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Quintessentially Thai!

Rita Bhimani

Made in Thailand! Amazing Thailand! These are not mere empty phrases, as we have found on frequent visits to this very tourist friendly destination. The country never ceases to amaze you with its sun-sea-mountain-heritage-food-shopping mix. It is the Made in Thailand products that we’d like to focus on. From the moment you embark on the plane, to the walk through the airport, and finally in the cities that you visit and stop to shop at, it is the Thai products that vie for your attention.

On the flight—rather than eye the Duty Free beauty and booze products, take a look at the scarves, great gifting, lovely to possess too. Pick up a Doitung handcrafted scarf of bamboo lycra, which keeps you snug in winter, and cool in summer. It is a product of the Doitung social enterprise, which does sustainable development work. Or do you fancy a soft silk touch satin scarf? That, too, is a product of another enterprise—the Saijan Thai Foundation, which supports the livelihood of war veterans. And there’s a pretty Rambling Rose scarf to be had—from the Chitralada Foundation.

Let’s move on to the airport. Particularly, when you are returning home and have time to amble through the vast Suvarnabhumi airport.  The shops bristle with Thai goods beckoning you with a Taste of Thailand and Memories of Thailand, the former stocked with everything from preserved fruit and varieties of seaweed, to the souvenirs that one can pick up from the latter.

But then, the astute traveler must also trawl through the bazaars to get better deals.  Silks, cottons, ready-mades, wood products, handicrafts from every kind of metal and material, fashion accessories, 24 carat gold and costume jewelry.

Their concept of O.T.O.P.—One Tambon, One Product, where the origin of each product is defined and discrete, is a great initiative. From the Phrae province comes Morhom, a natural fabric with an indigo dye, which is then shaped into contemporary shirts and scarves and casual dresses. They have a technique of candle painting on the cloth. Developed by an organization called Avika. From the Sakon Nakhon province you also get indigo scarves and shawls and sarongs, and in their write-up, they mention that the indigo dye helps protect against the sun’s UV rays, while the fragrance of the cloth puts the weavers in a relaxing mood! Never thought of that, really.

When you travel by Thai Airways, there is a glossy magazine which is devoted entirely to OTOP products, which you can order online from a site called Thailandmall.com.  The products range from exquisitely crafted antique silver jewelry to brass and stone inlay ornaments, from products made in leather and finely woven bamboo to fashionable Thai silk and batik scarves and shawls and a range of aromatherapy beauty products. There is free delivery within Thailand.

A lot of these items are pricey, but of a superior quality.

For grounded bargains, do go ahead and shop on the pavements, or in the malls and local shopping centers, though. Choose from table mats and cushion covers, wooden bowls and Thai painted porcelain, salad spoons and tea sets for the home. For personal use, Thai cottons and cheesecloth make for great bush shirts and skirts and tops, colorful sarongs are a plenty and gifting items have never been so inexpensive, but attractive and user-friendly.

If you are in Pattaya, the Central Festival mall which has the best of hi-end international designer stores, also has an Oriental plaza as part of the mall, where local handicrafts are sold. At rates that you would find on the streets—and why not enjoy air-conditioned comfort while getting value for money local products. So once you are done with Uniqlo and Zara and H&M and Marks and Spencer, head to the local produce for all your gifting items.

There’s a store called Nepalaya (nothing to do with that country) which has a range of Thai goods. For a few hundred bahts, you can have funky clothes, and fun costume jewelry and local motif backpacks. The scented hand fans and make up pouches are lovely to use and to gift.

But do not ignore the high quality leather stores selling the best of footwear—stores like Udom and Findig, where you will get top fashion boots and heels and sandals and wallets and belts—all of which last a long time. I have still not worn out a timeless pair of black leather low boots bought eight years ago. You can be lucky when the sales are on and prices slashed to less than half.

We’ll keep the supermarket shopping, the luggage stores and also the customized suits for another time, as our bags are bulging at the seams with food, clothes and memories.