Thai Tribal Crafts Fair Trade: Locally Made Crafts Actually Made Locally

Thai Tribal Crafts Fair TradeAfter several years in Southeast Asia, I’ve seen thousands of examples of traditional Northern Thai Tribal clothing and accessories. In every market on any given night, you can find dozens of vendors all hawking what seems to be the same items from the same factory that is likely not at all local.

All while billing it as local handmade traditional Thai tribal crafts in the many local hill tribe styles. Everything from the ubiquitous over the shoulder bags, to the colorful, flowing patterned pants worn by just about everyone who ever visits the region, you can’t help but see it everywhere here.

By the time you’re halfway through any local night bazaar, you will have seen the same garments for sale half a dozen times all by vendors touting them as handmade and local. And you’ll see throngs of tourists buying it up either to wear and feel like a local, or to bring back as gifts to represent their exotic Thailand vacation.

They may look “local” and traditional, but it doesn’t take long to find that there are a lot of low-quality products that likely came off a factory floor in another country to be sold here at local markets to unwitting tourists.

Thai Tribal Crafts Fair TradeEven after living here several years, it is tough to find high quality, genuinely hand-crafted local crafts and clothing. It’s so difficult that I tend to groan when a visiting friend wants to explore the famous local night markets while on their short trip through Chiang Mai.

Initially I was tricked into visiting Thai Tribal Crafts Fair Trade for an event by a local fair trade coffee company. Once there, I decided to walk through the showroom and see what this large store had to offer, and was very pleasantly surprised.

Quality

The quality of the products here is immediately noticeable. While it’s difficult to show you in writing the differences between the products here and the usual stuff you find on the streets, it’s instantly clear when you visit, and can actually hold the products in your hands.

Everything from the feel and obvious quality of the garments and bags, to the vibrancy of the dyes used in these always-colorful crafts. Just walking into the showroom is like the world suddenly cranked up the saturation. All the vibrant colors!

As an example, the bags I looked at are clearly more durable than the usual stuff. I didn’t try, but I doubt I could tear the material on even a thin area. The cloth is clearly a higher grade than the t-shirt thin stuff they use for the mass-produced bags. On those, you can see light through the material and they do rip easily.

Thai Tribal Crafts Fair TradeThere is more to the quality of these products than just pretty patterns. They are made to last in the rough world of the Northern Thai mountains in addition to being so pretty.

Designs

The variety of products is also what stood out to me. From the nicest hammocks I’ve seen yet, traditional style clothing and bags of various sizes, to the things I typically don’t see at all the markets. Things like travel bags, packs, passport holders, and money belts.

Thai Tribal Crafts Fair TradeTalking with some of the staff there, I learned that they often commission designs from overseas designers who want their product made a certain way, just in the traditional construction and color schemes. It serves not only to make unique designs for smaller designers overseas, but still provides the extra work for the Tribes of Northern Thailand.

Fair Trade

And that is ultimately the main goal of Thai Tribal Crafts Fair Trade. To give the tribal people a way of earning a fair and decent living while also maintaining their traditional way of life. Their mission since 1973 is to provide a way for the tribal people to maintain their traditions while increasing their household income in a sustainable way, and keeping them out of the factory workplaces where much of the mass-produced stuff gets churned out.

Thai Tribal Crafts Fair TradeThai Tribal Crafts Fair Trade provides top-quality, environmentally responsible goods made by actual villagers from several tribes in the mountains of Northern Thailand.

Thapae Gate Store - Thai Tribal Crafts Fair TradeYou can easily find them from the maps on their website: the main showroom is just East of the Ping river in Chiang Mai, and they have a second location near Thapae Gate on the East side of the moat.

They work with several shops and cooperative partners which you can also find on their website.

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Laugh off Carpal Tunnel When Working Remotely

Take your ergonomically-sound office with you to the Cafe

TextBlade Keyboard by WayToolsDigital Nomad Ergonomics is an often overlooked subject that gets little press in between photos of laptops on beaches and hammocks strung betwixt a couple of palms for the blog images and book covers.

But spend all day working on your location irrelevant business, and your body can easily take a beating.

The great compromise of travel usually becomes one of how little you can get away with carrying and still do your work effectively. Not all work can even be done remotely due to the equipment needed or physical spaces required.

But even obvious remote jobs like coders and writers that seem simple enough to do from any laptop or tablet today is a struggle when you don’t have the ideal ergonomic space to physically be for many hours at a stretch.

I’ve gone over the digital nomad software tools I use in an earlier post, as well as equipment considerations and requirements for many styles of work in cafes and remote offices.

Now let’s cover some things to consider carefully as you plan to embark on your life from a backpack with regards to equipment and comfort considerations.

Size Really Does Matter

The biggest challenge you’ll face is the compromise between comfort and having the very best equipment, versus the ability to move around wherever you like and still work.

I’d love to have a giant iMac and a 2nd monitor, but those 27” screens ain’t gonna fit in my GR-2 anytime soon.

I’d love a sweet, race car-comfortable office chair and an electric-powered adjustable standing desk. But too big to carry on a plane, let alone a taxi.

If I go back to having all those comfy things, I won’t be able to move around as easily as I do.

Everything I own is pack-able, and I can set up my office wherever I want to work from each day. That requires some compromise on what I am willing to own.

All those nice things mentioned above aren’t just nice to have or look at, they actually help you work while they also help with your physical health.

Laptops are the Best of Things and the Worst of Things

Laptops are nice and portable, packing a ton of power into a tiny machine you can run a business or twelve from. But they are not designed for healthy long-term use. Most certainly not while on your lap.

Checking your email real quick? Not a big deal. 12 hour days building a website or busting out chapters of your book? Some part of your body will hate you.

The problem with laptops is that the screen is so close to the keyboard. It’s what makes them nice and small, of course. But if you are using the keyboard and need to see the screen at the same time for long periods, you have to compromise.

Either your head is bowed or hunched down, which is horrible for your neck, or your hands and wrists are up high at funky angles, which will lead to carpal tunnel syndrome if you power through the odd positioning long enough to bang out those last 200 blog posts.

The obvious solution becomes to separate the two somehow.

External Keyboards

Most of the long-time digital nomads I know end up with at least an external keyboard as a start. This way, your wrists are at an ideal ergonomic angle and place, and you then use something to raise or prop your laptop screen higher for at least closer to eye-level viewing.

There are a bunch of keyboards on the market now that are very capable for remote working, and still small enough to pack and carry in a laptop bag without much extra size and weight to worry about. Gone are the bulky, USB-cabled IBM-sized keyboards of days past.

Most any laptop can pair with a keyboard using it’s built-in Bluetooth (not the ear-thing that douchey guy from the 2000s in line with you at the store is yelling into). If your laptop isn’t Bluetooth capable, at worst you’ll have to use an empty USB port for a keyboard with a dongle.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Apple Wireless KeyboardThe Apple Wireless Keyboard is what I most often see in coffee shops, resorts, and co-working spaces. These are ideal as they are Bluetooth, about as thin as a well-built keyboard can practically get (it’s aluminum), and thus takes no extra room in a bag. You won’t go slipping it into your jacket pocket (pipe down, Scott-E-Vest owners. I’m talking about everyone else in the world), but it’s not a chore to add this to your kit.

An added benefit to this one is that they are almost silent while typing away in places where you don’t want to be that guy with the loudest keyboard in the room while everyone else is trying to focus.

Apple Wireless KeyboardIt works with a bluetooth-enabled PC, but the layout has some challenges like no Start key.

If you really need one, you can get one of their Magic Trackpads or a Mouse, but it seems most of the ones I see just use the touchpad on the laptop, or a Wacom tablet if they are designers or artists.

Microsoft Folding Keyboard

A new contender to this category is a well-thought out folding keyboard from the Microsoft. I have yet to get to try one of these in the wild, but just from what I saw on the press about it and the video on their own blog about it, the keyboard looks to solve a bunch of issues digital nomads face.

Certainly the issue of portability is done well with this one. I don’t know how well the split-keys will be received by heavy users. I think I could easily work with it, and look forward to trying one out.

Microsoft Folding Keyboard fits in any digital nomad's laptop bag.

The quick-switch pairing with two devices, so you can quickly switch back and forth between your laptop and your phone is a great feature, as well as the spill-resistance for those of us who must toil in the dangerous world of beverage houses. mmmmmm ( <— ironically, the m key on my keyboard just broke off as I was typing this description of keyboard issues).

Microsoft Folding Keyboard has a separated Keyboard split down the middle.As much as I’ve seen this shared around the community lately, a lot of digital nomads are looking forward to this Microsoft folder.

I have always liked their folding Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse for travel, and the two of these items wouldn’t take up any room in my bag at all.

WayTools TextBlade is the Best Keyboard in the History of Ever

This is the keyboard that made me actually want to put this guide together. My drooling over the Microsoft folder above got back-burnered when I first saw this amazing new keyboard from WayTools.

TextBlade Keyboard by WayToolsThe obvious advantage is the size. The keyboard is smaller than your phone, yet has full-sized key-spacing (actually similar to a Mac keyboard), but there is so much more in this fresh ground-up design.

Stacks in 2 small sections.

Stacks in 2 small sections.

The ergonomics of the angled keys are something I’ve longed for, as touch-typing on the ubiquitous keyboards is not a natural feel. Your wrists have to bend inward to take their home key spots. Microsoft solved this problem many years ago with their famous ergonomic keyboard way back, but it never got widely-accepted in the office.

So this angled layout is simply ideal for ergonomics. I’m sure when I get mine, it will take a little getting used to, for that as well as memorizing all the powerful key combinations, but I’m already re-learning touch-typing on an alternative keyboard layout (Colemak, since it’s the most ergonomic and sensible of all the keyboard layouts).

Type full-speed on any device.

Type full-speed on any device.

It’s getting great reviews from the press who’ve gotten their fingers on it so far, and it seems to really be pushing the tech boundaries with so many newly-invented concepts.

I haven’t been this excited for a product in a long time.

Laptop Stands

It’s one problem to solve with an external keyboard, but you still have to prop your laptop up to eye-level for best case scenario ergonomically. At home you can always find a box or a stack of books to set it on, but if you’re on the road, that becomes less doable.

Simple Stands

There are a variety of laptop stands all over Amazon. I have not used any that I care to test or that stand out in any way to me. Most of them have home or office use in mind, and are of little use to a traveler or mobile worker.

These will work in a pinch to at least give you a slight angle change and raise your laptop up for better cooling airflow, but not so much to get the screen to eye-level.

Stood Laptop Stand

Stood Stand At WorkEven more basic, if you want a decent ergonomic compromise over a flat laptop and don’t want to have to buy an extra keyboard, this beautifully simple stand elevates your screen somewhat, while tilting the keys to a more comfortable angle.

It is simple, beautiful wood, and packs as flat as anything else.The Stood Laptop Stand packed for Transport

Shido Stand

Shido Portable Standing DeskThis is a new concept stand designed by a fellow digital nomad here in Asia. It’s a concept based on using it as a standing desk to bring the laptop to that height while standing at a regular-height sitting desk.

Many co-working spaces and coffee shops only have seated desks, but standing desks are becoming more popular as more and more studies continue to come out about the hazards of sitting for most of our waking lives.

The Shido Stand doubles as a hard laptop caseThis health-conscious digital nomad was looking for a solution for himself, and came up with this nice design that also doubles as a hard laptop case. He’s trying to raise awareness of it over here on Thunderclap.

The Roost

Rear-With-Keyboard-WEB-BlackTheir Kickstarter was popular for good reason. This is a great product for the digital nomad who needs to elevate the screen with a lightweight, small, and sturdy device.

The Roost CollapsedThe Roost is sold out as of this writing, but will reveal a new Kickstarter for Version 2 shortly. They promise some better design changes, as well as compatibility with any laptop. I only know one person who has one of these, and he’s on a different island at the moment, so I can’t test it out. But I have heard nothing bad about them, and intend to grab a couple once they become available again.The Roost Unfolded

What works for You and Your Style of Work

There is something to fit everyone’s needs as tech keeps evolving. My ideal Digital Nomad ergonomics solution looks like it will be a TextBlade and a Roost getting added to my kit soon. But there are plenty of other ways to get your work done in any environment without destroying your neck or wrists in the process.

What type of tools would you like to know more about or suggest for a digital nomad whose desk space may change week to week?

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Colorful Chiang Mai Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in Thailand

Cherry blossom seasons are famous around the world in places like Japan and Washington D.C. Here in Northern Thailand, there is an all too brief blooming season in the mountains north of Chiang Mai in December and January.

We were told the best time to view will occur during about a single week sometime in January. Mother Nature doesn’t work by our calendar, so the exactly best time to go varies each year.

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom at Khun Chang Khian.

Cherry Blossoms in full bloom at Khun Chang Khian.

A few fellow bloggers were trying to keep an ear out for the peak viewing time, so we could all take a trip up to the mountains and see these gorgeous flowered trees. Once I saw locals posting about their own trips, I knew we had to act fast to see them ourselves.

Northern Thailand’s Sakura Season

The short-lived pink and white flowers are called Sakura in Japan, but the variety here in Thailand is the Wild Himalayan Cherry (Prunus Cerasoides for my ancient Roman readers) and locally known as “Tiger Queen” flowers (นางพญาเสือโคร่ง naang phá-yaa sǔea-khrông in Thai).

White Cherry Blossoms.

White Cherry Blossoms.

Pink Cherry Blossoms dominate the region.

Pink Cherry Blossoms dominate the region.

The closest place to Chiang Mai to see them is to go to Khun Chang Khian. About an hour drive up the mountain.

How to Get There

You’ll just take Huay Kaew Road as though going to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, and keep going. You’ll go past the temple as well as the Phuping Palace further up Doi Suthep mountain.

When you reach the arch over the road off to the left to go to the Hmong Village of Doi Pui, you’ll take the single lane road to the right to go about another 3kms and end up at Khun Chang Khian.

My regular Taxi Driver didn’t want to take us there, as he said “the road is very small.” And it is. Once past the Hmong Village, it turns to a single lane, and traffic was very heavy. Low-profile vehicles were getting stuck, but since it’s Thailand, everyone helped to get them going again. I was glad we went with a group and didn’t ride the scooter up, as the road was steep most of the way.

Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

We just grabbed a Songtaew (the ubiquitous red taxi trucks of Chiang Mai) headed in that direction. Once I found a driver willing to take the five of us all the way up there and back, we ended up paying ฿1,500 total (about $45US). I’ve seen rates anywhere between ฿1200-2000 for the day, which isn’t too bad. Our driver of course stayed up there with us all day, and we were glad to leave the driving to someone else on that road.

Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

When to Go

We were there in the middle of the week, and there were hundreds of people up there. Locals said it is insane on weekends in January.

Mid-week Crowds at Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

Crowded roads to Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

It wasn’t too much cooler up there than in town, but you might want a way to keep warm if you have a jacket or scarf handy.

Crowds at Cherry Blossoms in Northern Thailand

Khun Chang Khian also has a coffee plantation and you can see coffee in the numerous stages of preparation and growing when you aren’t looking at all the pretty cherry blossoms. There’s a small cafe up there (I presume serving locally-grown coffee), as well as numerous hilltribe locals selling food. We had some fantastic sai-ua (Northern Thai Sausage) and dark purple sweet potatoes from a vendor a few bends before the parking area, and there were buckets of strawberries for sale from many vendors, and even an ice-cream sidecar guy.

Coffee Plantation at Khun Chang Khian

Other Resources

You can get more information on Maria’s trip report here on her FieryTree.com blog, and I’ll update this post with the other travel blogger’s posts about it when they are ready.

If you’re in town now, you’d better hurry if you want to see this! They will be gone very soon, and you’ll have to wait until next year to see it!

GettingStamped and FieryTree

GettingStamped and FieryTree

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