Sadly, a lot of the 'Thai' souvenirs on sale at many tourist sites are mass produced items that may have been made in Burma, Laos, Cambodia or even China. However, there are a number of foundations and charities - many of them royally sponsored - that either promote the production of traditional crafts to keep them alive and provide income for poor families, or sell locally produced items to support other charitable works. These are some of the best places to find truly unique local handicrafts. Those with retail outlets around Bangkok are listed below.
- Mae Fah Luang / Doi Tung
- "May Fah Luang" was the endearing term most people used to refer to the late Princess Mother. Throughout the reign of her son, the king, she sought to improve the lives of the rural poor, the marginalized hill tribes, and others. The Mae Fah Luang foundation continues her work, under the supervision of her granddaughter Princess Sirindhorn. The Doi Tung Development Project, named after the mountain-top retreat where the Princess Mother spent much of her time, is the commercial operation of the foundation, charged with ensuring the people of the Doi Tung area directly benefit from their agricultural and artistic endeavors. The project operates several cafés around Bangkok where you'll find coffee, macadamia nuts and other products, as well as 'Lifestyle' shops selling clothing and home decor. See the Doi Tung web site for a full list of locations.
- SUPPORT Foundation Chitrlada Shops
- The SUPPORT Foundation was set up by HM the Queen for the dual purposes of keeping traditional Thai handicrafts alive, and using them as a means of providing additional income for the rural poor. The foundation operates the massive Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center in Ayutthaya province, where people are trained in all sorts of crafts. Products are sold through the Chitrlada Shops, which have outlets around Bangkok, including within the Grand Palace. Unfortunately, the foundation doesn't have a web site, so you'll just have to keep an eye out for the shops.
- Sai Jai Thai Foundation
- This charity, sponsored by HRH Princess Sirindhorn, was set up to provide financial support to disabled veterans and the families of those who lost their lives in the service of the country left behind. They have a small shop at Suvarnabhumi Airport, but in town the best place to find them is the large retail outlet on Sri Ayutthaya Road, a short walk from the Phyathai Skytrain station. Products include a wide selection of handbags in leather and other materials, glassware, and hand-painted home decor items, from bowls and vases to table and chairs.
- ThaiCraft is a registered fair trade organization connecting community based craftspeople directly with customers. They don't have a regular retail shop, but hold bi-monthly fairs in the Asoke area. Check the web site for dates and themes of up-coming fairs, which are usually the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.