San Kamphaeng is a haven for crafts lovers. The 18-km stretch of highway that runs through it is home to villages and factories producing pottery, saa paper, lacquerware, paper umbrellas and silk. With so many crafts concentrated in one area, it is one of the best places to watch craftsmen at work.
From Chiang Mai City, San Kamphaeng is about 13km east on Highway 1006, also known as the ‘Handicrafts Highway’. This two-lane road is highly congested during peak travel seasons, as it is the only main highway that passes through the centre of activities. Shops and mini factories line both sides of the Chiang Mai-San Kamphaeng Road, where local artists practice their craft with a skill born of centuries-old tradition.
While Ban Tawai is the destination for woodcarving and furniture, San Kamphaeng is the place to go for Thai silk, considered to be the best in the world because its coarser weave can withstand heavier dyeing. Rounding out the selection of products are lacquerware, ceramics (including fine Thai celadon) and the distinct, brightly coloured umbrellas that are a northern specialty.
While the peaceful click-clack of the silk weavers' hand looms has largely been replaced by machines these days and the extra efficiency reduces the price yet there are still a few traditionalists left who make silk the traditional way. Although machine-produced silk is of wonderful quality, the personal touch of hand woven silk has an indefinable superiority to it (with an accompanying rise in price).
Lacquerware is another popular item and shops selling it can be found all over the San Kamphaeng Road. Thai lacquerware is characterized by a glossy black base with intricate details picked out in gold. The art of pottery is another craft skill mastered long ago and passed down in San Kamphaeng. For over 600 years the artisans of the area have been producing fantastic pottery, including the extremely fine ceramic known as Celadon. Visitors to the area can see the ancient kilns of the first Lanna potters as well as pay a visit to their descendents and purchase examples of this difficult to make but lovely to behold pottery.
- Location: Highway 1006 (starting from km. 5)
Bo Sang Umbrella Making Village
Bring a pair of sunglasses when you go to Bo Sang village, traditional home of the umbrella makers, and be prepared for a riot of striking colours. Each one of the wonderful umbrellas produced here is hand made from bamboo and covered with Saa paper, which is made from a local tree similar to the mulberry. The umbrellas are then painted with brilliant colours with floral or bird motifs; each umbrella is an original and unique work of art. The entire process is completed by hand with the use of a few simple tools and the finished product is lightweight, but durable and waterproof.
Bo Sang Handicraft Centre has an open area where you can watch craftspeople fashion the umbrellas from scratch, in an assembly line setup. The attached crafts shop is where you can buy the finished umbrellas as well as a range of gifts and souvenirs from San Kamphaeng such as paper lanterns, lacquerware, woodwork and silk.