Finely crafted fun

Watch artisans at work, or try your own hand at crafts and cuisine 
Jarunee Taemsamran

"Fun." "Interesting." "I enjoyed myself very much." These are but a few of the comments recorded by participants in the ceramic painting class at the Mae Sa Valley Craft Village.
I certainly agreed after an attempt to paint a ceramic dish of my own. It took me almost three hours to complete.
"You can't take it away now because it needs to be fired in the kiln first. But don't worry, you can take it before you leave the next day," said Uan Somchai Chalongkitskul, head of the craft village that opened a few months ago at the resort in Mae Rim district of Chiang Mai.
I was curious to know how my creation would look after being fired, though I knew it would be no artistic masterpiece.
It was the first ceramic painting I'd ever tried, but I could console myself with the fact that my "ugly duck in the garden" was unlike anything else in the world. I was proud of it.

Ceramic painting is just one of many activities provided to visitors at the Mae Sa Valley resort, located on the Chiang Mai-Mae Rim-Samoeng route, a 40-minute drive from Chiang Mai International Airport.
Other pursuits include batik dyeing, parasol and fan painting, and saa paper-making. All represent the rich traditions of the North's highly-skilled artisans.

Normally, tourists can only shop for these products or watch artisans at work, but at Mae Sa Craft Village, visitors are encouraged to create their own designs and make their own souvenirs.

The artisans at the village live in traditional thatched-roof wooden houses. Each hut has a different specialist in silverware, woodenware, batik, ceramic painting and saa paper-making. New graduates from the Technology Institute of Chiang Mai, their skills have been well-honed.

Resort owner Chinda Charungchareonvejj said she conceived the Thai Craft Village as a way to encourage visitors to stay longer, as most used to stay just one night.

"Chiang Mai has a lot of handicraft products that are well-known among tourists. So we saw that if we can encourage them to participate in the making of their own products with their own imaginative designs, it could be lots of fun, and that's how the Thai Craft Village came to be. 
"This way, visitors will not be bored, and they will have something that they can be proud of as well."Mrs Chinda said many overseas resorts were also offering extra activities to encourage visitors to prolong their stay.

"We do this to respond to changing tourist behaviour. They are more sophisticated and more demanding. Our job is to serve their needs."In addition, her intention is also to provide job opportunities for new graduates in each field. "This way, they can enhance their skills in making handicraft products."A class usually takes up to three hours for an individual piece, though the time can be extended for an additional fee if more painting is desired.

Guest feedback has been good since the project began, Mrs Chinda said. Retirees with a lot of free time, especially retirees from Japan and Europe, will be the resort's core target market.
Apart from the craft courses, the village also offers a Thai cooking class and a health centre with a herbal steam room and Thai traditional massage.

Participants in the cooking classes can learn in a fully equipped kitchen set against a beautiful scenic backdrop. All materials, menus and ingredients will be prepared. There are several dishes to choose from such as som tam, pad Thai, spicy ground meat, pork toast, spring rolls and of course, tom yam kung.

Each session will begin with a visit to the resort's farm to study the ingredients required for each recipe such as lemongrass, pea aubergines, holy basil and lime leaves.

The chef instructor will demonstrate each dish and then guide the participants as they make it themselves. As the end of the session, everyone eats what they have made. A cooking class can cater to eight to 10 people at a time.

Even those who are not interested in cooking but want to know more about northern agricultural traditions and techniques can buy a package to tour the working farm.

With the Farmers' Cottage at its heart, the site is a place where visitors can learn about the rice farming using water buffaloes, along with vegetable growing and fish farming. Guests are even welcome to join in the ploughing, planting and harvesting if they want.

The farm is far more than a tourist attraction, though.

"We try to follow His Majesty the King's policy of self-sufficiency," Mrs Chinda says.

"Our farm has proved that we can sustain ourselves. Products from our farm are used at the resort's restaurant. And if we produce enough additional food, we sell it too."If painting, crafts, cooking and farm tours leave a guest a little worn out, the answer to weary muscles or stress can be found at the resort's health centre. There are six massage beds and four steam rooms along with skillful masseurs.

Ms Chinda said that since travellers were becoming more health-conscious, she planned to take a close look at developing more aspects of the resort's health centre.

The Mae Sa Valley Resort claims to be the first mountain resort in Thailand, having been established almost 20 years ago. Mrs Chinda said her love of nature was the original inspiration.

The resort has steadily and adjusted over the years to meet rising competition from the new resorts mushrooming in the same area.

"Some have closed their operations because they couldn't shoulder the rising costs," Mrs Chinda said. "But we have strived to maintain this resort because we love nature and we want to live close to it."The attractive setting contains thatched-roof wooden houses sloping downward on the hills. The area is festooned with beautiful cold-climate flowers.

The resort has more than 30 rooms that can accommodate 80-90 visitors at a time. In addition to the many guest activities, it also organises lunch and khantoke dinners for visitors from outside.

With so many activities, a stay at the resort can be great fun for families as every member will have something to do. Mother can to learn Thai cooking, father can indulge in traditional massage and children can enjoy themselves at the craft village. Swimming in the pool amid the hilly background rounds out a very pleasant day in Chiang Mai.
Travel tips

Getting there: Thai Airways International (628-2000) has hourly flights to Chiang Mai every day. The Mae Sa Valley Resort is on the Chiang Mai-Mae Rim-Samoeng route, about a 40-minute drive from the airport.

Visitors not staying at the resort can still book a package of activities at the Craft Village. Choices include crafts, Thai cookery school, health centre, working farm and khantoke dinner. For information and reservations from Bangkok, call 251-1704, 656-9175-7.

Chiang Mai highlights: A good road system makes getting around the large northern province convenient. From the airport, you can reach Mae Rim district within a 30-minute drive, and it is about 40 minutes to San Kamphaeng district.

Local people consider the Chiang Mai-Mae Rim-Samoeng route the most beautiful with its unspoiled mountain views. Along the way there are several private resorts and tourist attractions. The shady Chiang Mai-San Kamphaeng route is famous for handmade product factories. Some are regular attractions on packaged tours.

Other recommended places for sightseeing include:
Doi Suthep: Phra That Doi Suthep is as sacred to Chiang Mai as the Emerald Buddha temple is to Bangkok. Located in Muang district, it can be reached by shuttle bus service from nearby Chiang Mai University.

Mae Sa Elephant Camp is probably the most popular attraction on the Mae Rim-Samoeng route. Elephant shows are staged twice daily, at 8 and 9:40 am, and admission is 80 baht a person. You can also make arrangements at the camp to try elephant riding in the jungle.

Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, also on the Mae Rim-Samoeng route, features rare plants from around the North. The first true botanical garden in the country, it was founded for scientific purposes to collect, research and preserve indigenous flora. It is open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm, with an entry fee of 20 baht per person and 50 baht per car.

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs offer a natural source of hot mineral water beneficial to health. Bathing is recommended, and traditional massage is available for a modest fee.
(January 20, 2000)
Finely crafted fun Finely crafted fun Reviewed by SukiDraGon on 4:22 AM Rating: 5

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