I’ve given up pretending to be Super Tourist.
This is my explanation for why I only saw one temple in Ayutthaya, former capital of the Siam empire, city famous for its ruins and temples. (And in a related Sanskrit note, the city was named after King Rama’s golden capital city of Ayodhya from the Ramayana.)
This is my explanation for why I spent more time at a handicraft center than at said temple. I know the temples are beautiful and the history is fascinating, but I also know where my interests lie. Show me how to weld a giant robot out of scrap metal or create a traditional batik design and I’m captivated.
Bang Sai Royal Folk Art & Craft Center
This center was founded by the beloved Queen Sirikit to house and train for her SUPPORT (the Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Techniques) program. You can read more about the program here and here, but I’ll summarize briefly. Her Majesty saw that many rural people in Thailand depend financially upon agriculture, an unstable base, leaving them with time during the “offseason”. She also saw in her travels around the country that the knowledge about beautiful traditional arts and crafts was rapidly disappearing. In an inspired move, she began to offer training in these traditional handicrafts as well guaranteeing a fair price for the finished products, often buying them herself. Thus, with the SUPPORT program, she is able to give rural people additional income and dignified work, all while preserving traditional culture and knowledge.
It is easy to see why Queen Sirikit is so admired and beloved all over Thailand. She is a maternal figure to the whole country, almost in a literal sense. Her birthday is a national holiday—also known as Mothers Day.
This craft center is near the city of Ayutthaya. It offers many displays and gift shops containing traditional Thai handicrafts, but the highlight for me was touring through the workshops where students are learning and mastering various handicraft forms. After you enter the facility (buying a ticket for 100 baht) you are free to wander around, ducking your head into any workshop you please, observing everything from glassblowing to dressmaking.
The handicraft village. Beautiful surroundings and traditional-style houses. You can see a few demonstrations as you walk through, but the main attractions (the workshops) were adjacent to this village.
True to form, I was most fascinated by the textile handicrafts.
I started with silk brocade weaving. This is highly skilled and meticulous work.
One of the women I spoke with said it would take her six months of work to complete a two-meter-long piece.
This is the design sheet for one brocade pattern. A lot of the weavers seem to know their designs by heart, but I saw one woman refer to this sheet once or twice. Amazingly complex.
Some silk threads ready to be woven.
Traditional weaving. This is ikat or mat mii, in which the design has already been dyed into the spools of thread themselves.
A beautiful mat mii design in Thai silk.
Next I visited the batik workshop. Batik is a southern Thai handicraft, more closely associated with Malaysia and Indonesia.
On the left, the stenciled outline. On the right, a little pot of wax and a special tool for applying the wax to the fabric.
After the wax outlines have been applied, an artist carefully shades in the floral design.
A close up of a silk embroidery piece in progress. Notice the shading on the grass.
This is the most meticulous work I saw all day. A 1x2 meter piece will take seven women two years to complete. Two years.
Here’s a picture of what the final product will look like.
This is a type of basketry called yan lipao. The objects are woven using a strong indigenous vine. The work is meticulous and the strands of the vine about as thin as dental floss.
They use a tool similar in design to a wire stripper to whittle down the strands of the vine until they are small and pliable enough to work with.
A large and intricate dragon in the welding workshop.
Outside the welding and metalwork workshop.
On the left, an artist works with resin to create a sculpture. On the right, a MacGuyver-like contraption of metal wire and an old hairdryer keeps the resin warm and malleable.
The outside of the stained glass and batik workshop.
Stained glass in progress.
Completed stained glass pieces.
I had originally planned to post temple pictures here too, but this post is long enough already. The Folk Art Center was fascinating. It’s a little out of the way from Ayutthaya, but definitely worth the trip if you’re interested in traditional handicrafts.