For a long time I have wanted to visit Thailand's second city - people keep telling me it is the place for giftware. Indeed we have one supplier there who make the rock shaped soaps we sell, and it's one supplier who's factory I have not yet visited.
Leaving Bangkok and flying to Chiang Mai is like making a trip to see a country cousin. Where Bangkok is fast and flash, high-rise and serious money. Chiang Mai is up country. The highlands of Thailand, and altogether slower paced. It's a low-rise city, old temples, ancient city wall and a lazy river. Streets full of sleepy shops, old hippies and orange robbed monks. Built on a plane with distant mountains rising on all sides, it feels like a small town even though it boosts a population of two million and is home to a highly active giftware industry. They call it: The Creative City.
First stop with my agent (Fredy the Peruvian) was at a freight forwarder to check out the costs and complications of shipping from this city. We learned that most producers don't do packing and labelling the shipping company acts as a packer. Second interesting fact: Holy images of Buddha can not be exported, at least not before they have been un-holyfied. Naturally this costs money. You have to get a license and stamp for every model and shipment.
Then onward to Bann Twai creative village on the outskirts of the city. Here the local government has encouraged producers to set up showrooms and factories. It has grown to the size of a small town, you can get lost in a maze of wood carving, ceramics and table lamp producers. The main streets all showrooms, the back alleyways workshops and small factories.
One showroom had such spectacular glass lamps, and huge carved statues, I couldn't believe anyone would buy. A small Chinese guy with squeaky english and thick round glasses explained that his business supplied five star hotels with artwork for the lobby, designed to impress. We ship to every corner of the world he told me proudly, very good business he said giving me his card.
Chiang Mai is like another world, nothing like the rest of Thailand. So much to be discovered here so little time to do it. It's a seriously arty place with a highly intelligent and entrepreneurial population. A real melting pot of cultures. Local Hill tribes, Burmese (not far away), Thai and Chinese people, not to mention an old British colonial influence. After four days I had reluctantly to move on, but I will be back. Next stop Bali in Indonesia.
More news next week.