After Peter had left Thailand to go back home to California, leaving me a solo traveler, I scheduled some of the bucket list things that I thought he would have little interest in; seeing a ladyboy show in Phuket, riding in a long boat to James Bond Island and taking a handicraft tour in Chiang Mai. The later of the three was a blend of crafts and shopping. Definitely not for him.
On the handicraft tour we would be visiting four creative shops where crafters are making handmade goods on premise, such as ceramics, cotton, silk and paper umbrellas. Perfect. I’m crafty.
The van came to pick me up at my hotel and I turned out to be the only one on the this tour. Every other seat was vacant. Was that a sign?
We started at the ceramic factory, where they took me into a room with half a dozen workers and swiftly showed me the precise painting technique. There was no in-depth explanation, just a simple “here’s some people painting some ceramics”. Then I was rushed indoors to the Ceramic Store where the sales person followed me around the entire time. I felt obligated to buy something, so I selected one of the smallest things I could find, a mug painted with an elephant for $18.00. The cost of a nice dinner for two in Chiang Mai. But, hey, I have a mug. Yipee.
Well, that’s not gonna happen again. I will not purchase anything else on this handicraft tour unless I really want it. And that is what I was thinking as I walked into the cotton factory. Out front they had a few ladies perched on a raised platform spinning cotton, which seemed more for show than for production.
I managed to walk away without purchasing a thing. Not a shirt, a scarf or an apron. Yay, to me.
The lacquer factory was the worst handicraft demonstration of the bunch, with a small podium as the presentation area. A woman half-heartedly picked up pieces of lacquer art, each at different stages in the process, and preached a spiel which she had obviously recited hundreds of times before.
Just like at the ceramic factory, we were taken to a small room to witness the workers painting the pieces, which was quite detailed and impressive, but brief. Then it was off to the lacquer shop where you can purchase thousands of trinkets, that I would have a hard time believing was produced in that little production room we just came from. No purchases made. At least by me.
I had high hopes for the silk factory, I heard they had live silk worms there.
And they did. It was actually the most impressive shop so far with women on their looms making scarves and such. A bit showy, but not as much as the past two. It actually looked like they got some major work done here. The store was loaded with a variety silk products, none of which came home with me.
Lastly on this tour, we were headed to the Bo Sang Handicraft Centre to see the art of paper umbrella making. By this time, I was not too excited about this last stop. But, as soon as we pulled up in the van, I could tell it was different than the rest.
The umbrella factory at Bo Sang actually looked like a production factory, with workers scattered about making every part of the umbrella, from start to finish.
I was particularly impressed with the woman who was making the bamboo struts base of the umbrella by holding part of it in her toes. I doubt my stubby digits would have been any help at all.
Even the paper was created on premise and meticulously applied by a single woman. If I had to choose one position at this shop it would be that of the paper maker. Not only to be able to check off “making paper” from my bucket list, but the former graphic designer in me still has a fascination with craft papers.
When the paper has dried, the handicraft umbrellas are exsquisitely painted, mostly with colorful floral designs.
After walking through the production facility and seeing the amount of work that was entailed, I wanted to buy an umbrella, so I headed to the Handicraft Centre’s store and bought an intricate pink one for my niece.
Though the entire handicraft tour was not bucket list worthy, the umbrella factory definitely was.
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More About Chiang Mai
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Thailand Elephant Sanctuary: 5 of the Best Rescues in or Near Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang: A Thai Temple in Chiang Mai’s City Center
Traveling by Tuk Tuk in Chiang Mai & Other Transporation
Learn to Make Handicraft Umbrellas in Chiang Mai
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Volunteer with Elephants at a Rescue in Thailand