Phuket Handicraft Guide
Thailand Wickerworks, Sa paper, Shadow Play Figures
Wickerwork products are used in every aspect of daily life in Thailand. Furniture, baskets, hats, mats, even walls for simple homes are made from natural fibre, and created into objects of beauty and function. The attraction of wickerwork is its simplicity, using the strength and resilience of cut and dried bamboo and rattan that are woven into forms that are light, strong, and attractive. Take a look down Ranong Rd in Phuket City for shops selling beautifully woven baskets, mats, blinds and other functional wicker products.
Yaan lipao is a Southern Thai style of basketry, made from a sturdy local grass. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and other women of the Thai royal family are often seen carrying elegant yaan lipao purses, which has effectively transformed the handicraft into a must-have fashion accessory. Local department stores and upscale souvenir shops have a range of yaan lipao items for sale.
One of Phuket's lesser known local industries is the production and preparation of cashew nuts. A much loved and oft expensive treat in some parts of the world, here you can purchase cashews inexpensively in their natural raw state, or prepared with a variety of spices or flavours. Visit the Methee Cashew Nut Factory on Tilok Uthit 2 Rd in Phuket City to buy cashews at their source, or look for them at any of the food markets around the island.
Sa paper is a durable, natural handmade paper that has been produced in Thailand for centuries. Today, it is used for the delicate painted umbrellas the Chiang Mai craft industry is famous for, and is also made into masks, notebooks, picture frames, stationery, lamps and artificial flowers. Sa paper products are sold everywhere around the island -- some of the best bargains may be found on the upper level of Big C supercentre, where craftpeople from all over Thailand set up stalls to sell their goods.
Shadow Play Figures
The shadow play called nang talung, unique to Southern Thailand, uses flat puppets with moveable parts fashioned from cow or buffalo hide. Nang yai, a classic shadow play from Ayudhaya, uses cowhide puppets as large as 2 metres high, with detailed designs pierced into them for dramatic effect as the lighted backdrop shines through. Though this form of entertainment is no longer as popular as once was, the art of puppetmaking has endured.
Puppets and decorative panels made with the same technique can now be found for sale at many souvenir shops and street stalls in Phuket -- at a few places the artist can be seen at work. Some are simple designs, while others are elaborate and colourful works with intricate details. The puppet shapes, fish, elephants or rural scenes depicted make a nice, whimsical wall hanging.