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Thursday, October 04, 2007


Secret silk village

If you followed the antics of this year's APEC conference in Sydney you might have noticed that the world leaders attending gathered together at the Opera House wearing their Drizabone jackets. In 2003, APEC was held in Thailand and the leaders were presented with Thai silk clothing. Last week a friend took me to Surin in north-east Thailand for a few days. This gave me the opportunity to visit Ban Tha Sawang where the fine silk was woven.

I was met by a young guy who is a student of traditional Thai art. He showed me around some of the looms and explained the weaving process.
The finest silk is dyed using only natural dyes sourced from materials such as those in this picture.

The actual weaving of such fine and intricate garments is performed on a four-person loom by one weaver and three others who arrange strands above and below the loom to create the patterns. In these days of computers it is amazing to consider that this process produces only a five centimetre length of cloth each day. Obviously this process is expensive but then Thai villagers do not earn the sort of wages that we in the west are accustomed to. Garments presented to the world leaders were each valued at $US2,200.

This is only one end of the spectrum. The village also produces everyday silks that still look beautiful at a fraction of the price. Prices of goods sold in village stalls are extremely reasonable.

Surin is not often visited by western tourists. To me this is a pity and also a blessing. Because of the lack of tourists the people of the whole of the Isaan area are delightfully natural. To me, Isaan is the real Thailand. But don't tell anyone. Just quietly come up here, enjoy the hospitality and pick up some silk bargains.

PS. The third picture is right-way-up. The woman is working at a lower level underneath the loom.

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More photos from the silk village can now be seen on my flickr page by clicking the link on the sidebar.
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