26 Jul Northern Thailand Shopping
Best Shopping in Northern Thailand
Have a conversation with anybody who has visited Thailand and they will tell you excitedly about the shopping that they did there, as whether you’re on a romantic break or more adventurous exploration, you will not be able to resist indulging in a keepsake or two. Night markets will draw you to the food, fabrics, wooden carvings and local specialty items, all at exceptionally good value, while high end shopping centers will thrill the most discerning shopper with the abundance of quality and choice.
That said, each area that you visit does have its specialty items and local products, and this is especially true of Northern Thailand where most of the handcrafted goods are made, specifically in the Chiang Mai area. These are some of the things to look out for to ensure the best Northern Thailand shopping experience.
Beautiful Thai Silk
Thailand is home to a unique type of silkworm that farmers raise on a diet of mulberry leaves, giving the silk a gold to light green colour. Thai silk is understandably expensive as the individual thread is too thin to use and multiple threads need to be joined by hand to make a strong enough fiber to work with. One of the most celebrated products in Thailand, most Thai silk is produced in and around Chiang Mai, with clothing, pillow cases, scarves, sarongs, skirts and tablecloths popular products. To be sure, you can check that it is real silk by holding the item to the light and looking at it from different angles, real silk will give a slight change in colour when you do.
Thai Umbrellas and Parasols
Rather irresistible are the distinct and colourful Thai umbrellas and parasols that are made from a mixture of mulberry paper, bamboo and cotton, although some artisans prefer to use silk. Umbrellas are made entirely from bamboo and are meant for use in the rain, while those that are more decorative and made from mulberry paper do not do well when exposed to the elements and are more for protection from the hot sun, and aesthetic sophisticated appeal.
Colourful Rice Boxes
As the name suggests the Thai rice box is traditionally used to store rice, however they have become increasing popular as souvenirs to use as jewellery boxes or to store trinkets in. Their ornate hand-painted designs make them a perfect gift, and given hat they come in different sizes, can be packed one into the other to save on space. Authentic Thai rice boxes are made by hand from bamboo and if you do wish to use them for their intended purpose, remember that it’s for storage of uncooked rice, not the warm end product which could damage them.
Impressive Wood Carving
Guaranteed to draw the attention of any visitor are the impressive woodcarvings. An ancient art of the Thai people handed down from the Sukhothai period about 7 centuries ago and renowned for its traditional patterns and intricacy. Today, most of the woodcarving workshops are found in the northern provinces such as Lampang, Nan, Phrae and Chiang Mai with the main focus on furniture, household and decorative ornaments and beautiful souvenirs. If you fall in love with a piece of furniture too big to take away with you, most offer easy shipping home, which given the affordability and specialist workmanship, is well worth doing.
Pottery and Ceramics
Although these may be a little more difficult to put into your backpack or suitcase, Thai ceramics come in various styles and colours, and are today mostly represent a reproduction of traditional styles. Look out for the vases, lamp bases, tea sets, dinner services and small souvenir bowls. Raniging in colour from bluish green stoneware to blended porcelain, you’re likely to want to invest in a few for use back home.
Although not the most obvious thing for a tourist to buy, one of the best things to do on an early morning in Chiang Mai is a visit to the Tonlamyai Market. This is the only place in the Chiang Mai region to stock fresh flowers and is always a hive of activity. Open 24 hours a day with deliveries made around the clock, you can wander through the aisles, meet the friendly stall owners and take in the sweet scent of freshly cut flowers. There will be woven garlands, orchids and jasmine, lotus flowers and roses, and you are unlikely to be able to resist buying some to add beauty to your stay. A small bunch will cost you almost nothing.
Thai Fruit and Snacks
At every market and many street vendors you’ll see traditional Thai snacks for sale, perfect for a quick bite to eat, or to stock up for the rest of your journey. Popular are the fresh fruits such as lychee and pineapple, as well as bags of dried plums, dried mango, papaya, cherries and coconut. For something more substantial, spicy sausage is easily found and the area is known for its delicious pork rinds and sausage in different flavours that range from sweet and sour to spicy. This is a very affordable way to eat while travelling in Thailand.
Freshly Grown Tea
The Chiang Mai region is between 300 and 1000 meters above sea level, making it an excellent area for growing tea, which was introduced here many years ago by China. Opt to visit one of the tea plantations and buy directly from them, or look out for your preferred type of tea at the markets. You’ll see green, red and black tea, floral teas such as chrysanthemum and rose, ginger and saffron tea, and various fruit teas. It’s recommended that you opt for the vacuum packed package if you’re planning on keeping it for home, this will ensure it stays fresh for longer.
Traditional Hill Tribe Clothing
While travelling in Northern Thailand you are likely to be introduced to the hill tribes and may possibly visit one of their villages. Here you can buy unique handmade traditional clothing from the villagers, something that is an increasingly popular keepsake. If you’re not planning on visiting a village, yet are interested in the clothing, you will find handmade hill tribe items such as embroidered skirts, shirts, balloon pants, handbags, accessories and jewellery at the Warorot Market in Chiang Mai. Remember that these items are delicate and should be hand washed, not thrown in the machine.