Exquisite benjarong wares
Baan Don Kaidee is proof that a traditional Thai craft can survive and flourish in the modern era. Located 40 kilometres west of Bangkok in Samut Sakhon province, the colourful village offers a homestay and classes along with exquisite Benjarong porcelain wares that are handmade and sold on site.
The art of porcelain first reached the Ayutthaya kingdom from China around the 15th century. Traditional Chinese nature scenes painted in blue on glossy white wares were popular then and remain so today, but the Thais developed their own designs. The distinctively Thai style most-often practiced in Baan Don Kaidee today is known as Benjarong, or “five colours.”
Using several variations of china made partly from the ashes of cattle bones, the artists paint each piece using only the five primary colours as a base. The village's signature diamond patterns are often painted in sea green to symbolise the province’s sea-faring tradition (one of Thailand’s largest fresh seafood markets is down the road in Mahachai). Complimentary colours, gold leaf and depictions of flowers or animals are often woven into the designs. On the pricier pieces, you may spot detailed scenes of the Buddha giving his first sermon; the Hindu god Ganesha; or Hanuman, the monkey-king from the Ramayana epic, to name a few.
After an artisan finishes the raw design, a clear glaze is applied before the piece is heated in a kiln for 10 hours at 800 degrees Celsius. If properly kept, the brilliant glow and intricate details can remain in tact, without fading, for thousands of years.
You’ll find everything from complete tea sets to plates with portraits of Thai kings and tiny porcelain cats in Baan Don Kaidee. Small pieces go for as little as 80 baht, with some of the most elaborate vases fetching over 100,000 baht. Every piece is handmade and often sold for less than the factory wares of lesser quality that are common in Bangkok's Chatuchak Market and other spots.
Baan Don Kaidee is a success story in an era when many traditional Thai crafts struggle to hang on. It took root in the early 1980s, when a large porcelain factory closed nearby and forced many of the local workers out of jobs. Rather than give up on the craft, founder Urai Taeng-Eim gathered a handful of talented artists and established a cottage industry.
In 2001, the village became an award-winning OTOP attraction that now draws weekending Bangkokians and the occasional foreigner. The lucrative trade has attracted young Thai artists, ensuring that handmade Benjarong porcelain will not fade away any time soon.
Today the village is home to five full-scale Benjarong studios that each brings something different to the table. There’s also a homestay in a Thai-style wood house, where guests can settle in for 1,000 baht per night including meals. Set beside a canal, a narrow stone lane snakes through trees, flowers and fountains on its way from one studio to the next.
For 350 baht, visitors can hand-paint their own designs on wares that can be finished in the kiln within 24 hours. Those with more time can partake in extended courses. A few craftspeople speak some English and all of them can teach by example.
The homestay is located at Urai Benjarong, which is the original studio and showroom in the centre of the village. The blue sign is only in Thai script on the main road; look for a cluster of traditional Thai-style houses set back down an alley with bits of porcelain decorating a bright green wall. Or you could start at Daeng Benjarong, located right along the main road and a short walk from Urai and the other studios. It's worth seeking out thanks to a second-floor showroom displaying some of the most impressive pieces we came across.
The easiest way to reach Baan Don Kaidee would be to charter a taxi in Bangkok; expect to pay at least 1,000 baht for a return trip. You could also take a train from Wongwian Yai Railway Station (near the same-named BTS station) or minibus from Sai Tai Mai Terminal to Mahachai Market in Samut Sakhon city, then arrange a tuk tuk or motorbike taxi for a roundtrip to Baan Don Kaidee for around 300 to 500 baht (the village is 20 kilometres north of town). Or you could take a songthaew from Mahachai to Krathum Baen and catch a motorbike taxi for a roundtrip from there, but, while cheaper, this option would be tough if you don't speak any Thai
Address: Soi Thetsaban 4 off Highway 3190 (aka Sukonethawit Rd), south of the Tha Jeen River, Krathum Baen district, Samut Sakhon
Coordinates (for GPS): 100º15'12.21" E, 13º38'40.02" N
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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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