Treasures in the north
Traditional handicrafts, unlike many other things nowadays, are a mean to make a living inherited from ancient generations. Crafts are vitally important for Thai economy as means of preserving the traditional value of community life and protecting the environment in Thailand. The art and craft business greatly reflect the basic traditions of village life. For Thailand, the rich heritage can be mostly seen on its colourful baskets, exuberant textiles, stunning silverware, intricate wood-carving, and of course, basketry weaving. According to John E. De Young in his book ‘Village life in modern Thailand’, every village has a few people who are trained in some expertise other than farming to sustain their living. Unlike in Malaysia, men dominate the skills of weaving and wood carving.
Following the success of Japan’s One Village One Product (OVOP) program, Thai Prime Minister instilled the same stimulus program called One Tambon One Product (OTOP). Tambon is a sub-district; it aims to improve the quality of local crafts by focusing on only one significant product for each village. Other than handicrafts, the OTOP products include cotton and silk, silverware, pottery, fashion accessories, household items and foods.
Thailand’s unique wood carving treasures are majorly located in Chiang Mai province, up in the northern territory of the country. Chiang Mai is known to be the historical and cultural port of Thailand. Tourists may purchase AND learn Thai wood carving in Ban Thawai Village in Hang Dong district. Anything and everything from wood – Ban Thawai is home to some of the world-renowned wood carving artisans and their fantastic masterpieces. Many of the artisans are from the older generation as young adults prefer to engage in commercial works to earn more money for their living.
Legend has it that the craft was incepted from temples where abundant religious Buddha images and pulpits were carved exquisitely. Initially, only a few wood sculptures were made. But ever since imported temple wood carvings of elephants from Burma got more famous, it incited dealers to get local craftsmen to reproduce them. Genuine Burmese Teak has been the ultimate choice of wood but its paucity left modern carvers other options like using rain tree as an alternative.
The crafty central
Basketry crafts are likely to be available almost in everywhere in Thailand, but the “specialized” area is definitely the central provinces of the country. It is so because there are many types of plants cultivated to be weaved into objects. Ban Na Mo Ma is a village famous for its lush Bulrush plantations. Products made from Bulrush (Typha latifolia) are considered of the highest quality in the country branded by OTOP campaign. Ban Na Mo Ma is situated in Mueang district, Amnat Charoen Province.
One picturesque place to be in is Ayutthaya province. Rich with lush green rice fields, serene rivers and majestic mountains, Ayutthaya has survived very minor changes since centuries ago. Villagers mostly engage in paddy rice cultivation. Their personalities are naturally amicable and warm. They may seem poor through the eyes of outsiders, but they make ends meet by working hard and being helpful to one another. One thing that makes their life worth living is by producing quality handicrafts. Crafting products intricately out of bamboo, many of these humble villagers get appreciated and recognized for their superb works of art. Ban Bang Chao Cha village for example, celebrates its specialty in bamboo basketry, making both old and modern designs, and market it at the local market as well as popular arts and craft centers.
For rattan-weaved basket, Ban Buthom Basketry Village in Surin province is famous for its shops that line both sides of the roads. Although the craftsmen live in the rural areas, the designs and patterns have been modernized to suit the current fashion. It may seem like they might be having a hard time getting customers but the truth is, many of the villagers open their doors for homestays for travelers who prefer to experience the village life.