Handicrafting in Northern Thailand | campus.sg

Chiang Mai Lampang

Journey through the northern reaches of Thailand, where the echoes of the mighty Lanna kingdom still resonate, leaving behind a legacy that adorns the landscape with magnificent temples, fortified city walls, and a tapestry of cultural wonders. But the allure of northern Thailand extends far beyond Lanna’s grandeur.

Discover the fascinating traditions and customs of the diverse hill tribes just outside Chiang Mai, each with their colourful heritage woven into the fabric of the land. And in the ancient city of Lampang, the iconic rooster bowl has a captivating history that connects Lampang to Guangdong, China.

Each element adds its own special touch to the tapestry of this remarkable region. And you can get hands-on with its vibrant heritage through various arts and crafts activities. 

A local weaver making a bangle

Tie-dyeing at Sang Ga Dee

Just a short drive from Chiang Mai is a unique, open-air craft working space called Sang Ga Dee Space. It was established as a space where the local community could share knowledge with visitors. You can learn about local textiles from around the region, and partake in workshops to make your own designs. 

It’s run by founder Nussara Tiengkate, a well-known figure in Thailand’s textile crafts scene. “Sang Ga Dee” in the local language means “a household that does things well.”

Nussara Tiengkate and the tie-dyed fabrics

The majority of the workshops here revolve around textiles and fabric, from tie-dying to weaving and embroidery. After a short workshop, try your hand at creating tie-dye fabrics using natural dyes. While waiting for the fabric to dry, enjoy a simple lunch. Afterwards, you can take home your very own work of textile art!

Various barks and marigold used for tie-dye colours

Sang Ga Dee’s open-air space is abundant with plants such as indigo, marigold, and turmeric that are used to make the natural dyes. Learn about the colours that the various plants impart, and how the pH balance of the water affects the final hue. 

In addition to tie-dying, there are many other workshops available. Learn to sew your own multipurpose sling bag, or weave a colourful bangle with tribal patterns, among other activities. 

Some textiles from local tribes

The founder also aims for the space to be a repository for the huge variety of traditional fabrics and costumes of Thailand’s many tribes and villages. There are vibrant colours and patterns in the textiles of tribes like the Akha, Karen, Hmong, Lisu, and countless others. You can also purchase these textiles here, or in Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street. Other local craft objects available at Sang Ga Dee include colourful Tung Lanna Flags. You can use it for decoration; the locals use them for auspicious ceremonies.

Tung Lanna flags

Sang Ga Dee Space hosts many types of workshops, including woodworking, bamboo craftworks, weaving, pottery, and cooking classes. At night, they can also host dinners featuring traditional  culinary dishes. There’s no set schedule or itinerary here. To arrange for a workshop or find out about upcoming events, contact Sang Ga Dee directly via their Facebook page.

Paint your own rooster bowl

Northern Thailand not only celebrates its ancient cultures, it also embraces a relatively modern craft that resonates with Singaporeans, Indonesians, and Malaysians alike: the iconic Lampang rooster bowl.

An iconic rooster bowl, or cham kai

This traditional bowl features a black-tailed rooster, and is often adorned with peony flowers and banana leaves. The rooster symbolises hard work, while the banana leaf and red peony represent dreams of good fortune, according to Chinese beliefs. While the original bowl is of Chinese origin, its widespread use across Southeast Asia is credited to the Hakka population who migrated from Guangdong to Thailand in the 1930s. The bowls became popular due to their affordability and durability.

Today, the rooster bowl (also known as cham kai) is an iconic symbol of the city of Lampang, located about 100km from Chiang Mai. Here, you’ll find rooster patterns embellishing street signs, bridges, and prominent structures throughout the province. The original Hakka settlers moved the manufacturing from Bangkok to Lampang in 1957 when high quality white kaolin clay was discovered there. 

While many rooster bowls you see across Asia today are mass-produced, original hand-painted bowls can still be found in Lampang. In fact, you can even paint your very own rooster bowl!

Paint your own bowl!

Dhanabadee Ceramic is one of the first producers of Lampang rooster bowls, founded by a Hakka immigrant named Simyu Sae-Chin. Today, members of the founding family continue running the business. They’ve expanded the operations to include a museum and a workshop where you can paint your own rooster bowls (or mugs, if you prefer). 

You’ll be given water-based paint in various colours, and an unlimited amount of time to complete your design. Once you’re finished, your bowl will be fired in the “dragon kiln” on site. This process will take time, which means that you won’t be able to collect it on the same day. However, you can arrange to get the finished product mailed to anywhere in Thailand. 

See how these iconic bowls are produced at the ceramic museum. The shop retails beautiful bowls hand-painted by artisans, including the founder’s daughter, Yupin.

An artisan paints a rooster bowl

Today, the iconic rooster design can be found not just on bowls, but also other tableware – mugs, plates, flasks, etc – across Southeast Asia. It’s such an enduring legacy that the Thai government registered the rooster bowl as a Geographical Indication product of Lampang in 2013.

Hop on a traditional horse carriage in Lampang

Roosters aren’t the only famous animal Lampang is associated with – horses are also another icon of the city. Horse carriages reportedly made their way to Lampang in 1916, during a time when Thailand was experiencing the influence of European culture. While the horse carriage was once prevalent in various upcountry areas of Thailand, Lampang is the only city in the whole of Thailand that this traditional mode of transportation has persevered as a distinct feature of the province.

Horse carriage in Lampang in front of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

Today, you can ride a horse carriage around the popular Wat Phra That Lampang Luang. It dates back to 1476 and is designated for people who were born in the Year of the Ox. This awe-inspiring architectural gem showcases a triple-tiered wooden roof perched upon massive teak pillars, alongside a huge stupa that is made of gold. 

Lampang has many other amazing attractions, from the dramatic Wat Phutthabat Sutthawat (a golden pagoda perched precariously on top of a jagged hill) to the relaxing Chae Son National Park where you can find waterfalls and natural hot mineral spring baths. 

Explore Lampang’s cultural history at Kat Kong Ta Walking Street, which is lined with centuries-old wooden buildings that reflect the heritage of the people who once traded here, including the British, Burmese, and Chinese. Visit during the weekends, and enjoy the night market.

Getting to Chiang Mai and Lampang

AirAsia offers daily return flights to Chiang Mai, with a flight duration of about 3 hours, providing convenient access direct from Singapore. You can also get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok by air, which is only an hour’s flight away. Plenty of airlines, including AirAsia, fly from both of Bangkok’s airports (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang) to Chiang Mai. 

AirAsia with colourful livery

The fastest way to get to Lampang from Chiang Mai is by road via scheduled buses or private hire vehicles. The journey takes about 1.5 hours. For more information on this region of Thailand, visit www.tourismthailand.sg.