I discovered Benjarong on a rain-streaked day in Thailand. Work took me to the province of Samut Sakhon and it turned out to be “the” place to learn the art or shop for authentic Benjarong. Being a traditional handicrafts fan, I was on an authentic Benjarong hunt for quite a few years and it was by sheer luck, that I ended up at the right place. A traditional form of Thai porcelain, Benjarong derives its name from Bali and Sanskrit words Benja and Rong, which mean “Five Colors”. This unique style of multi-colored enamels on a white porcelain base originated from the Ming dynasty of China and in the olden days, Benjarong porcelain was made only for the aristocrats and royal households. Though, Benjarong means five colours, in reality, many different shades are used to decorate these porcelain items, and bright hues are traditionally preferred. Thus, it is one of the most colorful and ornate Thai handicrafts and looks stunning on cups, plates, urns, and vases.
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The gilt details of Benjarong
Made from bone china, the charm of Benjarong lies not only in its high-quality porcelain but also in fine hand-painted intricate designs. Delicate designs are painted on the surface of the item, which is then glazed to give a special glowing finish. The earliest samples of Benjarong show the use of a limited number of colours, until the evolution of a new style known as “Lai Nam Thong” which used gold as trimmings. This became very popular and during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1851), Lai Nam Thong porcelain with gorgeous gold accents was sold at outrageous prices. They quickly became a collector‘s item, and today, original Benjarong wares can be seen displayed at the Thai National Museum in Bangkok.
The traditional motifs
Original Benjarong porcelain can be easily distinguished by its distinctive features. The patterns are usually symmetrically perfect geometric designs, and they are densely painted in very intricate details. Delicacy is the keyword and they are dazzling because of the lavish use of gold. Beautifully enameled with relief glaze, Benjarong patterns include traditional Thai motifs. Flowers, plants, vines, and flame designs are very popular along with Thai cultural symbols such as the Garuda (the half-man half-bird mount of the god Vishnu and a symbol of Thai royalty), the emblem of the Thai kings.
This is an expensive souvenir
Though, this “once exclusively for aristocrats” handicraft is nowadays available at many emporiums in Thailand, Benjarong remains an expensive buy. The government-run handicrafts store Narayanaphand, is known to have a good collection of Benjarong items for sale and many of them come with a hardy travel case. The best place to buy Benjarong, however, is Samut Sakhon’s Ban Don Kai Dee. Known as the Benjarong village, Ban Don Kai Dee is now a tourist and culture lovers spot. This little village has a history that is as unique as its specialty handicraft and it all started thirty years ago, when the local ceramic factory closed down leaving the workers jobless.
Benjarong receives royal support
The spunky unemployed artists, however, instead of looking for other occupations, set up their cottage industry of Benjarong porcelain. They struggled as individual producers for many years, until in 2010, the villagers got together and formed a handicraft group to establish the Don Kai Dee Benjarong village. By that time, the government also launched several programmes to support local cottage industries and the Benjarong makers found themselves getting busier every day. This special porcelain slowly started gaining international notice and it reached its peak when the Thai Queen dedicated her commitment to supporting this royal pottery. The village won several national awards and after that, there was no looking back.
Blue-green inspired by the sea
The unique design of Ban Don Kai Dee‘s Benjarong is called Sakharabenjayamanee. Meaning the Five-coloured Gemstones of Nakhon City, the design is influenced by the province‘s historical background. Being a coastal fishing province, Samut Sakhon is deeply connected with the sea and that is why, the main colour of Sakharabenjayamanee design is a vivid blue-green….just another lovely anecdote associated with the gorgeous Thai art of Benjarong. With so much history, beauty, and dedication, what‘s not to love?
Benjarong Travel Tips
Ban Don Kai Dee Benjaong village makes an excellent day trip from Bangkok. Located 40 kilometers away from Bangkok in Samut Sakhon province, this lovely village offers homestay and workshop facilities along with gorgeous Benjarong porcelain wares, which are handmade on-site. Expect to pay around 80 baht for small pieces and the prices can go up to 100,000 baht. Shoppers can choose from complete tea sets to plates with portraits of Thai kings and tiny porcelain cats and elephants in Benjarong style at Baan Don Kai Dee. Each piece is handmade and is most often far better in quality than those wares sold in Bangkok‘s Chinatown and Chatuchak Market.
The village is also home to five Benjarong studios and a homestay in a traditional Thai-style house. It is prettily set beside a canal and has a stone lane that snakes through trees, flowers, and fountains while connecting one studio with the other. There are 5 rooms in the homestay and each room can accommodate up to ten guests. There is an available kitchen and breakfast is included in the price. The rates for homestay are a private room (including breakfast) for 1,000 baht and a shared room for 10 (excluding breakfast) for 250 baht per head. For reservations, please call + 66 8 1995 9196 or +66 8 1861 4626.
Things to Do
The Benjarong studios charge 350 baht, and visitors can paint their designs on items that can be finished in the kiln within 24 hours. More time is required for those who are keen on learning the intricate techniques of the art. English is not spoken much in the village, but the workshops are easy to follow. Ever since tourism made its presence felt, the local villagers of Ban Don Kai Dee have been very welcoming to tourists. There are several tours which are available for Benjarong guests and they include (apart from the porcelain painting workshop) cooking classes, nearby village tours, and visits to orchards and the coast.
How to Reach
A return trip to Baan Don Kai Dee from Bangkok by taxi would be around 1,000 baht. Alternatively, you could also take a train from Wongwien Yai rail station (a five-minute walk from the same-named BTS station). The other options are to take a minibus from Victory Monument to Mahachai market in Samut Sakhon City and then take a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi to Baan Don Kai Dee. A return trip will cost around 500 baht.
Follow the rest of the Thailand series
- THE RED LOTUS SEA OF THAILAND
- CHIANG MAI LOCAL MARKETS
- TOP FUN THINGS TO DO IN THAILAND
- SAWASDEE TO SUN, FUN AND SMILES
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE