When people talk about the handicrafts of Chiang Mai, Thailand, chances are, they are referring to the products made in San Kamphaeng, a highway within the province. The 18-kilometer (11.1 mi) road is practically filled to the brim with various handicraft stores, making this a haven for artists, crafts people, or individuals who appreciate crafts.
1. Be inspired by the creativity of the crafts people along "handicrafts highway"
San Kamphaeng Road has been dubbed the “handicrafts highway,” simply because various handicrafts — pottery, stoneware, lacquerware, silverware, silk products, paper goods, jewelry, and wood carvings — can be found here. Tourists flock to this area to buy souvenirs, or simply just to see how these various pieces are made. Some stalls also offer basic lessons to those who want to learn their craft. Aside from those that are made in San Kamphaeng, some stores also sell antiques.
There are various notable pieces made here. For example, there are some stalls that produce and sell celadon, a type of pottery which was originally developed in China over 2,000 years ago. Thai pottery makers are said to have begun pottery making 600 years ago. Their lacquerware is also an art they have been practicing for quite some time, to the point that Thai lacquerware has gained its own distinctive look, with its glossy black base and golden accents.
Silk is also one of the primary products produced here. Most of what people refer to as “Thai silk” is actually made in Chiang Mai, with a portion of it coming from San Kamphaeng. The place has earned a reputation for being one of, if not the main, silk center in Thailand. What makes the quality of silk from the area distinctive is the fact that these continue to be hand-woven, as opposed to being machine-processed. As an aside, Lady Diana was said to come to San Kamphaeng just to purchase silk products, as well as other items and accessories.
San Kamphaeng is also known for being the home of the best silversmiths in the country. Their products include jewelry, as well as items for the home. Speaking of jewelry, there are also various jewelry shops along San Kamphaeng. In fact, it is known to have one of the largest jewelry and gemstone showrooms in the area.
Interestingly, even paper making can be considered a craft, at least, if you see the products made in San Kamphaeng Road. The stationery there is made from mulberry, which produces a natural fiber that leads to a distinctive type of paper. Among the paper products made from this material range from the mundane, such as stationery, notebooks, greeting cards, and boxes, to more unique pieces, including bags, picture frames, fans, and lanterns.
Most of the wood crafts sold in San Kamphaeng are not made there. Instead, these were produced in Ban Tawai, which is known for its wood crafts industry.
Access: San Kamphaeng is about 13 kilometers (~8 mi) east of Chiang Mai. It can be reached by traversing Highway 1006
2. Feast your eyes on the explosion of colors in the umbrella village
Just a bit separate from the “handicrafts highway” is Bo Sang, a small village that is best known for its handmade paper umbrellas, which bear designs that are said to never fade no matter how much you expose it to sun or moisture.
As with the other handicrafts makers in San Kamphaeng, visitors can drop by Bo Sang to observe how the paper umbrellas are made.
Address: Bo Sang, San Kamphaeng
3. Check out the exhibits at the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum
If you have not had your fill of artsy pieces just yet, you can drop by the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum. All pieces there are made by Thai artists. The architecture is a work of art in itself, a combination of Thai traditional style with modern art.
When you visit MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, make sure to drop by the restaurant before leaving, because the food there is said to be very good.
MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum
Address: 122 Moo 7 Tonpao, Sankampheang, Chiang Mai
Price: Entrance fee is 150 THB (4.37 USD) for adults and 100 THB (2.91 USD) for students. Children below 12 years old can go in for free
Opening Hours: 10 am – 6 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
Website: MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum
4. Visit the Baan Jang Nak, or the Museum of Elephant Wood Carvings
Baan Jang Nak is the home of exquisitely detailed wood carvings of elephants made by the artist Khun Pech Viriya. Visitors of the museum have frequently commented that the exhibits here are extremely life-like owing to the intricacy of the work done on these. There is no entrance fee for Baan Jang Nak.
Baan Jang Nak
Address: 56/1, Soi 2, Buak Kang, San Kamphaeng District, Chiang Mai
Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
Contact: +66 53 446 891
5. Develop your cooking skills by taking a Thai cooking class
Thai food is known for being one of the tastiest cuisines in the world, so learning how to prepare this would be good for visitors who have time to spare and want to improve their skills in the kitchen. All lessons are taught in English.
A full-day course will cover the preparation of a five-course lunch, or a four-course dinner. More days can be arranged so you can learn how to cook more dishes. Cooking at Home allows its students to schedule classes based on convenience, so it is not necessary for you to set aside consecutive days for these lessons. Special rates can be given for group classes. At the end of the lesson, all students will get a complimentary cook book.
Cooking at Home
Address: 66/1 Moo 5, Soi 4, T. Sankhampaeng, A. Sankhampaeng, Chiang Mai
Price: from 1,400 THB (40.81 USD)
Duration: 1 to 2 days
Contact: +66 86 911 4143 or +66 89 701 0916
Website: Cooking at Home
6. Relax at San Kamphaeng hot springs
Once you have had your fill of artwork, you can find inspiration or just relaxation at San Kamphaeng hot springs, where the water is hot enough to boil eggs (in fact, hawkers outside the springs will sell you raw eggs so you can cook these in the water). The high sulfur content of the water is said to have curative properties.
If you do not want to bathe, you can simply stroll along the gardens, which are filled with beautiful flowers. It would be a good idea to go here early in the morning, while there are not that many tourists.
San Kamphaeng hot springs
Address: 1 Moo 7, Tumbon Baansahakorn, Amphoe Mae On
Price: Entrance fee is 100 THB (2.91 USD)
7. Meditate in a cave
If you want a dose of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, you can also drop by Muang On Cave, which is quite near the hot springs. Getting inside might be a bit challenging, but you get to enjoy some peace and quiet amidst limestone stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a large Buddha statue. Because it is considered as a sacred place, be sure to dress appropriately (legs and arms should be covered). Traversing the cave can be quite difficult, so this might not be a good destination for those who have health concerns.
Muang On Cave
Address: Ban Sa Ha Khon, Mae On District, Chiang Mai
Price: Entrance fee is 40 THB (1.17 USD)
8. Visit a honey farm for organic honey
Threppasit Honey Farm is one of the biggest bee farms in Thailand. Their store offers different varieties of honey. You can also buy their products online via their website.
Threppasit Honey Farm
Address: 147/1-3 chiangmai-sankampaeng Rd. Sankampaeng Chiangmai
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6 pm. Closed on public holidays.
Contact: +66 53 960930
Website: Threppasit Honey Farm
San Kamphaeng is for the creative
There must be something magical about San Kamphaeng, because that is the only explanation for why a lot of creativity seems to be flowing there, given the number of artists and artisans who have made this place their home. As such, if you are looking for a dose of inspiration, this might be the destination for you. Who knows? You may also end up with your masterpiece after being inspired during your visit to San Kamphaeng.
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