We locals can get pretty snooty about being in the know. To the point where we often miss out on really great deals and steals at more touristy destinations. Some areas such as the old Sankampaeng Road with all its factory shops, Baan Tawai with its handicrafts or the Night Bazaar and its famed knock-offs are just places we often send our visitors while we pretend we are too busy doing our nails to take them.
This month I decided to check out Baan Tawai and really explore it to see if I can find anything more stimulating than a gilded Buddha or yet another carved wooden table (yes, I generalise appallingly).
After an exhaustive and exhausting day of wandering and shopping, I realised that if I had a hat I would be eating it.
Yes, there are the normal template shops with mulberry paper lamps, gold leaf vases, god-awful oil paintings of sunsets over paddy fields and all that nonsense. But Baan Tawai has come a long way from its early traditional crafts then later copycat days. Today, there are fantastic designs, super-saver outlets and really chic and stylish showrooms featuring world-class furniture and decor.
My first stop was the Baan Tawai Tourism Village where clusters of shops sell all the above mentioned goods and a whole lot more. Many of the stalls are pretty ordinary and uninspiring, but walk around and you will come across some truly pleasant surprises.
Start off with the Ginger Outlet shop, where all the fashion accessories and products we love at Ginger are on sale at huge discounts. Then wander over to Koch where exquisite high-end rattan baskets in vibrant hues and shades are similarly sold at whopping markdowns when compared to their lovely shop at Le Meridien. Two other shops worth making the effort to find are See-Lamp, with their cheekily fun and fab rattan lamps in all sorts of funky colours, and the stylish Kedtawa with its limited but high quality home decor items. Before you head back onto the main Baan Tawai road, stop off for a cake and coffee at the uber cool Waan Cafe with its trendy design scheme and loungy seats.
Back onto the main road, there are dozens of factories and showrooms, with more and more of them undergoing a revamp to become contemporary and distinctive. Check out the multiple De Siams (many showrooms run by different members of a large family) where you can find interesting items such as antique trunks from India or cupboards from Burma. Just down the road is the lovely At Home shop which strives to create unique and very interesting furniture from pieces of wood. Then stop off at Lanna-Thai Antiques to get some chubby ceramics jars to adorn your garden before wandering the labyrinth that is Crossroads Asia, where you will find just about everything, from your grandmother’s thimble to that Mali-mud-painted-textile-covered-Indonesian-colonial-era-reclining-chair you have always dreamed of! Seriously, the owners jet around the world to the most envy-inducing places to bring a mind-boggling array of goodies to Chiang Mai.
There are all sorts of other unique shops along the way, and the best way to explore it all is to take your time. A Danish mannequin shop, a gigantic metal robot showroom, dozens of outlets selling rainforest-depleting hunks and chunks of wood, pewter paradises and everything in between. All you have to do is gear up and get shopping!
Kedtawa: 053 433 901, 083 476 8800
Lanna-Thai Antique: www.lannathaiantiques.com
De Siam: www.desiam-antiques.com
Waan Café: 085 604 5000
Crossroads Asia: www.crossroadsasia.com
At Home: www.greenandsienna.com
Photos by Tinnakorn Nukul and Saranyu Laipawat