Northern Thailand’s current vogue stems from a serious boom in luxury hotels. In Chiang Mai there’s the new Chedi and Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi as well as that old stalwart, the still-excellent Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai. Between this triumvirate and the recently opened Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, located four hours northeast of the city near Chiang Rai, lies the perfect shopping itinerary. While the best stores—and we’re talking contemporary boutiques, not just antiquated kitsch houses—are in Chiang Mai, don’t pass up the backcountry gems of the Golden Triangle area. The boldest shoppers may even want to slip over the border into Tachilek, Myanmar (a 45-minute drive from the Four Seasons Tented Camp), where the local market overflows with tacky Chinese-produced objects and the very occasional precious textile from deep within the Golden Triangle. That’s the appeal of the whole region: the mix of high and low, ranging from exceptional antiques to wildly colorful, inexpensive home goods, hill-tribe silver, hand-spun silks, ceramics, and teak colonial furniture.
Nakornping Night Bazaar on Changlan Road is one of those teeming Asian flea markets that you simply must visit. Alley after alley offers Thai silk pajamas and knockoff DVDs. But squirreled away on the second floor of the main covered market you’ll find shops specializing in Asian antiques (and spot-on reproductions). For the best pieces from across the continent, check out Oriental Spirit (No. 29; 66-53/273-919), Under the Bô (No. 22-23, 56-57; 66-53/818-831; antique-arts-asia.com), Chilli Antiques (No. 25-26; 66-53/818-475), and Chilli Arts (No. 28; 66-53/818-448).
Living Space (6/9-10 Nimman- haemin Rd., T. Suthep, A. Muang; 66-53/215-166; livingspacedesigns.com) combines the taste of Jennifer Dyson, its Anglo French founder-designer, with the region’s artisan culture. The collection of lacquerware, textiles, and ceramics combines a modern Asian simplicity of bold, pared-back forms and a vibrant color palette. Highlights include vases in sunflower yellow, lime green, or hibiscus orange (from $5); custom-designed nappa leather, eel, and snake items; and a two-tone monk’s bag ($175).
For warehouse-style antique hunting seek out Iyara Art (35/4 Moo 3 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd.; 66-53/339-450) and Pon Art (35/3 Moo 3 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd.; 66-53/338-361). Iyara Art is more organized, displaying good-quality Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian furniture in an ill-lit bi-level building. This is where the U.S. embassy brings its visitors. Meanwhile, Pon Art is two wooden houses constructed around a moss-covered courtyard and packed with carved teak panels salvaged from temples, planter chairs, and stone Buddhist sculptures. Cupboards hold smaller "carry-on" artifacts like oxidized silver jewelry and antique ceramics.
The cases inside Sipsong Panna (6/19 Nimmanhaemin Rd., T. Suthep, A. Muang; 66-53/216-096; sipsong panna.com) feature antique jewels from the Golden Triangle’s hill tribes. The pieces have an attractive primitive quality. There’s also modern silver and unusual items such as opium weights and pipes.
Jolie Femme (8/3 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd.; 66-53/247-222; joliefemme.com) sells furnishing silks in every conceivable color and pattern ($30-$80 a meter). Across the road Huanfai Dai-Ngam (6/5 Moo 2 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd.; 66-53/249- 442; huanfaidaingam.com) offers cottons handwoven by locals who apply dyes culled from trees and herbs ($8-$31 a meter). For more conspicuously ethnic textiles created by the Pwo Karen tribe—one of the country’s smallest minorities—go to Sop Moei Arts (9 Chareonrajd Rd., Watgate, Muang; 66-53/262-419; sopmoeiarts.com). The shop features silk bedspreads (from $500), cushions (from $40), and place mats ($10).
Ginger (199 Moonmuang Rd., T. Sriphum, A. Muang; 66-53/ 418-263; 66-53/419-014) is Chiang Mai’s NoLIta moment. The store is crammed with gorgeous embroidered caftans, dresses, and skirts ($70-$200) in light cottons, silks, and linens conceived by the Danish owner-designer. Plus you’ll find home goods and gifts like picture frames, notepaper, and jewelry. Alternatively, stop by The Gallery (25, 27, and 29 Charernras Rd.; 66-53/248-601): It’s great for presents, with its teak boxes (from $10) done in the Lanna style (that of the pre-19th- century Thai kingdom), silk scarves ($10-$215), and silver (from $90), all made in Chiang Mai.
Somluk Pantiboon, possibly Thailand’s greatest living ceramist, works from his Chiang Rai studio, which has an adjacent shop, Doy Din Dang Pottery (49 Moo 6, Tambon Nanglae; 66-53/ 705-291; dddpottery.com). Hidden on a paddy field-lined road that’s a ten-minute drive from Chiang Rai Airport (stop by if you’re en route to the Four Seasons Tented Camp), this is where Pantiboon crafts his pieces in both the region’s long-standing coil technique and wheel-throwing, using natural ash glazes made from wood, fallen leaves, rice stalks, and bamboo. The kiln-fired stoneware is contemporary; there’s a minimalist quality to the teapots (from $20), vases (from $13), and noodle bowls (from $5) in shades of cream, yellow, and blue.
Mae Fah Luang Garden is a 14-acre hillside elaborately planted with tropical flowers in an area between Chiang Mai (a three-hour drive) and Chiang Rai (a one-hour drive) that was formerly overrun with opium. The garden, established by Princess Srinagarindra, the late mother of the present king, is part of a nonprofit foundation started in 1988 that gives people in the region an alternative livelihood to drugs. Next to the garden’s entrance is Doi Tung (66-53/7670-1517; doi tung.org), a mixed handicrafts store that features creations by the Golden Triangle’s hill-tribe women, among them the Tai Yai, Akha, and Lahu. Objects for sale include Lanna-style celadon ceramics, handwoven rugs, and saa (mulberry) paper products. Plates, vases, and cushions are fashioned from cotton, silk, hemp, jute, and vetiver grass that has been harvested from the surrounding areas. The quality is excellent, the location stupendous, and the mission laudable.