Shopping is a big deal in Chiang Mai. From the incredible Sunday Night Walking Street to the traditional handicrafts in the San Kamphaeng district, trendy Nimmanhaemin boutiques and brand names of Central Festival shopping mall, Chiang Mai has a lot to offer. Second only to Bangkok when it comes to shopping, Chiang Mai is the perfect place to redecorate your home, find colourful fabrics, soft silks and some one of a kind wooden sculptures. If you know where to look.
There is a chapter in Luxurious Chiang Mai dedicated to shopping, but for those who want the ultimate shopping experience then consider a tailor made tour with a private driver, or even a local expert. Local resident Marisa Marchitelli offers a range of one day (or more if you are a shopaholic) tours, itineraries and can even arrange local experts in weaving, cooking, woodwork or furniture to guide you around the small, hidden spots of Chiang Mai. I had the opportunity to interview Marisa to find out more!
Marisa, please tell us a little about yourself. You are a professional filmmaker, how did you end up arranging tours?
I moved to Chiang Mai on a whim in 2010. I had been living in New York for 7 years at that point and was ready for a change. With my half-Thai mother based in Chiang Mai, and my love of the city, it was an easy choice. In New York, I studied film and photography and worked in that field for a number of years. On arriving back in Chiang Mai, I began writing and photographing travel-related articles for a variety of international publications, the first being Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia. That opened up a lot of doors for me and soon my work appeared in BBC Travel, DestinAsian Magazine and others.
This led to a project I worked on as creative director called “handmade chiangmai.” HMCM provided an overview of the craft industry in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas in the form of a website. I spent a year, travelling to countless factories and artisan studios, photographing, filming and writing their stories. Inadvertently, I also did a lot of shopping!
All of these experiences meant that people would constantly ask me for travel advice, and often they were people I didn’t even know! I decided to make a website that consolidated all of this work to make things easier for myself [chiangmaiwithmarisa.com]. Many interesting people stumbled on the site and before I knew it, I was location scouting for TV shoots with Google and Food Network, or taking the “Antiques Diva” on a shopping tour and I even guided Paula Newton from CNN. I wouldn’t say it’s my main business, nor do I want it to be, but it’s been a fun development in my travel work.
What are your favourite spots for shopping in Chiang Mai?
I love interior decorating with secondhand and upcycled pieces and Chiang Mai is so great for that. Some of my best finds have been from one of the many Japanese warehouses littered on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. I particularly like the one alongside the 108 highway, just before the turn into Baan Tawai. You never know what you’re going to find but everything is in great condition. While in Baan Tawai you should also visit Sone Sima ceramics and the Koch outlet store.
And where would you recommend people avoid?
Avoid the night bazaar! It’s so generic and doesn’t speak to the distinctive character of Chiang Mai at all. It’s also overpriced and takes advantage of unknowing tourists. I’m not a fan of that.
What’s the most amazing purchase you’ve ever bought in Thailand?
Wow! That’s a tough one. In the past year I’ve been documenting the incredible textiles and basket weaving of Sop Moei Arts. Every aspect of the product from ethics, process, design, and sustainability speaks to me. I have a giant pink silk cushion from them covered in pink pom-poms. How cool is that?
If a traveller could only buy 3 items to represent the spirit of Chiang Mai, what would it be?
- A hand-painted elephant statue from Elephant Parade
- A wicker and bamboo handmade basket from Sop Moei Arts (a quickly dying craft)
- Some all-natural Monsoon Tea sourced from hilltribes living in the mountains of Northern Thailand
And Thailand as a whole?
- The art of handloom textiles is quite special in Thailand with varying weaves and designs available regionally. You can’t leave Thailand without some signature silk right? I recently visited a batik studio down south in Krabi. I love it all.
- Something edible. Food is such an important part of the culture here and always worked into my tours. I often recommend buying some curry pastes to recreate the flavors back home.
Most shopping experiences are open in the evenings (Night Bazaar, Walking Streets). Where should travellers go in the daytime?
I mostly shop during the daytime! Kad Luang market is great. Wat Gate is a wonderful area to explore smaller artisan stores. Baan Tawai is the best for home decor but difficult to navigate as a first time visitor.
What’s your favourite tour that you offer?
All of my tours are bespoke so I never repeat the same day twice. I plan on offering multi-day small group tours starting this high season. I’m interested in having visitors explore the road less travelled, taking them to the highlands to visit hill tribe farmers and craftsmen.
Thanks so much for your time Marisa, and for sharing with us some shopping experiences! For more information or to book a tour, contact Marisa or visit her website: www.chiangmaiwithmarisa.com/tours