate villages. e.g. silk village, ceramic and eathernware, herbal medicine and fragrances, hilltribe markets, silver village, woodworking and lacquerware. Now, The Northern Village in Central Airport Plaza has brought all the best producers of these works of art to one convenient area. To appreciate the skills necessary to produce these beautiful crafts, just come to this one stop shopping emporium.
Visitors can find most anything they want in Central Airport Plaza's Northern Village featuring Contemporary Thai Style on two floors making it synonymous with elegance of crafts of the far east. The items here are not simply reproduced classic versions but using different elements, density, proportion, and color combinations, unique contemporary variations are created. With the very first step into The Northern Village, the shopping experience leads into a learning experience about the culture of the area. Browse through an incredible range of extraordinary gift items. There's so much to see and so much to buy.
Silk fabrics in every hue, patterned silks combining contemporary colors and designs, and small gift items such as picture frames, scarves, cushion covers, and purses.
The colors and patterns of local cottons differ between districts surrounding Chiang Mai and in many cases the resulting cloth has become as unique and identifiable as the distinctive costumes of the different hill tribes.
A wide range of silverware is available and look for the most famous being silver vessels stamped with characters from the Thai version of the Ramayana. The silver used is of high purity, sometimes 100 percent. The silversmiths are noted for the high quality workmanship. The ethnic look of the hill tribes who also prize silver in hill tribe earrings, necklaces and bracelets can be found.
An intrinsically Thai craft to take home is lightweight lacquerware. Some designs display a Burmese influence which reflects the intermingling of these two cultures in Lanna history. The lacquerware making process if very time-consuming and requires great patience.
Ceramics production in Chiang Mai dates back to when the city's founder, King Mengrai, imported expert potters from China to produce celadon at the city of Sawankhalok. The heritage of producing this pale green ceramic with the characteristic crackled glaze lives on in Sankampaeng.
Celadon production is time-consuming and laborious. Clay is collected, impurities removed, mixed with water, and passed several times through a pug mill to improve blending. It is then left to age by bacterial action. When 'mature', the clay is then kneaded and the vessel then thrown on the potter's wheel. When 'leather hard', the vessel is carved with designs and left to dry naturally. The vessel is then bisque fired to prepare the surface for the application of the wood ash glaze from the wood of the overcus belutina tree, found in Northern Thai forests. The ash of this wood is preferred as the resultant glaze is jade green, the most auspicious stone to the Chinese. The addition of cobalt or iron results in blue or dark green glazes.
Another product of folk wisdom is using mulberry bark paper, called saa, to make umbrellas and fans. Like most local crafts, only natural materials are used to produce the umbrellas. A bamboo handle with spokes to take the paper covering is produced. The bark is pounded, virtually dissolved in a tank, and collected on fine mesh and left to dry into saa paper. After being applied to the umbrella frame, artists decorate the parasol with colorful birds and flowers.
Woodcarving is another ancient craft which has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. Teak, with its beautiful grain and durability, is the referred wood. Mulberry and jackfruit wood is used items to be painted or lacquered.
Northern Thailand can still lay claim to being a treasure trove of genuine antiques. Chinese porcelain, Lanna fabrics, hilltribe jewelry, and Burmese carvings and lacquerware are among the items available Northern Village.
The range is daunting but with a little work most visitors will come away with a special keepsake to remind them of their days in the kingdom of a million rice fields. Despite modern development, craftsmen are keeping the traditional wisdom alive in the hills of North Thailand.