Thailand’s largest handicraft market
Ban Tawai boasts of being the largest handicraft market in Thailand. Whether or not it's true we can't say, but it's huge. Even if you have no intention of purchasing anything we reckon it makes for a fascinating place to wander around.
The “Handicraft Village”, as it’s often known, is in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong district some 15 kilometres to the south of the city. As woodworking families, many of Burmese origin, established themselves here to benefit from the region’s vast teak forests, the village began life as a production centre for finished teak items, such as furniture and carvings.
Northern Thailand’s huge logging industry expanded with European involvement during the 19th century, before being banned by the Thai government in the late 1980s after catastrophic flooding was perceived to be the result of widespread deforestation. In theory, at least, any teak products you see these days must be made with either recycled wood or sourced from officially licensed commercial plantations.
Ban Tawai these days is much more than teak carpentry though, with a wide range of handicrafts and artisanal creations now on offer, ranging from rough country-style furnishings to meticulously crafted objets d’art, and from dusty antiques to modern designer products. All kinds of wood are now employed including bamboo and rattan for furniture as well as ceramics, silk, hemp, silver, cotton, plastic and glass.
If many things look familiar it’s because Ban Tawai creations are now exported worldwide as well as throughout the kingdom, so objects you come across—not only in Chiang Mai’s night bazaar and walking streets—but Bangkok’s Chatuchak, for instance, may well come from here. There is a chance that you’ll find these items more cheaply at Ban Tawai, though being a popular spot with locals, expats and tourists, you still have to bargain hard.
The main concentration of markets and stalls lies three kilometres south of Hang Dong, off Route 108, though the entire length of this road is also lined with shops, warehouses and mini-malls varying from dusty old sheds to fancy air-con galleries. The central Ban Tawai area consists of rows of one-storey shopfronts, a bit like a spacious Chatuchak. There are also heaps of coffee shops, food stands and restaurants, with centrally located Pan Kled Coffee our favourite.
Plenty of foreign importers frequent the village, and numerous shipping and transport agents are scattered among the shops, so if you are seriously thinking of fitting out your flat in Sydney or decorating your Manchester wine bar with some Thai-style arts or antiques, then arrangements can be made.
The market operates daily and while opening times vary considerably from shop to shop, most are open from mid-morning to late afternoon. Finally a word of warning: stallholders may be extremely sensitive about their works being photographed. Taking snaps is often banned.
Ban Tawai makes for a pleasant afternoon trip or you could combine it with other sights in the area such as Ob Khan National Park or Mae Wang to make a full day itinerary. Another option, if you're already there, is to take a look around the local market.
Ban Tawai is a 15 km ride down Route 108 if you have your own transport or also conveniently placed on the Samoeng Loop. Otherwise Hang Dong is easily reached by the hop on, hop off yellow songthaews that depart from Chiang Mai Gate and frequent Route 108, but then you’re a bit stuck for the additional three kilometres of side road to the market itself. Hiring a tuk tuk or songthaew is an easy option. The price will vary considerably depending upon how long you wish to stay there and of course the mood of the driver. Around 400 to 500 baht ought to be fine for a return tuk tuk; songthaews which should be 500 to 600 baht and are a good option if you find some co-travellers. Most guesthouses in Chiang Mai will also arrange transport and many offer Tawai as part of a day trip.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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