People living in GMS countries have been well-known for centuries for their refined handicraft. Today, buying handicraft and local made products is a fun way for travellers to contribute to local economies –even micro-economies for ethnics- and help alleviating poverty by providing an income to communities.
The revival of traditional crafts in Cambodia has been strongly supported by the Government and NGOs. Textiles (traditional karma scarves of cotton and/or silk), silk, sculptures in wood or stones, basketry, silversmith, paintings, ethnic clothing, incense and local made home fragrances, pepper and curries. Travellers can visit NGO centres supporting communities such as Artisans d’Angkor, Cambodian Craft Cooperation, NYEMO, Rajana Crafts, Friends International among others.
The presence of two dozens of ethnics living in Yunnan and some 50 ethnics in Guangxi produces colourful crafts sold in many city markets, night markets and specialty shops. In Yunnan, it include Kunming flowers, Jianchuan wood carvings, Xinhua silverware, Tengchong jade crafts, Jianshui purple pottery wares, assorted minority embroideries, Bornite wares, Xuanwei ham, Tea and Chinese Medicine Herbals. In Guangxi, Beihai pearls, ethnic beads, Zhuang brocade and embroideries, Miao silver ornaments and batiks, Teas and Chinese Medicine Herbals.
Traditional crafts have been revived in Laos in the last two decades with westerns tyle designers working with local communities to produce more contemporary style items and crafts. Among the most popular souvenirs are textiles with silk, cotton, ikat but also local fashion designs. Ethnic objects include ethnic jewellery, embroideries and beads, In Luang Prabang, the night market but also specialty design shops (many supported by NGOs) in the old town are good places to buy handicrafts.
The decade-long isolation of Myanmar helped the country to preserve its traditional handicrafts with many skilled workers still producing exquisite objects. Religious painting of Bagan, lacquer ware, wooden sculptures, traditional puppets, paintings, basketries, silverware and textiles are among the tourists’ favourite items.
The most sophisticated crafts and art scene is in Thailand as a generation of young creators reinterpret in a contemporary way Thailand traditional handicrafts and arts. Theme and circuits can be organised around Bangkok to discover new artists and designers through art galleries but also in shopping areas such as Chatuchak Week End Market, Asiatique The Riverfront and Talad Rot Fai (Train market). Many local brands have gained international fame in the world of interior design.
Chiang Mai is a source of inspiration for designers with most of Thailand’s contemporary design brands being produced there. Chiang Mai Night Market and along Charoen Raj Road. All hilltribes in mountainous areas organise the selling of local made crafts in small outlets or go to hotels.
From Vietnamese silk to lacquer ware as well as wooden objects, mother-of-pearl inlay items, ceramics, traditional ethnic clothing or embroideries, they are many opportunities to buy local produced handicraft. Of particular interest are bamboo design objects, painting and lacquer ware (that wil be find almost in every household and temple in the country) as well as reproduction of old posters and images. In the mountainous areas, villagers produce local handicraft such as potteries, beans, ethnic costumes and cotton textiles.
Cat Dang and Kinh Bang are the names of localities famous for lacquer-ware; Tu Van and La Xuyen for wood-carving. Dong Sam is renowned for gold and silver engraving and jewellery. Huong Canh, Phu Lang, Bat Trang, Mong Cai and Dong Nai can boast of centuries-old skills in pottery-making and porcelain-ware. Mother-of-pearl inlay work in Chuyen My, silk-weaving in Van Phuc, copper-casting in Ngu Xa, hat-making in Chuong, mat-weaving in Nga Son and stone-carving in Quang Nam – Da Nang.
Visiting art galleries where local artists are exposed is an interesting thematic and help also emerging artists, painters or photographers. Lively art scenes with many galleries exist in Hanoi, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City and Hue in Vietnam; in Luang Prabang in Laos; in Battambang, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia; in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan in Myanmar; in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand; in Kunming, Jinghong and Lijiang in Yunnan and in Dali, Guilin and Nanning in Guangxi.