It's easy to understand why ornamental Wood Carving in Thailand is such a highly specialised skill when you consider just how much intricate detail goes into every item created.
Whether it's a tiny wooden bowl or an enormous engineered wooden structure, the sheer professionalism of the craft cannot be faulted. When Thailand was covered by forest, the wood carving frenzy was at its peak, and much of this painstaking craft has survived the harsh tropical Thai climate.
Usually, you'll find decorative wooden carvings adorning many religious temples throughout the country, but you will find just as many intricate carvings on some of the royal buildings as well as on regal boats such as those seen at the Royal Barge Museum in Bangkok. A modest style of the craft can also be found in the humblest of Thai homes seen dotted around parts of the country.
Do yourself a favour when next you visit a Wat here, and before passing straight through the door, stop for a moment and look up towards the eaves and examine the carvings, some of which will simply amaze you.
And speaking of amazement, if you happen to be going to Pattaya during your stay, then you must take a turn at the hundred and five metres tall elephantine wooden monument known as the Sanctuary of Truth at Palm Beach, Cape Naklea.
You will be pleasantly surprised to know that many of the carved wooden items on sale are generally not that expensive. I once impulsively purchased a piece of furniture while on an outing with a colleague.
As I was driving north of Bangkok to a metal art factory to view some of the metal items I was about to purchase, I came across this beautifully crafted piece of furniture on the back of a truck that had stopped at the side of the road. I couldn't resist taking a closer look and though the wooden couch weighed over a tonne, I bought it without any hesitation.
The real reason why I had to have this couch was simply because along the back of the piece was an enormous dragon, a mythological creature close to my heart. You have to understand that I was born under the Chinese Astrological Sign of the Dragon.
My next step was to find a place to store it before shipping it to South Africa, where I was living at the time. I have since sold the piece for five times the price paid. It was one of my best investments. Had I known its worth in South Africa, I would have bought a few more wooden pieces of furniture.
Before you go about purchasing such a colossal piece of furniture such as the one I did, there are a few things you may need to know. Many of these items are crafted out of teak and you have to be aware that some hardwood items might be made from illegally felled trees.
It could be well worth your while to find out from your supplier whether you will be allowed to ship the goods back home. I had to make sure that the dragon couch I purchased came from a reliable source.
Though the use of teak (Tectona Grandis) in Thailand dates back many centuries, reckless over-logging has led to disastrous levels of deforestation and as a result, most commercial teak logging, as well as exportation, has been banned.
Teak is a natural choice for the use of the building and the making of furniture and handicrafts due to its favourable properties which include strength and resistance to disease and pests. For this reason, its fine grain is perfect for intricate carvings.
If you really want to purchase reasonably priced wooden, handicrafts, furniture or wall hangings, you may need to head out of the capital towards Chiang Mai. Wood carving is a speciality in towns such as Mae Tha and Ban Luk near Lampang as well as in the Bo Hang district of Chiang Mai, both in north Thailand.
If you cannot make it all the way north and have limited time, you could try the Royal Thai Handicraft Centre in Bangkok. But don't expect prices here to be on the same page as those in the north where bargaining is part of the program.
However, the Royal Thai Handicraft Centre has an impressive display of traditional Thai teak wood carvings. The centre is said to the largest of its kind in the city. It's also a great place to watch Thai artisans at work.
The centre not only sells carved wooden products, but they also hand make and sell products such as silk textiles and flowers as well as bronze-ware, lacquer-ware, inlaid mother-of-pearl rosewood products, leather goods, ivory, ceramics, art and antiques.
Everything from carved wooden bowls, pill boxes, friezes, screens, headboards, doors, lintels, cabinets, beds, couches and a whole host of handicrafts such as the elephants seen in the photo above, can be purchased at markets, shopping arcades and factories in most towns and cities throughout Thailand.
Traditional motifs such as the lotus flower, mythological creatures from India and serpents and dragons from China are also on offer as are wooden amulets in many forms.
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