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Travel & Holidays in later life


Decorating a large umbrella in the Umbrella Village of Chiang MaiThailand may not offer such a wide range of high-tech bargains as Singapore or Hong Kong, but it's still a shopper's paradise. The best buys include Thai silks and cottons, silver, bronzeware, woodcarvings, ceramics and celadon (a high-fired stoneware with a greyish green or grey blue glaze). 

Clothing can be made to measure in 24 hours, though it's advisable to allow more time for proper fitting. Good areas for shopping in Bangkok are the Siam Centre, Silom Road and Pratunam Market. 

Specialities from Phuket are pearls, niello ware (silver inlaid with a black alloy), sea-shells and just about every thing else.

The Chiang Mai area is best for celadon, silver craftsmanship and handwoven silk and cotton. Wood-carvings are everywhere: hundreds of teak bowls and rank upon rank of wooden elephants and smiling Buddhas.

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Shops are usually open from 10.00-20.00 hrs every day. Always bargain when buying from markets and small shops, but department stores have fixed prices. 

Haggling is an acquired art, best performed in a spirit of good humour. You'll soon get the knack of finding a lower price which the vendor will accept from a tourist. 

Beware of friendly touts who offer to help you shop, as their commission will hamper your chance of a realistic price. 

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For anyone seeking goods with prestigious designer labels, Bangkok is a faker's paradise. But the quality doesn't always rival that of the real thing.

Precious and semi-precious stones are not necessarily a bargain in Thailand. On show are displays of costume jewellery and gem stones tourmaline, sapphires, topaz, tiger-eye, smoky topaz, amethyst, yellow sapphire, white zircon, garnet and rubies.

Choosing a length of cloth in a silk shop
The buyer should beware. It is not a crime to sell over-priced stones to tourists who think they are getting a 'deal'. In reality few bargains exist, and you should not speculate in gem-stones unless you have virtually professional knowledge. A shop may look very established, but could still sell fakes. 

If you do decide to 'invest' in valuable gem-stones, buy them pre-set or have a setting made in Thailand. You will then have an attractive piece of jewellery even if not as valuable as you may hope.

Sacred images of Buddha or other deities may not be exported, irrespective of value. Antiques and genuine works of art require a special export certificate which can easily take three weeks to obtain.

The Thais are currently doing their utmost to save the Asian elephant from extinction. Help the cause by refusing to buy ivory, or any shoes, wallets or handbags made of elephant hide. 

Quite apart from Bangkok's choice of department stores, shopping plazas and hotel boutiques, there are several market areas which are fun to visit.

Plenty of opportunities to buy Thai decorated potteryWeekend Market at Chatuchak Park: Crowds gather at this 35- acre market to bring and buy plants, animals, clothes and antiques of every description including many antiques made yesterday. There are also great displays of food. 

Most colourful is a complete range of pineapple, bananas, and a profusion of exotic fruits like coconuts, rambutans, lychees, betel, mango, mangosteen and rose apples. Faith healers, herbalists, fortune tellers and musicians add extra entertainment. 

Chinatown: Here's the main shopping area for Bangkok's estimated 1.5 million people of Chinese descent. Explore the old business centre around Charoen Krung and Yaowarat Road. Especially interesting is Sampeng Lane. 

Chinatown bustles day and night. The narrow alleys are crammed with stalls that sell anything from paper dragons to snake wine and fresh fruit. In gold shops, traditionally painted red and white, the creations are sold by weight at attractive pri ces. 

There's also wide choice of Thai silk, which can be cheaply and quickly made up by local tailors. Amongst the hawkers, look for painters, fortune tellers, flower vendors and the Chinese apothecaries who sell a vast selection of herbs and medicines. 

Hand loom production in the Chiang Mai regionThe Chiang Mai region is home of the principal Thai handicrafts cotton and silk-weaving on hand looms, manufacture of celadon stoneware, costume-doll making with authentic hill tribe dress, manufacture of paper and silk umbrellas, wood-carving, lacquerware, silver craftsmanship and making of temple bells and Buddhas. Wood carving is of local teak, with elephants, bowls and trays as the favoured subjects.

Long ago, craft villages developed outside the city walls. The settlements still remain in their original locations, and techniques are little changed over the centuries.

Visitors are welcome to stroll around the sprawling compounds, take photos and watch the production lines in operation. It's more interesting to the average tourist than another half dozen temples.

Typical is the Umbrella Village of Bo Sang, where brightly- coloured umbrellas are made for sale throughout Thailand. Some families make the spokes, others fit paper or silk covers, and the finishers paint and decorate.

Silk production starts with boiling cocoons from mulberry trees, to produce the silk fibre.Handwoven Thai silk with intricate gold designs is produced both in Chiang Mai and in Lampoon, 16 miles away, where the 12th-century temple of Wat Hariphunchai is of major sightseeing interest. A tall chedi or pagoda is crowned by an umbrella of gold.

Further along is Pasang, specialising in hand-loom cotton weaving. Pasang is known throughout Thailand as "the town of beautiful girls", owing to their invariable success in beauty contests. The prettiest girls are employed as sales assistants in the stores. Best buys are table mats and runners.

All these handicraft prices are much cheaper than in Bangkok, to make Chiang Mai an excellent place for shopping. Best buy is Thai silk, unique for its natural look and uneven texture. You can also do your shopping in the lively night market, open till midnight, where haggling is essential.

Check out these other Thailand features:

BANGKOK - Visit the capital "City of Angels'

CHIANG MAI - North to "Rose of the North"

PHUKET - Holiday pearl  of the South

THAI CUISINE- Try that spicy food

THAI ENTERTAINMENT  - Sample the night-time scene

TRIPS OUT OF BANGKOK - Looking at the rich variety of excursion possibilities from the capital.

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Arts and Crafts of Thailand (Arts & Crafts S.) - produced by authors who have lived for years in Thailand, and know their subject and its history very well.

Things Thai: Crafts and Collectibles  - This is the book to buy if you want to be well versed in the cultural background to the crafts of Thailand.

Contemporary Thai - Taking a close look at the wide range of Thai furniture and furnishings.

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