One of the major upsides of manufacturing jewellery outside of the UK is the chance to travel. I love visiting new countries and am often to be found in a local food market seeking out new colours, flavours and ideas to help stimulate the design process.
I have been making my cast silver items in a small, family run, Thai factory in Chiang Mai for just over five years now, so it felt about time to visit. It is a relatively long journey to a very different world and as the plane began its slow descent, banking over paddy fields and the thick jungle canopy on the hills beyond, the dry dusty British summer I had left behind felt a long way off.
My boutique hotel, in which I turned out to be the only guest, was all of five minutes from the factory and I chose it for its reputation as a peaceful haven. It was surrounded by paddy fields and I have to say as welcome a change from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, where I normally go for work, as you could hope to find. Beautiful water lilies opened at breakfast and, as if to prove how close to nature we were, I found a small gecko by my bed upon arrival. I asked the night porter for help and we chased it around the room until I realised he was intent on squashing it. Luckily he didn’t move nearly quickly enough and it escaped into the air-conditioning unit.
After a long few days working on the new Spring Summer 2019 designs, I spent a further twenty-four hours wandering through Chiang Mai. However tired you feel with jet-lag and long days at work, exploring a new place is always refreshing. It felt appropriate to visit the silver Temple, which is, of course, covered in silver panels, all painstakingly worked on by hand by the local silversmiths. It was originally built around 1500, when the abbot-in-charge needed to renovate the monastery and opposed to use the common technique. Women are not allowed in as it is a working temple and thus demarcated for men only. But if you look closely at the elephants on the panel you will see the baby in the trunks. I didn’t realise that elephants were so community spirited and get very distressed if they don’t live in their families. There are some interesting ethical elephant tours you can take that I have definitely put on the itinerary for next time around (since our business is expanding quite fast now, I imagine I will be back here fairly often).
I wandered on to the main food market where not one to miss out on a family Sunday morning ritual, I had fresh coconut pancakes, followed by a delicious iced coffee. One of my favourite fruits is a pomelo so I was thrilled to find a lady making fresh trays of peeled pomelo. Brunch was sorted.
I was amused to find a ‘strong and stable bridge’– what more could you want? – which made me happy to feel momentarily far away from the tumult of modern British politics. And I loved the take away options; freshly chopped ingredients in bags, going as fast as they were made.
Taking a 3 wheeler ricksaw back the 25kms to the hotel was probably not the most environmentally friendly decision I made on the trip, but it prolonged the feeling of other worldliness that the hot humid evenings, the exotic rice paddies and water lilies, the loud grasshoppers and the spicy food all engendered.
I left with such vivid memories and a desire to return to go trekking in the hills, visit elephants and learn more about this beautiful part of the world.