Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Don't Drop The Soap (It's Fragile)

A bar of soap, a razor knife and a steady hand = one beautiful flower
On your first trip to Thailand you probably saw a stand or shop somewhere along the way selling what looked like delicate flowers made maybe of wax - but if you stopped to look at them you discovered that while they were delicate, they were carved from a single bar of soap.  If you've yet to make a visit there you still have these ahead of you.  You'll find better quality ones ranging in price roughly between 100Bt and 300Bt each.

There are a couple of shops that have awards from O.T.O.P. on display, and those tend to be the more carefully done - and more realistic looking - examples of the craft.  OTOP stands for "One Tambon (province) One Product", and is the name for an organization that makes an attempt at keeping a higher standard of quality for products on sale there.  Naturally, my guess is it's catch as catch can, but my experience has been better quality and a fair price at places displaying what appears to be an official OTOP sign or award.

The little hut in the lobby of the Asia Hotel is home to the best soap craftspeople I've found so far, and usually has a few hundred to select from.  If someone knows of another spot they like, please leave word in the comments section.  It's a family operation, and the father is the prime artisan, but others do nice work, too.   The Asia is joined by a walkway to the Ratchathewi BTS station, so it's easy to get to. The shop is open during the daytime only. Normally they don't want photos taken, but after a number of visits over the years the owner remembers me and was fine with a bit of publicity here.

It must be tedious work, and any fragile medium is prone to mistakes that you can't call for a "do over" on, but a steady hand and some concentration pay off in this skill.

The shop house within the Asia Hotel lobby
The soap of choice is Lux. You can see a packaged bar in the photo up top today, as well as a view of the work in progress and a couple of finished examples in their protective plastic display orbs.  You'll see these at Jatujak Market and other crafts areas, but for a wide selection of quality pieces I recommend the shop at the Asia.  Your selections are wrapped in bubble wrap and slipped into faux velvet bags that are light and easy enough to carry in your carry-on bag.  I've never tried risking one to the rough handling checked baggage gets, but it might work.

If you're in the area, drop in and check out their selection. I think you'll be pleased.

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