Monday, December 18, 2006

Chiang Mai: The Shopping

A minor problem with shopping in Chiang Mai was the fact that the little boutiques and galleries that we were so fond of were scattered all over. Unlike Ubud's Monkey Forest Road, Ho Chi Minh City's Dong Khoi area, or even Singapore's Orchard Road, Chiang Mai does not have a shopping district or a shopping street where everything is centralised. As one boutique owner we happened to speak to pointed out, even on a main street like Tapae, the boutiques are not clustered together. I guess only Chiang Mai residents would know where to find what. But this was more than made up for by the markets which were the highlight of our shopping experience.

Sunday Market

We started our shopping adventure at the Sunday Market. In terms of layout, this weekly pasar malam lines Rachadamnoen Street, or Walking Street as it is sometimes known, and the sois that run off to the left and right of it.

We started at the end directly behind the Tapae Gate. Despite the crowds, it was surprisingly pleasant walking around. For one thing, it wasn't hot and humid. People didn't push and shove. And, as HM likes to point out, they didn't smell bad, perhaps because of the cooler climate. The only time human traffic slowed down was when the buskers got in the way. The blind, the destitute, rocker wanna-bes (some of these boys were really good!), students raising funds, they were out in full force.

Singaporean kids should be grateful they don't have to resort to this

no muzak, but Christmas carols in Thai instead

Touted as being the superior of the two markets (the other being the Night Bazaar), the Sunday Market stalls supposedly offered a wider selection of better quality products by hilltribe craftsmen and young Thai artisans, and less of the generic stuff.

ethnic-ky earrings

There was certainly a lot to look at, as we meandered from stall to stall - lacquerware, photo frames, lamps of all sorts, cushion covers, fabrics and bags... Our problem unfortunately was that we had no basis of comparison that first night. Were the prices fair? Were these products generic or not? We would have preferred to have checked out the Night Bazaar first. Ah well.

And we hadn't gotten into the swing of things as far as bargaining was concerned. We made some tentative attempts at it, but couldn't shake off the feeling that we were being fleeced left, right and centre. We didn't let any of this stop us though from making a couple of small purchases.

varnished wooden bangles

120B (SGD $6) for 5 bangles

Japanese-inspired table lamps

250B (SGD $12.50) for two lamps

table runners (or scarves?), handmade and dyed with natural dye made from bark and leaves, two for 170B (SGD $8.50)

We would have loved to return to the Sunday Market for a second look, but ah well, will have to wait till the next trip.

Night Bazaar

The first night we went to the Night Bazaar, it was somewhat traumatic. It was a Monday night but it was a public holiday and Chang Klan Road was closed to traffic. One would have expected this to mean more space for everyone. Instead, the crowds were pouring in, and at the road intersections, human traffic came to a complete standstill. It was suffocatingly crowded so we left the scene early.

road block

On subsequent visits, we had a much more positive experience. True, many of the products on sale were indeed ubiquitous, but with a little legwork, we found things to buy (or not as the case may be).

same same, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

awww, too bad we couldn't think of anyone to buy these for

Elliot the Elephant, for 200B (SGD $10)

HM insists these look like minced grandma

preserved fruit (cherries, longan, assorted fruit) for 350B (SGD $17.50) in total

from Book Corner (1545B/SGD $77.25), including a cookbook by the couple who run the first cooking school in Chiang Mai

ah pek slippers for 159B (SGD $8)

woven basket for 450B (SGD $22.50)

We were most productive inside Chiang Mai Night Bazaar building. We had to restrain ourselves to gifts for friends and relatives, and what we could honestly say we would use ourselves.

saner than outside

wooden puzzles and games (120B to 140B each; SGD $6 to $7 each)

Nalinee's - silk screened t-shirts and handpainted blouses

the artist at work

900B (SGD $45) for two blouses and one t-shirt

the ZOOVA and Chang Siam Company - Chiang Mai design collectives

249B (SGD $12.50) for a Chang Siam Co. t-shirt

mango wood galore

200B for a vase

Thai silk shirt for 200B (SGD $10)

Boutiques and More

We did find one little place just round the corner on Tapae, from Rydges. Sadly, we did not take note of its name. It was however two little shops side by side, owned by the same farang.

one of Chiang Mai's little boutiques

The boutique owner had done his homework, accumulating products from around the region. Those bags certainly looked familiar - we'd seen them in Vietnam. And then there were these...

silver earrings from Northern Thailand, for 380B (SGD $19)

3 Laotian silk shawls – 495B (SGD $25.00) each

And then just down the road from that boutique, there was a dusty little shop where HM found this:

100B (SGD $5)

Then there was this shop round the corner from Tamarind Village, Herb Basics.

soaps and scents, from Chiang Mai Province

We walked away with:
  • Six bottles of Flower Water (jasmine, ylang ylang, frangipani, lotus, orchid), 120B (SGD $6) each
  • Lemongrass Essential Oil – 70B (SGD $3.50)
  • White Chempaka Essential Oil – 65B (SGD $3.25)

We even found something to buy in the pharmacies.

hey, we don't get these here

Bath mitts (60B/SGD $3 each) and a Boots sewing kit (200B/SGD $10)

The Maithong brand bath mitts were local products, stuffed with soap made from natural ingredients such as lemongrass.

Even in the highlands we found something to buy. Our one purchase from the Doi Inthanon National Park was

Highland coffee, for 100B (SGD $5)

Of course we couldn't go back without some of those luscious toiletries from Tamarind Village, could we?

Tamarind Village toiletries pack, for 1200B (SGD $60)

And we certainly couldn't have done without our trusty and indispensable Nancy Chandler map of Chiang Mai, with its eye-catching layout and many a tip on where to do what.

available at most bookshops in Chiang Mai for 160B (SGD $8)

And, last but not least, the obligatory purchases from duty-free:

Two bottles of French reds and Kilkenny, how festive (SGD $100 in total)

Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion with pump (SGD $54) and Lancome's Advanced Whitening Anti-Dark Circles Eye Treatment (SGD $67.50)


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