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Thailand: travel diary October 2004

Bangkok – Sunday 10 October

Kathleen Forance Johnson (wife of the then US Ambassador to Thailand) had very kindly invited me to lunch at 13.00 hours at the American Embassy Residence at 108 Wireless Road (across the street from the Vietnam Embassy and directly across the street from the Plaza Athene and Conrad hotels). The residence is an old teak building and very gracious. It was originally built in 1914 by Horatio Victor Bailey, a British engineer. An exhibition of 14 modern, mainly textile, works of art was on display under the U.S. Department of State Art in Embassies Program. Kathleen also had several textiles from the region (southeast Asia) hung throughout the ‘public’ rooms of the residence with flowers and cushions in complementary colours. (Kathleen and I were first in contact by email in May 2001 when she 'found' the predecessor to the tribaltextiles.info website as she was researching Thailand and its textile background before moving to Thailand at the end of that year when her husband took up his appointment. We chatted on the telephone when I was in transit in Bangkok in March 2002 but this was the first time that we had had the opportunity to meet face to face rather than 'virtually')

After lunch and a viewing of some of the modern Pwo Karen weavings from Sop Moei (see further inforamation below under '15 Oct') which Kathleen had hung in the (covered) veranda area, we retreated to her private sitting room which was full of textiles and textile artefacts. She showed me a couple of computer slide shows which she had compiled – of the textiles in the Sbun-Nga Musuem in Chiang Mai and one in progress of woven bindings for Buddhist scrolls which Kathleen had been collecting. She had a couple of looms (as Kathleen is a keen weaver).and some lengths of weaving woven in Thailand but based on New England weaving designs which she had provided. Kathleen’s husband, Darryl, came in briefly on returning from playing in an inter-embassy tennis tournament. I spent about two very enjoyable hours with Kathleen before leaving to return to my hotel.

As Kathleen and I had talked of The Thai Textile Society (which she had been instrumental in founding) and textile exhibitions staged in an exhibit hall at Jim Thompson’s house I decided to go off and visit the house as I had never managed to do so on previous visits to Bangkok. (Jim Thompson House and Museum, Opposite National Stadium, 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok, open every day at 9.00 a.m., last tour at 4.30 p.m., tel: 66 02 216-7368, Fax: 66 02 612 3744, www.jimthompsonhouse.org). The tour of the house was interesting and the many rooms of teak attractive. I also visited the exhibit ‘Temporary Insanity’ by Pinaree Sanpitak. After my visit to the house I walked up to the canal at the back of the garden and down the path a little way. I then walked down to Siam Square and managed to find the shop ‘Prayer’ which a couple of forum members, including Sandie Shamis, had mentioned. It was unfortunately closed as it was Sunday but at least I had located it.

Bangkok – Monday, 11 October

After my business meeting at Mentor, Tim Westlake (then Director of External Affairs at the University of Cardiff) and myself were taken out to lunch at a very pleasant restaurant in a soi near to the Mentor offices run by a Frenchman and his Thai wife. (Le Lys, 75/2 Lanng Suan, Soi 3, Lunpini Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330, tel: 02 652-240, fax: 0 2652 2402, Mobile: 0 1615-9479).

After lunch I returned to the hotel and then caught a taxi down to ‘Prayer’ at Siam Square. I had a good look around the shop and try-on of some clothes but did not buy anything. However, there were a couple of Lao items which attracted me including a pha sin at Baht 7,500. However, I felt that it was too early in my trip to make such a significant purchase. (Unfortunately it subsequently it turned out to be the best quality such item that I saw on the trip - and I missed it!) There were also several Tai women’s long coats at around Baht 3,000-4,000 which were in good condition. (Prayer Textile Gallery, 197 Phayathai Rd, Patumwan, Siam Square, Bangkok, 10330, tel: 02 251-7549, email: prayer_bkk@hotmail.com).

Chiang Mai - Wednesday, 13 October

I arrived in Chiang Mai mid-afternoon and checked into the Imperial Mai Ping Hotel which turned out to be a large hotel and frequented by the tour groups. The room was OK (a deluxe one on the 12th floor although unfortunately at the back, overlooking the beer garden. (The Imperial Mae Ping Hotel, 153 Sridonchai Rd, Changklan, A.Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, tel: 05328 3900, fax: 05327 0181, email: info@imperialmaeping.com, www.imperialmaeping.com). I managed to get my laptop connected up to the internet by using various cables and connections that I was carrying so I knew that I would be able to email my reports back to UKC.

I gave Susan a ring and agreed that she would pick me up at the hotel the following morning at around 10.00 a.m. and I would get my reports finished that afternoon and evening, have supper and then have a look around the Night Bazaar. Susan suggested that I have a look at Lao textiles as she hoped to show me some later in my visit. Susan also told me about a new shop selling minority textiles from China in the Night Bazaar at the back of the ground floor on the right hand side against the wall. Susan mentioned that the hotel’s Chinese restaurant on the 2nd Floor (1st English) was quite good and also there were some of the restaurants in the road outside the hotel.

I managed to get my reports finished and emailed back to UKC, some further follow-up done and out of the way by early evening and so felt free to start my few day's of holdiay! I made the mistake of going to the hotel coffee shop for dinner and was next to some very loud tour group members. I had some of the Thai-style dishes from the buffet which were OK.

The hotel is well situated for the Night Bazaar – just turn left outside the main entrance into Kampaengdin Road and then right into Loi Kroh Road which will then hit the street with the Night Bazaar, Changkhlan Rd. Turn left to get to the Bazaar. However, there are very many stalls either side of the pavement making it very difficult to get to the Bazaar. However, in Loi Kroh Road, a little way after crossing a narrow stream/canal, there is a soi running parallel to Changkhlan Rd. Turn left into this (which is a one way street) and you will go right past the back of the Night Bazaar. This was the way I used to get back to the hotel then and subsequently to visit the Bazaar.

In the Night Bazaar I had a look at some of the Lao textiles and made my way down to Rarearth (Room 2, 2nd Floor, Night Bazaar, Changklan Road, Chiangmai 50100 tel: 66 (0) 87179 2880, email:rarearthart@gmail.com) details updated May 08. The business is owned by Chris Kausman, an Englishman (and his Thai wife(?)). Reportedly he had previously been in business with his friend Michael but he had quite recently set up on his own. Most of the textiles were from China with a few from the Myanmar/India border (possibly also purchased in China where Chris seems to go to purchase his textiles). He had several Li items and some nice Yao wedding veils. He clearly has a good ‘eye’ for quality textiles and it was a pleasure examining the textiles on display. I was interested in a Li jacket with embroidered totem motifs (including crabs). These had apparently been embroidered onto the jacket, commissioned by the father of a woman who was ill. She got better so the jacket was no long needed. The jacket was thought to be quite a bit older than the later embroidery. Chris had bought it from a man who knew exactly which village it came from. He wanted Baht 14,000 for it. He gave me a card but was not very forthcoming on this visit, his wife following me closely around the shop as I looked at the textiles. Chris had written some quite helpful labels on each textile. I mentioned to him that Susan Stem had recommended that I visit his shop. He did not seem to know Susan but knew of her and that she lived out at San Khamphaeng.

I had a look around the other antique textile shops in the Night Bazaar. I felt that Chris had the best ‘eye’ for selecting good quality textiles. There were several Li textiles around. I had a look to see if Laura Kan was at her shop (‘Pusaka’) but there was no sign of her nor of her shop girl. I was not able to find Laura there on my subsequent visit to the Night Bazaar so she was probably out of town. I looked at the basement, ground and upper floor of the Bazaar and I bought a CD of some traditional wind music.

Chiang Mai - Thursday 14 October

Susan came to the hotel by about 11.00. She came up to the room and was carrying a lovely display of flowers for me – mainly orchids - which really brought a touch of brightness to the room. We set off and went down the road into which the Imperial Mai Ping hotel exits and parked the car in a car park. We first of all went to a teashop which is owned by Jess Pourret (author of 'The Yao: The Mien and Mun Yao in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand'). The Thai lady there was very helpful and gracious. She made us three types of tea to try: Jasmine, Ginseng and then Red tea. We each bought some of the Jasmine tea. The tea is grown locally. Unfortunately Jess Pourret was out of the country in Paris as he had been the previous year when I had visited Chiang Mai.

We next made our way to Bucklee Bell’s shop, Kesorn Arts, which he shares with his wife, Kesorn, and, I think, at least one other person. He spoke about having a quarter of the shop. His things are in the back, right hand side of the shop. (Kesorn Arts, 154-156 Tapae Rd, Chiangmai, Thailand, tel: 053 874-325, 235-482, email: hilltribeasia@hotmail.com). Bucklee got out various things for us including some Yao/Mien wedding veils. Susan and Robert had travelled to China with him earlier in 2004. He used to specialise in beads and to be well known as an expert on them. He has travelled and collects items from a number of places around the world. Apparently he has been a ‘lurker’ on the forum for some time (and he subsequently joined as a member on the Saturday before I left Chiangmai). He put various items aside for me in a bag in the office so that I could think about them. A youngish Australian couple came into the shop and appeared to know Bucklee quite well – although this seemed to be very much their attitude to people generally!

Susan and I went next door to the Tea House Siam Celadon - an attractive, renovated house (Branch 2 Siam Celadon Pottery Co., Ltd, 158 Thapae Road, T.Changmoi, A Muang, Chiang Mai, Tel: 053 234 518-9). We first had a look at the pottery in the shop – they had some attractive pieces including large pots and a couple of nice lamp bases and shades). I bought a candle light with base. By the time we had passed through to the tea house, choosing to go out into the garden, where we sat to have a drink and snack, Bucklee had joined us. Susan and I shared a (very good and plain) club sandwich. We had a pleasant lunch together before Bucklee had to dash back to the shop as he was expecting one of his good good customers.

Susan and I then drove to the Stem's home in San Kamphaeng where I had a look at the textiles that I had asked her to reserve for me. Amazingly , in the mail which was delivered after we got to the house, was the large Li book – the one destined for me - and the second which Susan had ordered! We had a look together through Susan’s copy. I enjoyed meeting the Stem’s cats, blue Burmese Sushi and black Siddiqi.

We fed the ducks and had a glass of wine in the garden. We then rode in their relatively newly purchased motorbike and sidecar to their local restaurant. The bike was originally engineered in Germany in the 1930s and the design exported to the former Soviet Union. Theirs had been made in Kiev, Ukraine, and was 12 years old. It caused quite a stir at the restaurant – where we were the only customers. We had a pleasant dinner before returning to their house after which they gave me a lift back to the hotel (by car not bike!). I was pretty tired after an exhausting day of looking and enjoying textiles with Susan!

Chiang Mai - Friday 15 October

After breakfast I went to a money exchange shop to change some travellers cheques just outside the front of the night market (using the soi which runs along the back) for access. There was quite a good rate of exchange to US$. Susan came to the hotel for 11.00. She had hoped that we could have gone to the Bank of Thailand Museum to see the exhibition which had been staged in honour of the Queen’s Birthday. Unfortunately it had finished at the end of September and the Museum was currently closed until a new exhibition had been hung.

We went instead to visit a lovely Thai lady whom Susan had heard of and who had sold her textile collection to the Bank of Thailand – Khun Duangjit Thaveesri. She used to have a shop at her home. Now, in a beautiful Thai room she still had a few textiles which she had kept back and a beautiful collection of lacquer-ware which she wanted to sell to a museum. (Khun Duangjit is Secretary General of the Foundation for Conservation of Northern Elephants, 29/4 Tung-Hotel Rd., T.wat-gate, A.Muang, Chiang Mai 50000, tel: 053-242291, fax: 053-300020, Thailand). It turned out that she knew Kathleen Johnson and they had participated together in an elephant event. She asked to be remembered to Kathleen. Khun Duangjit was such a gracious lady (who (in 2004) was 72 years old). Searching on the web I found on Frommer’s Thailand website (the 6th Edition) some information about Khun Duangjit’s former shop, now sadly closed:

"Duangjitt House, 95/10 Nimanhemin Rd. Phone 053/215167. "Part of the Nanatawan Arcade, this three-story, contemporary teak house is the elegant gallery of Duangjitt Thaveesri, a distinguished woman who has spent her life collecting Thai and tribal clothing and Southeast Asian handwoven materials. Her small shop holds an impressive array of antique textiles, Cambodian and Thai "mutmee" silk ikat (sarong lengths start at 3,500B [$140]), paintings, and silver jewelry. Mrs Duangjitt numbers Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor among her many patrons. The house feels like a private museum, with her or her daughter, Ms. Chitlada, as your learned guides. Interested collectors are sometimes invited to the Thaveesri home to view even more valuable artworks and paintings, but must visit the shop first to discuss such a visit."

From the remaining textiles in Khun Duangjit’s collection I bought a loincloth - probably Katu (Cotu) from Laos or the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

We then went to have some lunch at a restaurant, 'The Gallery' in an old teak house across the Ping River near to the Nawarat Bridge in Charoenraj Road. There was a grouping of old houses about 140 years old on each side of the road. After lunch we had a look in some of the shops in the area. Next door was Sop Moei Arts which had been recommended by Kathleen Forance Johnson. I had seen some of the modern weavings from Sop Moei which Kathleen had hung on the covered verandah of the American Embassy Residence in Bangkok. The weavings were all very attractive and sophisticated and everything was clearly of an excellent quality. There were also a number of baskets in the shop. The weavings are by Pwo Karen women, interpreting their weaving heritage. The baskets are by Pwo Karen men in Karen and other minority group basket styles. (Kent Gregory, Sop Moei Arts, The Elephant Quay House, 31-35 Chareonraj Road, Chiang Mai, 50000, Tel/Fax: 6653 213962, email Kent@sopmoiarts.com See detailed information on the project at: www.sopmoeiarts.com)

We then had a look in a couple of other shops in the area – one designer clothing shop (designer Ajarn Paothong) unfortunately with the clothing mostly too small for me but very attractive. The shop itself was beautifully designed – again in an old teak house – with a stunning circular door which looked like a mirror or window opening into the garden which then led to another room of clothes.

We next went to Vila Cini which had beautiful designer silks for interior decoration. This shop is also in old teak premises. Up on the second (USA third) floor there were some fabrics by the metre and also a room with samples of the range (which is woven out at San Kamphaeng). I bought 3 metres of one of the silks, possible for a jacket. (The Oriental Textile Co., Ltd, 30,32,34 Charoenraj Rd, Chiang Mai 50000, tel: 66 5324-6246, 5234-4025, Fax: 66 5324-4867, enquiries@vilacini.com, www.vilacini.com)

We were quite tired after all this looking at beautiful things so went to have an excellent iced cappuccino in a coffee shop nearby (in front of Le Pont Restaurant and Guest House). We had the back, air-conditioned room, to ourselves and indulged in good chat in an attractive modern décor which gave the feeling of being able to talk in the living room of one’s own home. We chatted quite a lot about how we wanted to put together photos and information on Li textiles on the web. Later we were directed to the loo in the Guest House behind – another 140 year old teak house. During this visit we had a look at the Le Pont Restaurant dinner menu and decided to stay for dinner as there were several soft-shell crab dishes and an egg plant salad on the menu. We sat next to their water feature under a broad verandah and had an excellent meal. (Le Pont, Restaurant and City Residence, 14 Charoenraj Rd., Chiangmai, email: lepontguesthouse@hotmail.com, tel: 053 241 661, fax: 053 243 673.)

Susan dropped me back at hotel and, although I initially thought I was too tired, after a drink of cold water, I went out to the Night Bazaar. I went straight to Tribal Rare Earth and eventually bought a Li man’s woven jacket at Baht 6,000 and Li hemp skirt for Baht 4,800 after some considerable bargaining with Chris. Whilst he served some other customers he allowed me to look at some very fine Li skirts and a blouse which were not currently for sale. He had quite an extensive collection of Li textiles in the shop.

Chiang Mai - Saturday 16 October

I went out after breakfast and changed some US$TCs and then went to Suriwong Book Centre on the way back and found Patricia Cheesman’s new book on Thai textiles – ‘Lao-Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan’. I bought a paperback copy for myself and a hardback one for Susan. Also a small book ‘Among the Tribes of Southern Vietnam and Laos’ by Captain P. Cupet with several photos of men wearing loin cloths. I also bought a book on Hill Tribe Textiles (by the Tribal Research Institute of the Department of Public Welfare, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare) and a couple of cassettes ‘Sounds from the Peoples of the Golden Triangle’ selected and introduced by Paul Lewis.

Susan and Robert picked me up at 11.30 and we drove out to the south of Chiang Mai where we had lunch at a waterside restaurant where the menu included Tom Yam catfish. We were joined at lunch by Audrey, who works in the paper products office of Susan and Robert’s landlord. Audrey, who speaks excellent English, is a Shan princess and her husband is a Shan prince although from a different Shan group.

After lunch we went to visit a Lao princess, Chao Soy Malla, in her home which was full of Lao weavings – mainly new but with some old ones. Chao Soy had escaped from Laos when the communists took over about 20 years ago. After looking at many of the textiles we had a walk around the garden and also saw where Chao Soy and her husband were growing orchids. Chao Soy very kindly gave Susan and I weaving each as gifts.

Afterwards we drove back to coffee shop which Susan and I had visited the day before and had a refreshing iced coffee. We then went for dinner in a new 'fusion' restaurant which Susan and Robert had not previously visited. (Da Laa Baa Restaurant, 113 Bumrungraj Rd, Watgate, Muang, Chiangmai 50000, tel: 053-242 4921, fax: 053-306 338, www.dalaabaa.com). We sat outside next to their water feature. The menu, although with English, was very terse and did not give any idea of just how good the food was going to be. Some illusive and interesting flavours and well presented. After dinner Robert and Susan dropped me back at my hotel and I got down to my packing.

Chiang Mai - Sunday 17 October

Susan collected me and my luggage at about 11.00 a.m. and dropped me off at Kesorn Arts to sort out my purchases with Bucklee Bell whilst she did some grocery shopping. Bucklee and I had quite a chat and I finally decided on two Yao wedding veils, and a Yao (?) man’s sash. Bucklee’s wife Kesorn came into the shop just before we left and I was thus able to meet her.

Susan and I then went to the Chinese restaurant at the Sheraton Hotel where we had an enjoyable dim sum brunch before she drove me back to their home where we sorted out my textile purchases from her – a Ba-sa-dung Li skirt , a bottom band from a Ba-sa-dung Li skirt, an embroidered detail from a Li blouse, a Miao baby’s hat and collar, a little Miao embroidered purse for my friend Shelagh and the purchase of the Li book. With business completed we then spent a considerable (and very enjoyable) time looking at the textiles which Susan currently has in her own collection – including a very, very fine Ba-sa-dung Li skirt. I again enjoyed the cats, especially Sushi, who was persistently into every textile (vying for attention) as Susan tried to show me her best pieces!

I then had a shower and it was time to take me to the airport after a brief stop in San Kamphaeng for petrol. I was very lucky when I checked in as I had no excess baggage to pay and I had no problems getting my very heavy carry-on bag (containing the very heavy Li book) through.

In Bangkok I was rather concerned that I had to traverse the whole length of the airport twice (I was not given access to the bus for the international terminal as I was not travelling on Thai Airways) and then the BA check-in desk was as far away as possible. However, in the end I managed to get the check-in sorted out OK and have time to buy some orchids.

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this page last updated 13 May, 2008