If you’re bringing an empty suitcase for souvenirs to Thailand, Chiang Mai is the best destination for you. Known as the handicraft capital of Thailand and filled with lively night markets, shopping in Chiang Mai is always a fun thing to do. You can find everything from silk and traditional clothing to hand carved soaps and silverware. But with so many to choose from, it can get pretty overwhelming. So, if you’re unsure what to buy in Chiang Mai’s markets as a souvenir, here are 15 unique and lovely items you can buy.
1. Thai silk
Thai silk is regarded as one of the best silk in the world due to its beauty and durable quality. Since the majority of Thai silk is produced in and around Chiang Mai, you can easily find it in any market around the city. Thai silk comes in two main types: smooth and rough. With its sleek and shiny finish, smooth Thai silk is often used for clothing and interior decor. On the other hand, rough Thai silk is perfect for heavy duty purposes like blankets and draperies. Although the weave of rough Thai silk is coarser, it’s still soft. A way to test for Thai silk’s authenticity is by holding the fabric up to a strong light source and looking at it from different angles. Authentic Thai silk should appear to shift colours.
You can choose from a variety of designs and colours. There’s an extensive selection of finished Thai silk products across the city, such as tapestries, pillowcases, tablecloths, blankets, scarves, skirts, sarongs, and neckties.
2. Traditional Northern Thai clothing
You’ll find lots of vendors selling high-quality, authentic Northern Thai clothing in Chiang Mai’s street markets and night bazaars. These traditional clothing are popular among tourists as a souvenir because they’re beautiful, unique, and handmade. They also come in a number of different colours and styles. One of the most popular traditional clothing to buy is moh hom top, sador pants, pha zin skirt, and of course, sarong.
3. Hand carved soaps
Hand carved soaps in Chiang Mai are very elaborate and come in various designs, making them unique souvenir pieces. These gorgeous soaps are made from scented soaps that are carved into delicate flowers and then hand-painted in beautiful shades of pink, yellow, green, blue, purple, and more. After being carved and painted, the soaps are usually sold in wooden boxes.
Although these beautiful soaps might not be the best to use for washing, they do carry a pleasant aroma. They can be a delightful decoration that will fill your room with a sweet fragrance.
4. Thai lanterns/colourful lights
If you’re looking for an item that can bring a taste of Thailand into your home decor, Thai paper lanterns can be a great option. These vibrant lanterns are a vital part of Chiang Mai’s New Year celebrations and the Yi Peng festival. During these celebrations, homes and neighbourhoods across the city are decorated with beautiful lanterns. If you want, you can bring these beautiful lanterns home to decorate your own space. Besides lanterns, bubble strings made from carved coconut shells are also popular. Before you buy one, make sure to check that the lantern or colourful light is made with high-quality materials and it can fit in your luggage.
5. Rice boxes
The next interesting local handicraft that can be a unique souvenir is traditional bamboo rice boxes. As the name suggests, the rice boxes are used to store rice. However, in Chiang Mai, these rice boxes are colourful and come in intricate hand paintings, making them popular among tourists. Authentic Thai rice boxes are usually made from bamboo, so they’re usually very light. Although they’re made to store uncooked rice, you can store just about anything in them.
6. Triangle cushions
Triangle cushions are unique to Thailand, and you might not be able to find them in any other places. Made of triangular shapes arranged in a pyramid shape, these pillows provide an ergonomically correct backrest that allows you to be comfortable. They usually come with a traditional mat, which you can use for lounging or sleeping. Since the mats are typically foldable and rollable, they can be the perfect space saving solution for those with small living spaces.
7. Thai snacks
Thai snacks can be a great souvenir to bring home from Chiang Mai. On almost every market across the city, you’ll find vendors selling all kinds of Thai snacks, such as dried mango, sweetened cherries and plums, dried dates, and dried tamarinds. Bring back bags of these delicious Thai snacks as a souvenir for family and friends, or simply stock up on your favourite Thai tastes.
8. Bags and purses
Bags and purses are probably the most practical souvenirs to buy in Chiang Mai. There are many varieties of bags you can choose from, such as hill tribe bags, vintage bags, and bags made from repurposed textiles. These bags come in bright colours with attractive designs, perfect if you love the tribal bohemian look.
9. Herbs and spices
If you love cooking or you want to give souvenirs to someone who loves cooking, you can pick up herb and spice packs in many markets in Chiang Mai. Since Thai spices are what gives Thai dishes their unique character, bringing home some of these herbs and spices is like bringing a taste of Thailand back home with you.
Chiang Mai, particularly Wua Lai road, is home to some of Thailand’s best silversmiths. Therefore, there are many places to buy handmade silverware around the city, including the Saturday Night Walking Street Market. From all kinds of jewellery to various sizes of bowls, you have a variety of options to choose from.
11. Thai umbrella
The Thai paper umbrella is another unique northern craft you can buy as souvenirs in Chiang Mai. The bright coloured canopy of these umbrellas is painted with antique style flowers, birds, worms, or fish. These umbrellas are usually made from a combination of cotton, bamboo, and mulberry paper. Silk may also be used. They come in a wide variety of sizes, from palm-size umbrellas for decorations to bigger ones for sunshade. Depending on the materials used, you may use these umbrellas in the rain or as a beautiful home decoration.
12. Singing bowl
Although the Tibetan singing meditation bowl isn’t originally from Thailand, it’s very popular at the night markets in Chiang Mai. The bowls have been used by Buddhist monks in meditation practice for a long time. You can tap or rub it using a mallet to produce a range of beautiful tones that can aid in meditation and promote deep relaxation. Numerous different sizes are available, typically from 5 to 15 cm in diameter.
13. Wood carvings
Dotted with wood carving factories, Chiang Mai is famous for its beautiful wood handicrafts. The handmade wood carvings in the city are exquisite and detailed. Using them as decoration can really spice up a space. Elephant wood carvings are especially popular as souvenirs, but there are other beautiful designs to choose from. Keep in mind, however, that you shouldn’t purchase wood carved Buddha statues. Buddhist symbols are sacred, not decorative objects. Besides, it’s illegal to take Buddha statues out of Thailand.
Chiang Mai is an incredible destination for gem shopping. It’s easy to find vendors selling cheap but beautiful jewellery. You can even find vendors selling custom jewellery at a low price! These jewellery aren’t only pretty, but can also make a meaningful memento of your trip!
Surrounded by mountainous valleys, Chiang Mai has the perfect tea-growing weather all year long. That’s why you can pick up all kinds of tea in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Almost every type of tea you can think of is available here, from green tea and black tea to flower teas like rose tea and chrysanthemum. If you want to bring tea home as souvenirs, choose tea in vacuum-sealed packages as they can stay fresh longer than tea sachets.
There are a lot more items you can buy as souvenirs in Chiang Mai’s markets. However, the 15 items above are our current top picks. Not only are they relatively cheap, but they also serve as a great memento you can use to look back and reminisce about the fantastic experience you have during your trip to the Land of Smiles.