Antiquing in Bangkok
Dear Diva Readers,
CF Michaels to guest blog! Carla’s guest blog proves the New York Times commentary correct, “To travel across Bangkok is to see several worlds at once…infused with the Thai village traditions of hospitality and graciousness.”his August for summer holiday I’m leaving Europe behind and heading to Asia! And since I was traveling abroad in Thailand I sought out advice from one of the most savvy people I know asking Carla Stopler CEO of the E-commerce boutique
Guest Blog – Antiquing in Bangkok by CF Michaels E Boutique
I’m always at risk of wandering madly off topic when I first attempt to set the stage and sum up the vibe of living in Southeast Asia. The cultural landscape here colors everything you do in such a distinct way that I always feel compelled – it almost seems essential. Fortunately for all of us I have no problem staying on point when the point is shopping, and the scene here is like no other. It stands to reason that ancient cultures have a lot of interesting things hanging around, and from high-end showrooms to street markets to back-alley shops and village crossroads, Thailand is rich with treasures and curiosities.
Antique and vintage venues are peppered throughout this urban sprawl. But without doubt the most internationally recognized shopping spot in Bangkok, with the largest mix of new, vintage, antique and everything including the sink, is the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
By most accounts this market encompasses nearly 35 acres, with 27 sections and 15,000+ vendors selling items in roughly 11 categories. You can find everything from framed formaldehyde insects to jewelry to crystal chandeliers, wrapping paper to vintage clothes, aromatherapy and gongs, dishes and glasses and cutlery to Buddhas and wooden boats, doorknobs and oil paintings to baskets and antique chests, to, well, live pythons. To say it’s an assault on the senses is selling it short. More importantly, it’s a marvelous place to see a true cross-section of daily Thai culture – a must for the global shopping bucket list.
(Design industry icons Vicente Wolf and John Robshaw are fans – I’m always on the lookout.)
Shopper’s Tip: Chatuchuk is officially open on Saturdays and Sundays, but most shops in the market are open for business by 10 – 11:00am on Fridays. You’ll have about 50% less crowd to navigate through. Additionally, you can find gems hidden in nooks and crannies on most any soi surrounding the market (“soi” is the Thai word for “street”).
A significant amount of the antique furniture you find on the market in Bangkok actually comes from 18th-19th century China, as well as Myanmar (Burma), Tibet and occasionally India. What they do brilliantly here is repurposing – the piece as a whole may be relatively new construction, but most if not all of the typically teak parts are old.
Teak has been a protected national resource in Thailand for about 25 years and harvesting is prohibited. Trees that produce the resin used to make lacquer are also indigenous to SE Asia, so you see it widely used in the refinishing process.
But here’s an important note to keep in mind when antiquing in Thailand: This is a massive international tourist market, and coupled with the on-going, ever-growing interest in the traditional styles and cultural and spiritual symbols of the Far East, it’s also the land of extraordinary reproductions in both quantity and quality. Authenticity can be a tricky area.
An antiques dealer here shared with me a tip that made identifying a particular piece of furniture seem far less intimidating. He said if you have a table made from a very large, single slab of wood, no visible joiners, common sense tells us it had to have been cut from a very large tree. And we of course know, the larger the tree, the older the tree. I filed that one away…
All that said, legitimate pieces are plentiful here, but if you’re a stickler for provenance and pedigree, if you don’t speak the language, and if you’re not an expert in identifying the real deal, your best bet is to shop the higher-end showrooms where you can communicate with informed dealers.
CF Michael’s Bangkok Antiquing Recommendations include:
River City Antiques and Auction House
These three resources in particular are multi-story complexes housing vendors specializing in Southeast Asian antiquities and Asian art, sculpture, furniture, porcelains and ceramics, jewelry, textiles, carpets and more. In addition to their reserve of collectibles, a couple fun notes:
OP Place happens to hold court next door to the uber luxurious Mandarin Oriental, Thailand’s oldest hotel, which happens to be home to the most luscious cocktail in the world, the Thai Noon – having one on the riverside terrace is a cool way to beat the Thai heat!
The Mandarin and OP Place, as well as River City Antiques, are also perched on the edge of the Chao Praya River and can be accessed by boat, taking the whole shopping experience up a notch.
And Silom Galleria shares the street with various antique and collectibles shops and other shopping stops, as well as numerous custom tailors and reams of Thai silk (here I could rapidly spiral off topic).
Another trusted resource showcasing a beautifully curated collection of antique Tibetan and Chinese furniture, art and décor is Amantee. Formerly located outside the city in traditional Thai-style houses surrounded by a lush Zen garden, their new location sits in Bangkok proper. A couple things are particularly lovely about Amantee: 1) the owner, who loves to talk antiques and chat about origin and history, 2) its French café and bakery – nothing like a fresh baguette and fine wine to elevate a shopping day.
BIG thanks to The Antiques Diva for the opportunity to share a small snapshot of our current side of the globe! You can find more design and travel, where to follow us, and our E-commerce boutique at www.cfmichaels.com. All images CFMichaels.
Pop kan mai – See You Later!
Carla @ CF Michaels for The Antiques Diva & Co