Thailand Week Two I: Nimman, Chiang Mai and an Introduction to Studio Naenna

After Mae Wang, we came back to Chiang Mai for a week. This time we stayed in Nimman, an area with lots of young people (it’s next to the Chiang Mai University), digital nomads and a mix of Thai and foreigners, who live there all year round.

We loved Nimman, for it’s location, coffeeshops and restaurants. There are also many cool AirBnBs in that area, some of them even have a pool and gym! I would definitely recommend staying in this area if you are staying in Chiang Mai for a while. 

Here is a list of our favourite spots in Nimman:

Ristr8to Lab and Ristr8to Specialist Coffee (but we prefer the Lab one): probably one of the best coffees I’ve had in South East Asia. On the weekends they also have cakes, pastries and waffles.

Italics: If you are craving pasta, pizza or western food in general this is the place to go. Really friendly staff too. 

Accha Indian Cuisine: Really nice outdoor area, great food - try go with friends so you can try many different dishes.

Rustic and Blue - The Farm Shop: Great breakfast, smoothies and juices. Amazing tea selection. Lots of healthy lunch / dinner options (vegetarian and vegan friendly).

Memorize Brownie: A shop full of different types of brownies. Not going to say more. 

The Salad Concept: Another healthy option, you can create your own salad, wrap or omelette. 

Half day trips / things to do:

Grand Canyon Chiang Mai: I’d really suggest going to the Grand Canyon for a half-day trip. You can swim, rent a kayak and go around, cliff jump or just lounge on an inner tube. It’s not that big but we really enjoyed it. There is also a cafe / restaurant in case you get hungry, but we just went in the morning and returned to Nimman for lunch. There weren’t that many people when we arrived, and when we cliff jumped it was actually only us two - we had the whole canyon to ourselves! More people started arriving when we were leaving, so it depends on what you want, if you go in the morning it will probably be quieter.  Definitely jump off a cliff! I was quite scared in the beginning but ended up jumping from 7 meters and it was great - such an adrenaline rush. There is also a water park right next to the Canyon, with a separate entrance (and fee) we didn’t go there, but we would like to go in the future.

Basil cookery school:

We did the Evening Thai Cooking Course at Basil cookery and loved it. We were picked up from our accommodation by Dew who was so happy and welcoming. While he drove around to pick up more people, we were given a piece of paper and we were told to select 6 dishes that we would like to cook that evening. (There are six categories with three dishes for each one and you choose one dish from all the categories.)  My friend and I chose different ones because we wanted to try as much food as possible.

Here is what we chose:

Pad Thai / Stir Fried Thick noodle with soy sauce

Green curry / Pha-nang Curry

Chicken in Coconut Milk soup / Hot and Sour Prawn soup

Stir Fried Mined Pork with Holy Basil / Fried cashew Nut with Chicken

Papaya Salad / Fried Spring Rolls

Deep fried Banana / Sweet sticky rice with Mango

After picking up the rest of the group (we were 6 people) we headed to the local food market. Dew talked us through all the key ingredients that are used in Thai cuisine. Thai seasoning, spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits. After half an hour, we arrived at the cooking school. On arrival we were offered water, tea and coffee before making our way to the kitchen which had been prepared for us. Our instructor was funny, engaging and knowledgable. Even though we were all cooking different dishes he was keeping an eye on all of us, giving advice and helping us adjust the recipe in order to suit our individual tastebuds. The kitchen staff was amazing cleaning up everything between each course. At the end, they also gave us a cookbook with all the recipes so that we can replicate them at home. We loved the whole experience, the food was great and we would definitely recommend it!

Even though I wanted to add all of my second week experiences in one post I realised there is just too much information… So this post will only have a short introduction to Studio Naenna, while the next one will have more about the weaving and indigo workshops I did there, as well as my trip to the Highland People Discovery Museum. 

Studio Naenna

Based close to the Doi Suthep mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Studio Naenna specialises in silk and cotton fabrics using traditional Thai techniques and patterns. Their handwoven and sometimes naturally dyed textiles honour the heritage craft of the region. One of the studio’s aims is to empower the weavers who make these unique textiles. 

Patricia Cheesman is the founder of the studio. She studied ceramics and painting in the UK before coming to Asia in 1973 with her husband. In the early 70’s she was teaching pottery as part of a United Nations project in Laos. During the 1975 Lao Revolution, villagers fled to the capital city (Vientiane) and many took their heritage textiles with them. This is how Patricia started her textile research, by meeting with the villagers, seeing their textiles, asking questions and learning more and more each day. Her research led her to Chiang Mai and now it’s her home. Today, she is an acknowledged textile expert who has written books and is also a lecturer at Chiang Mai University. 

In 1986, Patricia founded the Weavers for the Environment group. After years of doing textile research in different villages of Laos and Thailand she got to know a lot of women that were weaving. With her programme she aimed to connect these weavers. She therefore arranged an exchange programme with weavers in the Northeast and North of Thailand. Her aim was to help the different women exchange dyeing and weaving skills / knowledge.

In 1988, Patricia began Studio Naenna to help keep the traditional textile techniques alive. At their two shops, one in Nimman and the main gallery in Chang Kien they sell textiles, clothes and decorative pieces. Studio Naenna provides all the equipment and production orders while advising the weavers about sustainability. In 2001, Patricia’s daughter Lamorna became the manager of Studio Naenna. Having studied fashion and pattern cutting she started designing more clothes for the store. 

When I started my textile workshop research, Studio Naenna was the first place I came across that offered workshops. They run dyeing and weaving workshops. I emailed Lamorna and we ended up arranging both these workshops for me. 

It was an amazing experience which made me seriously think about starting my own studio and produce my own eco-friendly textiles from Greece. 

Most of all I loved how the staff was like a family and how they all worked together, helping each other out, even though it was clear they all specialised in different things. 

At the studio they use the Ikat (or Mat Mi in Thai, which directly translates to “tying noodles”) technique. Ikat is a dyeing technique used to create patterns while weaving. Before you dye the yarn (while it’s still a skein) you tie specific parts of the yarn in order to make it resist the dye you later put it in. After dyeing, when you weave the pattern appears on the textile. (I explain more about this technique here.) 

I also liked how I could see the whole process of making a product. I saw them dyeing the silk or cotton thread and sending it to the village. There, it would either be used to weave straight away or would be tied for the Ikat technique and then sent back to the studio for more dyeing. 

One of the ladies would weave every morning, using a very special and time consuming technique, using many colours and her fingers in order to create all the different patterns. It takes her six months to finish the whole thing, which then gets cut and makes four wall hangings. I also saw finished woven textiles being delivered from the village. They were washed and ironed to make sure the dyes don’t bleed, and then taken in the studio to be cut and sewn into bags, clothes or homeware. Everything is transparent here, the whole process, and that is what makes this studio so unique.

More about the two workshops will be in a post soon as well as my trip to the Highland People Discovery Museum. 

xxx Christiana 

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