San Kamphaeng is a district just outside of Chiang Mai (in Nothern Thailand) that we’d been told was well worth the half day trip. The local umbrella- making industry, silk factory, honey factory and of course the hot springs. At a good 40 kms away, we contemplated the day long detour, especially since we also needed to drop by the Grand Lanna at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi for lunch and grab a flight back to Bangkok by evening.
Hunting for a taxi in Thailand can get rather confusing given the language barrier. (Thankfully, Chiang Mai didn’t seem to have the tourist scams that Bangkok’s notorious for) Given our crazy schedule, we had to find someone with whom we could communicate well enough to be able to explain our very specific requirement. A long and frustrating internet search finally led us to CNX Private Tours. Just like the unearthly morning drive, it was worth it. Right on time, Saksith brought over his cousin Ticket (I’m still scratching my head over the name) to take us around for the day (with all our luggage in the boot of his car). Clean vehicles, excellently safe driving, pleasant, trustworthy and friendly driver, enough maps and brochures in the backseat to plan your entire trip, I cannot recommend these guys enough.
The Hot Springs
Thanks to our super hectic schedule for the day we found ourselves at the hot springs at the best time of the day, just when it opened. Devoid of visitors, hawkers and litter, we got to see it just as it was intended, clean and pristine. Steaming hot water gushing mile high at intervals, a meandering river making it’s way downhill so you can find just the right temperature to dip your feet into (or boil eggs in baskets if you please) all at a very negligible entry fee. The mist from the steam hanging in the air, wispily wafting through the branches around us made the whole place seem very surreal. I would definitely recommend going this early in the morning. (I reckon we were there around 9am)
The Umbrella Factory
Pointing out to a number of “tourist-friendly” spots along the way, Ticket merely made suggestions but didn’t impose any stops on us. This was really comforting because we did not need to see the Asian silver jewellery stores (we get more than enough of that back home) But we were interested in a particularly diminishing handicraft. At the Bo Sang Sa Paper and Umbrella Handicraft Centre, pulp was pressed into paper, dried, glued and painted on into the most beautiful rainbow coloured umbrellas that lay flowering before us. The kindly old artists even obliged when we asked them to paint Different Doors onto one of our paper fans!
The Silk Factory
Coming from a country that produces a whole lot of silk, it suddenly struck us that we’d never actually seen silk worms doing their thing, nor the weaving after that. At the Shinawatra Silk Factory, walking through the stages of silk manufacture in the little museum, being lulled into the rhythmic clicking of bamboo as the weavers wove their silk sloth, we left after strolling through the shop in an almost trance-like state. And what pretty colours!
The Honey Farm
Somewhat tempted by the gentle rumbling in our tummies (it was nearing lunchtime, after all) we decided to make one last stop at the Thepprasit Honey Shop. That Thailand produces organic honey and so many different kinds was quite a surprise to us. After a long and delicious but confusing tasting we picked up a bottle and were good to go.
The route that we took is also known as the Handicrafts Highway and is naturally crowded and filled with a lot of touristy shops, but we were quite happy with our selection of stops. What about you? Have you discovered any unique handicrafts on your travels?San Kamphaeng Road is a good stretch of road heading South-East from Chiang Mai for about 10km to the village of San Kamphaeng. San Kamphaeng Hot Springs – Ro Pho Cho Chiang Mai 4192 Rd, Mae on(King), Chiang Mai, Thailand +66 53 037 012, Shinawatra Silk Factory, Bo Sang Rd. Soi 10, San Kamphaeng District, Chiang Mai, Thailand +66 53 338 053. The above information is valid as of Nov 2012 when we visited Chiang Mai.