I've been working in Chiang Mai, a small city in Northern Thailand, which has a roughly rectangular ‘old town’ at its heart, surrounded by a moat. Chiang Mai is a magnet for the crafty traveller seeking handicrafts, jewellery … and beads of every description! Over the weekend, I've been exploring some of what it offers for beaders.
Much of the stock on sale in Chiang Mai is made by people in the hill tribes of Northern Thailand, such as the Hmong, the Aka and the Karen, each of which has its distinctive craft styles. Thus, while there is a wide range of silver beads on sale, you can recognise the origins of many of them from their distinctive patterns. Similarly, you can see particular styles of dyed and embroidered cloth in, for example, clothing, purses, bags that identify it as made by women in a particular tribe. The hat in the photo (left) is the hat of a young female Aka that I found for sale in the first shop I visited. Tempted though I was, it's still in the shop.
There are literally dozens (possibly hundreds?) of shops in central Chiang Mai selling beads. Some of them sell just beads, others sell beads along with other goods, including jewellery, handicrafts and clothes. Most of the shops offer goods at both retail and wholesale prices, but the amount you have to buy to get wholesale prices varies from one shop to the other. I've just been to a few shops, so far and the choice is so great buying is a little overwhelming.
If it’s silver and associated with beading, you’ll find it at Karen Silver, 130, Tha Pae 1 (opposite Le Meridien Chiang Mai).! There’s an enormous diversity of silver and nickel beads, chains and findings (all sold by the gram); some very elegant made-up silver and gemstone earrings; and strings of gemstones, also sold by the gram. I was so overwhelmed I couldn't buy a thing - back for a visit this morning!
At Kesorn Arts, Tha Pae (the canal/klong end) I did manage my first purchase.
Edging my way carefully between the closely-stacked shelves of crafts, clothes, masks and ornaments from across south-east Asia, I found a fine stock of beads and beaded jewellery. I bought some lovely old glass bicone beads that had once been an Aka girl's necklace in the shop and I am tempted to return to buy some of the tribal glass bead hanks that are jammed on the shelves just inside the door. I did spend quite a bit of time admiring the wonderful tribal jewelery on display.
The picture below shows two of the Naga tribal necklaces on display surrounded by other antique beads and necklaces. The shop has a small library of books on the anthropology, arts and crafts of the area; and just next door is the Siam Celadon shop which sells locally-made crockery in characteristic green and blue glazes and has a lovely little café at the back. So, if you are worn out from your beading adventures it's a great place to sit quietly and reflect on what you bought, didn't buy and might buy.
Off now to see what beading delights await me today. For those of you who've been to Thailand, would love to hear about your beading adventures.