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Published: April 6th 2009
Bo Sang, San Kampaeng handicrafts Monday 6th April 2009
The Bo Sang, San Kampaeng region, which is a western suburb of Chiang Mai, is home to several handicraft centres, a silk farm and provider of employment for a large percentage of the local Chiang Mai populace. Tourists can see craftsmen and craftswomen working in leather, silver, silk, cotton, lacquer ware, bronze and jade, jewellery, ceramics and in the production of paper parasols. There is a bit of pressure to purchase, especially in the gems factory and silk works, but we managed to resist both (we did, however, buy some lacquer ware and a small piece of jade).
The local cotton, once harvested is sent to Bo Sang where it is cleaned, spun and woven into fabric. When one sees the labour intensive work involved in this process, especially the weaving, it demonstrates the cheapness of labour and instils a small shade of guilt about haggling over the price of cotton goods in the market place. In the famous Sunday night craft market (next street to our hostel in the old city) the stalls are laden with authentic Thai-made handicrafts at low prices.
The production of lacquer ware is
...on traditional wooden looms
an example of fine craftsmanship; to make a simple plate, for example, first the bamboo is coiled in to shape, and then seven layers of black lacquer (harvested from the local lacquer trees in a way similar to rubber sap extraction) are painted on to form a hard unbreakable surface. Every layer of paint has to be dried and sanded before the next is applied. After this, the plate can be decorated, either by etching, painting or with gold leaf. It is an extremely time-consuming process and the finished articles are splendid. We bought three beautiful pieces, whereas not as cheap as in the market, of superior quality, finely etched and painted and a fraction of the price one would pay for lacquer ware in Europe.
The umbrella-making factory was really interesting. We didn’t buy one, since we have one at home already, bought seven years ago in Bangkok. Visiting this factory, however, served to help us understand the process and the fine craftwork involved. The frames are made from local bamboo and the paper is mashed and dried from the bark of the mulberry tree (called the Saa Tree in Thai). After this, the paper is shaped on
Etching lacquer elephants
preparation for gold-leaf application
a frame and stuck on to the umbrella frames before decoration by skilled artists. These paper parasols, introduced to Thailand many years ago by a Buddhist monk who had travelled and seen them made in Burma, have been used as sunshades for generations. In South East Asia, the umbrella is used as frequently for the sun (para sol) as it is for protection from the rain.
Silk worms are farmed in Chiang Mai, and it is a famous area for the production of Thai silk. The silk cocoons are dropped in to boiling water (thus killing the worms inside) and then spun out on to spindles to be woven on wooden looms in to cloth. Some worms, of course, are allowed to become moths so that they can lay eggs to produce more worms and cocoons. The weaving of silk is very skilled, especially when several colours are used to produce intricate patterns. Appreciating all of this endeavour and skill in production, nevertheless, I thought that the prices in the showroom here in Bo Sang were far too high; tourist prices and as expensive as the exported cloth would be to buy in Europe. I am fairly convinced that,
Para el sol, no para la lluvia!
to buy some more Thai silk, if I decide to, it is better to wait until I am in Siam Square, Bangkok, where I bought some once before.
Apart from the visit to the handicraft centres of Bo Sang and the gem and jade outlets of San Kampaeng, we have done little else over the last few days other than enjoy the city; wandering the streets, sois, wats and markets of Chiang Mai. This city really is somewhere special!
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