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Home » Crafts » Chiang Mai History

The Story

Chiang Mai – Introduction

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, established by King Mengrai in 1296 A.D, is part of the Lanna region of Thailand and refers to both the city and the encompassing province. Lanna’s name derives from an ancient kingdom that once covered Northern Thailand and parts of Burma, Laos and Southern China. Located 700km north of Bangkok, it is often called the capital of the North. The Thai-Lanna region includes the provinces of Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lampang; these three areas are at the centre of mainland Southeast Asia’s crafts and art industries.

Chiang Mai, with a population of 1.6 million people, is Thailand’s second most important city due to its strategic position in the Greater Mekong Subregion, a large number of universities, government offices, hospitals, local and international schools, and foreign representations. The City’s International Airport is well connected with other cities within Thailand and the region, including Bangkok, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong.

The region has been a centre for trade, commerce, religion, education, arts, crafts and culture for over 700 years. As far back as the 15th century, caravan traders used Chiang Mai as a relay hub for the transportation of goods from China and between Burmese ports on the Indian Ocean. Chiang Mai’s culture, arts and crafts industries are the product of a diverse history, with artisans from a number of different ethnic groups now settled in the area, as well as members of mountain hill-tribe communities, which consist of 20 different tribes, including the Karen, the Hmong, and the Yao. The city has successfully retained its cultural, artistic and crafts heritage; distinct local cultures and designs are expressed in festivals and other cultural activities, which draw visitors to this charming city, also known as the Rose of the North.

There are several crafts industries within the Thai Lanna region, but it is most well known for its ceramics, silverwork, lacquerware, textiles and woodcarvings. More recently, furniture and decorative items made from rattan, bamboo, mango wood, recycled teak and Asian rosewood have gained popularity both locally and overseas. Lamphun is known for its textiles, whereas Lampang is a major producer of ceramics, featuring more than 200 factories that produce fine porcelain, stoneware, earthenware and building materials.

In 2010, the city launched an initiative to promote creativity and innovation under the name “Chiang Mai Creative City” and in 2011 the Ministry of Commerce awarded Chiang Mai the designation “Creative City for Crafts”. Chiang Mai is in the process of applying to join the UNESCO Creative City Network in the Crafts and Folk Arts Category.

Handmade Chiang Mai


Handmade Chiang Mai - Craft Subsector


Northern weavers are renowned for the quality of their silks and cottons, as well as for their embroidering and weaving skills. Partially due to the huge variety made there, textile is arguably the most significant crafts sector in Northern Thailand. Traditionally, Northern Thai cottons were used to produce sarong-length pieces for women where silk was reserved for special occasions. The villages of San Kamphaeng and Pasang, near Chiang Mai, are noted for their weaving. Vast array of products made in these areas are available for purchase at leading boutiques, shops and markets, such as the Night Bazaar. Worldwide, the unique beauty of Northern Thai fabric is discovered by museums and collectors as well as fashion, furniture and textile designers. The high quality of the famous ‘Thai silk’ makes it multi-functional in usage. To identify and protect Thai silk from imitation the Thai Agricultural Ministry invented the “peacock emblem” as a guarantee of authentic quality.


Chiang Mai and Lampang’s ceramics industries stem from ancient handicraft practices that evolved from the imitation of popular Chinese tablewares. The region is best known for its green, crackle-glazed Celadon. Most of Chiang Mai’s pottery is produced in Hang Dong, Muang Kung and Harn Kaew. Lampang is however, the true centre of ceramics in Thailand, with more than 200 ceramic factories making fine porcelain, stoneware, tableware, earthenware and building materials. Beautiful Northern stoneware can sometimes be found in front of houses, since it is an old to tradition to place earthenware water jugs with cool water outside homes to quench the thirst of visitors or passers-by.

Silverware and Jewellery

Though silver is not mined in Thailand, Chiang Mai is known for its silver crafts. An ancient speciality was the making of bowls with repoussé techniques, used in religious ceremonies. Repoussé is s a metalworking technique whereby a malleable metal is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief. Chiang Mai’s silver making is Wualai Road, near Chiang Mai Gate, the Southern Gate of Chiang Mai’s Old City walls. Wat Srisuphan Aram, the ‘Silver Temple’, at the centre of the community, is one the most important temples in Lanna. Today, Chiang Mai is renowned for its jewellery and fashion accessories, with local makers and designers offering a range of traditional and contemporary designs. Attracted by the craft making skills of local people, several international designers and brands have set-up factories in the city and its surrounding provinces.


Lacquerware, another significant Northern Thai crafts sector, likely originated from the Burmese, though differences in weight and thickness of such pieces are apparent. This style of lacquerware involves the successive repetition of engraving and painting techniques, a process that can take several months to complete. Another type of lacquer that became popular amongst Lanna artisans involves decorating items with goldleaf patterns (often on a black lacquer background). The making of lacquerware goods can be seen first hand at the cottage factories in the Chiang Mai area, particularly on the road to San Kamphaeng.


Considering the dense forests that once covered Northern Thailand’s mountainous regions, it is surprising that the making of wooden handicrafts is one of Chiang Mai’s most prominent art and crafts forms. Evidence of the splendid woodcarving tradition can still be seen all over the city on splendid gables, panels and roof supports that decorate almost every temple. Today’s artisans still produce a wide range of furniture, animal figures, trays and other wooden items. Teak is still popular but the use of other types of wood is increasing. The largest concentration of artisans and shops selling wooden goods can be found at Ban Tawai near Hang Dong, Southern Chiang Mai.

Furniture & decorative items

Chiang Mai has been the focus of a major export industry in contemporary homewares and furnishings since the mid-1990s. Modern designers simplify traditional forms using minimalist techniques in conjunction with materials such as rattan, bamboo and water hyacinths, as well as sparing use of Lanna inspired textiles, stencils, carvings, lacquerware and gold leaf appliques. There are several interior galleries and boutiques scattered around Nimmanhaemin Road Soi 1.

Mulberry Paper

Mulberry paper (known locally as Saa Paper) is made from the bark of the mulberry tree using a process similar to that invented in China about 2000 years ago. Often dried plant material and flowers are embodied for decorative effects. The use of Saa Paper products varies from often handmade writing paper, packaging, lamp covers to innovative medical auxiliary and surgery gowns. There are several mulberry paper companies in Chiang mai, the largest numbers of which are located near San Kampaeng.


Northern Thailand has a long-standing tradition of producing multi-functional baskets. One of the most popular materials used in the making of baskets is bamboo. Basket-woven items are enjoying a newfound popularity as many people in urban areas discover the benefits of natural materials over plastic.


Handmade Chiang Mai Key Communities


This is the historical centre of silver making in Chiang Mai, located near Chiang Mai Gate. The important temples in this area are Wat Muensarn and Wat Srisuphan and functions as centres for the local community. Wualai Road is also the location of the popular Saturday Walking Street.

Baan Tawai

Baan Tawai, 14km south of Chiang Mai city centre, is a community known for its wood-based crafts products. The region is one of Chiang Mai’s major attractions due to the huge variety and remarkable quality of its woodcarvings, replica furniture, decorative items and antiques. Silverware, lacquerware, textiles, basketry and earthenware can also be found at Baan Tawai.

Bor Sang/San Kamphaeng

The small village of Bor Sang, San Kamphaeng Road, is almost entirely devoted to the production of umbrellas. First, paper or canvas is stretched over a bamboo frame, and then varnished and decorated with colourful patterns. These popular souvenir items come in varying sizes and colours.

Mae Jaem

Mae Jaem, Southwest Chiang Mai, is a community of Dteen jok textile makers. Mae Jaem weavers make use of unique techniques to create beautiful and intriguing patterns.

Wat Gate

Wat Gate is one of Chiang Mai’s oldest communities, and was formed by groups of Chinese, Western and indigenous peoples. Wat Gate and its history museums are at the community’s centre. There are many high quality crafts boutiques, galleries, and shops to be found in this area.


Nimmanhaemin, the trendiest street in Chiang Mai, is a lively and fun location, popular with locals and visitors alike. There are numerous boutiques here, selling crafts, fashionable clothes and accessories as well as restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, chic boutiques, ice-cream shops, design studios, and restaurants. This area claims to have one of the highest concentrations of coffee bars in Thailand. The largest number of craft shops can be found on and around Soi 1.


Hod district is famous for its high quality traditionally woven cotton, and has overtaken Sankhampaeng in the production of such goods. The district is also home to the Mae Tho and Op Luang National Parks.

Warorot market

Warorot market, located on Vichayanon Road, near Ping Riverside, is the biggest shopping centre in Chiang Mai’s Chinatown. Each of the market’s three storeys sells a different type of goods. Though the market specialises in preserved fruits, textiles and wooden souvenirs, anything and everything can be found here.

Baan Muang Gung

Many households in this village use simple hand-driven potters’ wheels to create traditional earthenware water jugs. Various kinds of earthenware, both in traditional and modern styles, are produced and sold here in large quantities.

Kad Sala

Kad Sala – Sanpatong, a few kilometres past Hang Dong town and near to the ancient city Wiang Tha Kan, is a relaxed setting, filled with paddy fields, fruit orchards and temples. Kad Sala is a handicraft community where one can watch villagers make traditionally inspired woodcarvings.

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Handmade Chiang Mai Key Markets

Wat Gate Area and Thapae Road

On the Eastern side of the River Ping, starting at the Naowarat Bridge towards the Wat Gate (Temple), and from the Western Side of the Naowarat Bridge, along the Thapae Road toward the city center’s eastern Thapae Gate, are two areas with a large number of excellent crafts and arts shops.

Sunday Walking Street

Open every Sunday from 5–10 pm, this walking street begins at Thapae Gate, continuing along Rachadamnoen Road and Rama VI Road, where it ends at Wat Phra Singh. The stalls are bursting with quality handicrafts, food, and many other locally-produced craft products. An increasing number of innovative crafts and arts shop and boutiques have also opening permentanly near the Rachadamnoen Road and Phrapobkla Road intersection.

Saturday Walking Street

Saturday, or Wualai, Walking Street, begins at Chiang Mai Gate and extends along Wualai Road. Amongst Saturday Walking Street’s highlights is its silverware; Wualai Road is Chiang Mai’s main producer of silverware. Saturday Walking Street is home to hundreds of street-side vendors selling unique items, and is open weekly, 5.00 – 10.00 pm.

Bor Sang

Bor Sang is one of San Kamphaeng’s most important handicraft markets. There are several handicraft shops in this area, including makers of umbrellas, mulberry paper, lamps and cotton products. Every January, Bor Sang hosts the annual Umbrella Festival.

Night Bazaar

Once a cluster of stalls on Chang Klan Road, the conveniently situated Night Bazaar now includes modern shopping centres and a galleria dominated by antiques, traditional hand-made goods and fabrics. Specialisms of the Night Bazaar’s many vendors include woodcrafts, lacquerware, silverware, sausages, fruits, clothing and textiles, accessories, decorative items, and products made by local hilltribe communities. Bars, restaurants and traditional dance shows mean that the Night Bazaar has plenty to offer until well after midnight.

The Nimmanhaemin Art & Design Promenade (NAP)

Every December, for 5-7 days, the annual Nimmanhaemin Art and Design Promenade (NAP) is held on Soi 1 of Nimmanhaemin Road. This fair is hugely popular for its gifts and decorative items. Other events held during NAP include music and live performances.

Nohmex Pavilion

Located in OP PLACE shopping center, at Le Meridien Hotel, Chang Klan Road near the Night Bazaar, the Nohmex Pavilion specialises in handicrafts, souvenirs and decorative items. It was founded by members of the Northern Handicrafts Manufacturers and Exporters Association (NOHMEX).

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