Chiang Mai is no different from the other ancient cities of Thailand in the sense that many of its old traditions and cultures still remain to be seen today. One remnant of Chiang Mai’s, and of Thailand’s, individualistic personality manifests itself in the form of homemade handicrafts. The Thai people have often been noted for their gift in handicraft work. Perhaps it is because the life of the average Thai person was unhurried and relaxed; time not being the competitor it is today. There was time to invest in the creative and the beautiful, time to spend on the painstaking detail and the seemingly insignificant. Evidence of this can be found in the variety of handicrafts adorning many of Chiang Mai’s antique houses.
Thai handicraft cannot be classified as anything less than an art. Most of the materials used in the making of different handicrafts are those abundant within the region of the country wher those handicrafts originate. The techniques and secrets of the making of each type of handicraft were passed down from family to family, generation to generation. It is a fair conclusion, therefore, that each handicraft is really a representation of a certain part of the country, of a certain way of life, and, even more so, of generations of carefully guarded tradition and heritage.
Those visiting Chiang Mai in January have the opportunity to experience two occasions which deal directly with homemade handicrafts: the Tawai Village Woodcarving Fair and the Bor Sang Umbrella Festival. Both occasions carry the atmosphere of ancient times, and both aptly illustrate how the art of handicraft work blended in so perfectly with the lifestyle of the Thai people long ago. Both will impart to you an increased understanding of the patience, labour, and skill that beauty is bought with, and, more importantly, both will leave you with a newfound sense of appreciation for the worth of homemade handicrafts.
The Woodcarving Fair takes place at Tawai Village, Hang Dong district. Woodcarving, which has been described as the ability to take a dead, lifeless piece of wood and breathe life, vitality, and emotion into it, is an art which requires great patience and skill. There are many types of woodcarving. One is to just simply create lines or outlines on the wood. Another is to make impressions in parts of the wood, creating a two dimensional scene or picture with depth to it, and another is to carve a free floating figure such as a Buddhist image, an elephant, or a swan.
The tradition of woodcarving, as with many other homemade handicrafts, is one that has been passed down from family to family. With the abundance of forests that used to blanket the North, there also used to be an abundance of woodcarvers in Chiang Mai. Evidence of this can be seen in the meticulous woodwork done on the door frames, window frames, and staircases of many of Chiang Mai’s antique houses. At present, however, the number of expert woodcarvers in Chiang Mai has lessened dramatically and masterpieces of expert woodcarving are becoming increasingly difficult to find. The Woodcarving Fair at the Tawai Village thus provides an excellent chance to take part in the reliving of an ancient heritage.
The Bor Sang Umbrella Festival is hosted annually by the Bor Sang Village (Km. 9, Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd.), a long-time producer of some of Thailand’s most beautiful umbrellas. The village specialises in making umbrellas of saa paper, of cotton, and of silk fabric — all of which are found locally. These umbrellas have for a long time been popular souvenirs and decorative items as well as impressive gifts for friends and family.
The festival is a revival of the old times when each family in the village made a living from umbrella making. Around the festival there is the air of the unrushed atmosphere of long ago. Houses are decorated with umbrellas and fans along with other products made in the village. The festival provides a good opportunity to see demonstrations on using saa paper to make a variety of useful and decorative items. Detailed demonstrations on making umbrellas, including painting the detailed designs and pictures, can be found throughout the fair. There is also a parade with floats and a ‘Miss Bor Sang’ beauty pageant.
Though the present economic situation often presses people to lose interest in homemade handicrafts in search of more modern and convenient products, there are still a large number of those interested in the preservation, continuation, and updating of homemade handicrafts. Such handicrafts have been and will continue to be one of the most important cultural attraction is Chiang Mai. Their worth, in the currency of heritage and tradition, is priceless.