Searching for something a little different to take home from your holiday? Fed up with haggling over the price of things? The regular Thai Craft Fair in Bangkok might just be the place for you
Searching for something a bit different? Bored with the usual t-shirts and silk cushion covers that are on every street stall? Fed up with haggling and coming away feeling cheated? Try the Thai Craft Fair in Bangkok.
There are bustling markets, street stalls and air-conditioned shopping malls all over Bangkok but the Thai Craft Fair brings some of the most interesting and unusual handicrafts together under one roof, for sale at fixed prices using the practices and principles of Fairtrade so the benefits go to the artisans who make the goods.
Among the merchandise on offer are baskets, traditional silk and cotton weavings, embroideries, handmade cards, soaps and body lotions, stainless steel cutlery and tableware, bamboo lamps, Christmas decorations, wood and horn carvings, leather work and batiks.
At the entrance volunteers hand you a shopping basket, which will be exchanged for a fresh basket as soon as it is full. There are as many as fifty different stalls, one for each producer, and the goods are attractively laid out. Many artisans have a banner or leaflet giving details of where the produce comes from and how it is produced. Some of the producers are from ethnic minorities; others have suffered from droughts or floods, are disabled or are trying to earn enough to prevent the splitting up of a family and city migration.
Payment is not made to the stalls but at the final checkout, rather like a supermarket. Volunteers pack purchases into bags and payment can be made in cash or by credit card.
A small café sells Lanna coffees - fairtrade coffee from the highlands of Thailand - and there is a children's area with some activities to keep the kids busy while you browse.
Each craft stall at the fair has a story. For example the quirky handmade birthday, Christmas and greetings cards from Hope cards are made by women in the slums of Bangkok and the profits support them and their families. The cards are made from handmade paper, many with Thai scenes like elephants working, or Thai houses and fishermen.
Narathiwat Baskets are made in fishing villages in the far south of Thailand, currently an area of unrest. The brightly woven baskets and mats are made from the grass like fibers of bulrushes, and have been developed from the original Muslim prayer mats the women made.
Karen Silver is handmade made by the Karen tribes’ people in the northwestern hills of Thailand. The matt finish on the jewellery and the ethnic designs make attractive earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
Saori Crafts produce colourful woven cloth, some of which is made into bags and accessories. The women who weave the cloth were widowed during the tsunami that hit Thailand in December 2004.
There are many more stalls, each with its own appealing and needy story. However, goods are high quality and sell themselves, and it is not unusual to see shoppers leaving piled high with plastic bags. I always stock up with a selection of cards which sell at around 60 Baht each. I particularly like one design with Father Christmas in a tuk tuk. I also like the products from Yonjai Spa: hand and body lotions (165 Baht) with unusual scents such as vanilla and honey, peppermint and lemon or rosemary and geranium and their soaps and body scrubs. Everyone in the family now has a cheese knife with a mouse as the handle or a silver wine bottle stand.
The regular fair is held at Jasmine City Building (3rd floor above California Wow), Soi 23, Sukhumvit Road, 10110. The nearest Skytrain station is Asok (exit 3) and the MRT station is Sukhumvit (exit 2). The fairs are very popular with local expats and tourists, but the venue is large and open, and the increased regularity of the fairs now means they are not as crowded as they used to be.
The fair is held from 9.30am until 3pm on the middle and final Saturdays of the month. In the weeks leading up to Christmas there are often more fairs at additional locations around Bangkok, so check the website for details (www.thaicraft.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Where to eat
Not far from Jasmine City, you can round off the day of fair trade shopping by dining for a cause at Cabbages and Condoms restaurant (Soi 12, Sukhumvit Road; 02 229-4610; www.pda.or.th/restaurant/restaurant.asp). The restaurant raises awareness of family planning issues and earns income to support the work of the PDA (population development agency). If the weather is fine ask to sit in the garden, which is a fairy story of tiny lights, running water and tartan table clothes. The food is Thai, the service efficient and the prices reasonable. Don’t forget to visit the handicraft shop on the way in or out and check out the unusual condom inspired gifts. Booking is recommended, especially at weekends. A meal for two would probably be in the range of 1000-1500 Baht.
Kuppa Restaurant (39 Soi 16, Sukhumvit Road, 10110; 02 663 0495). Kuppa is a big, airy restaurant built like a car show room but it is an excellent place to chill out with coffee and cake in the comfortable chairs. Thai and western food is available.
Suda (Soi 14, Sukhumvit Road, 10110). Something of an institution, Suda is an open-fronted Thai restaurant, very popular with locals and tourists. Unpretentious, with plastic table cloths and metal chairs, the place relies on a fast turnover of customers to maintain its low prices. The menu is varied with a selection of Thai and Chinese style dishes. Try the chicken and cashew nuts and the stir fried morning glory. If no tables are available just wait and they will squeeze you in. Dinner for two should be no more than 500 Baht and possibly less.
Crepes & Co (18/1, Sukhumvit Soi 12, Klongtoey 10110; 02 653-3990 or 02 653 3991; www.crepes.co.th). Serves a wide choice of both savoury and sweet crepes plus Mediterranean food and daily specials. The restaurant is in an old Thai house with an small attractive garden. Very popular, especially for brunch at the weekends.
Where to stay
Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit (250 Sukhumvit Road) - five star luxury. Excellent buffet seafood dining in the Orchid Café with seafood cooked to order, a roast meat, and a sushi bar. (Buffet 1100 Baht ++)
Citadines Bangkok Sukhumvit 11 (Sukhumvit Road, Wattana) - only recently opened so everything is still fresh. Soi 11 is busy with the Bed Supper Club almost next door, and other pubs and bars up and down the street.
Le Fenix Sukhumvit (33/33 Sukhumvit 11, Klong Toey Nua). The rooms are small but this is an interesting hotel with an indoor pool - you can look out on to Soi 11 from the glass wall - and a roof garden with comfortable furniture and good music that catches the breeze.
Na Na Chart (No 2, Sukhumvit Soi 25). Cheap, good value for money in an expensive area with a good Italian restaurant downstairs.