When our TCH Collection Founder and Jewelry Designer Toma Clark Haines was a child, she had a fantasy to travel to faraway places. She would sit for hours flipping through the pages of her father's National Geographic magazines. Toma not only developed her wanderlust in those moments snuggled in a chair with her dad, but she broadened her imagination seeing how other people lived, studying what their world looked like and what they wore. Her first memory of jewelry was from a page in the publication, studying the particulars of a tribe located not far outside of Chiang Mai, near the northern border where Thailand meets modern day Myanmar. They were called the Long Neck Susans.
“I still remember the Kayan people, that tribe in Burma with elongated necks stacked high with necklace after necklace...”
Today, Toma has become a world traveler and she’s visited that tribe, spending time with the very people who sparked her desire to create jewelry. In fact, the entire region of the Golden Triangle has garnered Toma’s interest with its range of local tribes, sensational mountain views, numerous ancient sites, and a "chill” vibe. As the unofficial capital of the region, Chiang Mai provides the perfect combination of exploration + inspiration + relaxation. Read our travel tips below, and learn why it remains today one of Toma's favorite getaways.
SHOP & DESIGN
The San Kampaeng District (Hwy 106) has various second names, like Handicraft Highway and Silk Village. Located just 8 miles east of Chiang Mai's city center, this area boasts a great number of silk and umbrella factories, which means there are samples to shop everywhere you turn. It is said that the silk sold here is considered by some to be the best in the world, because its coarse weave can withstand color dye better than any other.
Should home decor be more up your alley, this shopping district also offers a broad variety of Caledon ceramics, which is made with a technique that is at least 600 years old. Quite impressive!
Local Tip ...
You'll find most vendors don't speak much English, but they do know the word “discount.” Of course, be reasonable, but with that said, negotiating is simply part of the culture. No price is truly set, so feel free to ask for a discount when shopping the gorgeous goods on display.
What is the next best thing to traveling to exotic locations? Reading about them! Chiang Mai Style by Joe Cummings is a fantastic coffee table book that will transport you from your living room to this famous centuries-old walled city in northern Thailand. Filled with pages upon pages of stunning photographs depicting everything from hill-tribe cultures to the traditional Lanna style, this book will take your mind on a mini-vacation.
Thailand also boasts a variety of unbelievably decadent resorts that create some of the most relaxing spa settings in the world. For a fun dose of this luxury, pick up the book Thailand's Luxury Spas: Pampering Yourself in Paradise by Chami Jotisalikorn, which is packed with beautiful imagery and engaging text of Thai message meditation, calming beauty treatments, and herbal medicines practiced at various spas around Thailand.
EAT & DRINK
When diving into a new culture's culinary style, there's no better way to experience it than to make it. For this reason, taking the cooking class offered at the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai is a must. Besides learning from award winning chefs in the renowned Rim Tai Kitchen, the class also includes a local market trip, a tour of their organic vegetable garden, an evening excursion for 2 people to explore local street food, and an authentic rice-planting activity.
For the restaurant experience, there are 2 options that Toma highly recommends. One is GINGER & Kafe at The House, which has a lovely, rustic vibe and houses not only a talented kitchen staff, but also a delightful side-store filled with clothing, accessories and fun gifting ideas.
Our second suggestion is David’s Kitchen, and don't let its upscale surroundings fool you - it's a warm, family-run establishment with the friendliest staff. Serving up a menu of modern French concepts with a Thai twist, the ingredients are uber fresh and sourced from around the world.
Don't miss out on a bowl of khao soi, which are noodles soaked in a strong curry broth and topped with some delightfully contrasting crispy noodles. It's quite possibly the most famous dish of northern Thailand.
BEAUTY & FASHION
Circling back to the idea of pampering, it would be a mistake to not mention a spa or two when in Thailand, and here at TCH Collection, we are very much into the idea of "treat yourself." Pay the Anantara a visit for the aromatic sauna, a terrace bathtub experience, or a gorgeous view from their riverside pool. Another option is Chi, The Spa at the Shangri la, which offers a variety of Asian healing techniques. Try one of their flower-based treatments in a private suite situated near their tranquil lotus pond for the ultimate "treat yourself" moment.
To shop local fashion trends, stop by Studio Naenna's boutique where you'll find locally woven cotton and silk garments printed with traditional Thai motifs. Produced in the foothills just outside of city center, this non-profit has cultivated local weaving and natural dying techniques for nearly 30 years. Not only is there an impressive story behind each garment, but whatever you pick up will most certainly become a statement piece in your wardrobe!
To kick off the art activities, your first stop should be MAIIAM. This Contemporary Art Museum provides bountiful insights into local design and culture with exhibitions such as "Diaspora," which focuses on migration patterns in Southeast Asia. But like most museums, it is not always everyone's cup of tea. Good news for tourists in Chiang Mai - simply exploring the city's ever-present ancient culture around you will also offer ample insight during your visit.
And according to Toma, the best art is living art. Visiting the 14th century temple Wat Phra Singh or finding the white elephant at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep provides plenty of design inspiration, especially when you take into consideration that most Asian antiques you find for sale today come from temples.
We're really feeling the warm golden-orange tones juxtaposed the beautiful blue hues - two colors that are bountiful in this region. In keeping with the tiered theme found in the architectural style of the temples, these lovely Turquoise and Spessatite chandelier earrings from our Byzantine collection will perfectly accessorize any outfit on a trip to Chiang Mai.