If you’ve visited Thailand before you’ll already know how creative the local people are. Artisans in different regions of the country produce an array of unique hand-made products which showcase the traditions of that particular area. From the delicate mutmee silk of north-east Thailand to the intricate Benjarong gilded porcelain of Samut Sakhon, these products make a wonderful souvenir for yourself or loved ones back home. They are also a great way to support Thailand’s local communities. Villages and community collectives throughout Thailand are being helped with this by the government-supported OTOP program.
What is OTOP?
OTOP is short for ‘One Tambon One Product’. The project supports community co-operatives in tambons (sub-districts) and villages throughout Thailand. Inspired by Japan’s One Village One Product (OVOP) program, OTOP was introduced by the Thai government in the early 2000s with the aim of increasing village incomes and preserving local wisdom. Being part of the OTOP scheme guarantees the product is hand-made and produced locally in one of the participating OTOP communities.
Tambon, Amphoe & Changwat
In Thailand, a tambon is a sub-district. The next step up is amphoe (district) and then changwat (province ). A changwat is the equivalent of a county in the UK or Ireland.
Hand-made products have traditionally been produced in rural Thai communities as a way to supplement income. Sometimes the goods are used by the individual and sometimes they are sold or exchanged for other goods within the local community. The OTOP program is a practical extension of this existing framework with added support from the government. This support enables local producers to access advice on packaging and marketing to bring the hand-made products to the attention of a wider audience.
The OTOP scheme covers a broad range of products including clothing, food, and handicrafts. Here are some of the speciality local products to look out for when you are shopping for souvenirs on your travels around Thailand.
Amongst the OTOP products from Central Thailand, handicrafts and pottery are popular. Perhaps the most famous hand-made product from this region is the beautiful gilded Benjarong porcelain which has a strong association with Samut Sakhon and the village of Ban Don Kai Dee.
East Coast Thailand
Thailand’s east coast is home to the province of Chanthaburi which is nicknamed the ‘Orchard of Thailand’ because of the diverse amount of fruits that are grown here. Dried fruits are one of this region’s most popular OTOP products. Other items to look out for include rattan baskets and the palm leaf hats known as ngop nam chiao from Ban Nam Chiao in Trat.
North Thailand is renowned for its handicrafts and is an excellent place to do your souvenir shopping. OTOP products to look out for include textiles, wood carvings and ceramics. This area of Thailand is also a good location for silver jewellery and textiles made by hill-tribe communities. The best two locations to find products are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but you will also find unique local products in small communities across the north such as Ban Na Ton Chan in Sukhothai which is famous for their weaving and textiles. Nan is another good location for textiles and over in Phrae province, this area of Thailand is renowned for the denim-style mo hom fabric.
If you’re travelling to the Isaan region of North-East Thailand look for OTOP products featuring locally produced Thai silk and cotton.
The landscape of southern Thailand features rubber and coconut plantations so it’s no surprise that coconut features prominently in the OTOP products from Ko Samui and other parts of this region. From coconut soaps to coconut candy, it’s incredible to see how many creative products come from the humble coconut. Look too for colourful batik fabrics from Krabi and hand-woven krajude (wicker-style) baskets from Phatthalung.
Where to buy OTOP products
You can find OTOP outlets in most of Thailand’s provinces. Some of the most convenient stores are located at airports including Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Chiang Mai and Phuket. Small OTOP concession counters are also located at a number of department stores and shopping malls around Thailand.
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