The trip to Thailand was a month full of colours, textures, tastes, light and inspiration.
Thailand weaves, builds, lives and breathes bamboo. There’s endless basketry shops, workshops and open-air market sections with bamboo woven items used in everyday life. A different type of basket can be found for every use: food containers and display trays, animal and bird cages, fish traps, fruit picking baskets, baskets for offerings, etc. It’s an inspiring, non-stop journey through different shapes, weaving patterns and techniques.
But in order to find the actual weavers, one has to leave behind the buzzing metropolis that is Bangkok and travel north where each area seems to weave the same type of basket. Nevertheless, it’s quite hard to find basket weaving classes in Thailand without them being part of an organised tour. Moreover, not all weavers are willing to teach their craft to someone who simply passes through.
Your best bet is to locate a village that’s the source of a certain type of basket, stick around for a few days, get friendly with the locals and ask them to teach you their craft. That’s how I came across Baan Tham village near Chiang Dao, the place I like to call “the cabbage basket village”. In Baan Tham everyone weaves the exact same basket. Hundreds of them. All baskets are the same shape and size, are made with the same technique and are used to measure and sell cabbage! This activity seems to be providing the main income for the majority of the villagers. I wonder what would happen if one day someone decided to start using atrocious plastic bags instead…
So, in Baan Tham I asked Phanom if she would be willing to teach me how to weave the cabbage basket. She welcomed me into her house and shared with me her knowledge, lychee, banana leaf cigarettes and pink rice whiskey….
Same as baskets, religion is always present in Thai life. A very beautiful sight are the Thai spirit trees (Ton Mai). Thai people believe that spirits reside in old and big trees. So they wrap them with colourful fabric stripes as a warning for others not to cut down the tree and leave offerings on their roots or branches to keep spirits peaceful.
A very special night was the Buddha’s birthday (Wisakha Bucha) celebrations on the full moon of May, celebrated in all temples in Thailand. On the night, I was back in Chiang Mai making flower, candle and incent offerings, walking around the temple three times after making a wish, listening to chanting monks, freeing tiny birds from bamboo woven baskets and gazing at the most amazing full moon in a while…
At Wat Phan Tao in the centre of Chiang Mai, I came across bamboo wicker baskets filled with sand which prevent the pray flags from being blown over in the wind. In the back yard of the same temple, a group of young monks had ‘built’ a much larger and more impressive version of the same basket.
But back in Bangkok there was one last surprise waiting. Somewhere along the Khlong Baang Luang canal hides Baan Silapin, a riverside artist community away from tourists and Bangkok’s rambling streets. Many artists live and work here in traditional 200 year old wooden houses. Thai artist Chumpol Akkapantanon has restored an old canal house and the pagoda behind it and has created an Artists House. The house serves as a gallery and artist workshop, art shop, cafe as well as a place for rehearsals and daily performances of traditional Thai puppet theatre.
Places worth visiting:
The Erawan Museum, Bangkok http://www.erawan-museum.com/
Baan Silapin (Artists Village), Bangkok
Chiang Mai Tribal Museum, Chiang Mai
Images + words: Myrto Angelouli (unless otherwise stated)