A pair of gold and silver niello pens
Nakorn Si Thammarat has several unique handicrafts that are found almost nowhere else in Thailand. Chief among them is niello, which may well be the most highly prized of all Thai handicrafts. Niello is produced by etching or engraving a design into silver or gold. An amalgam of metals which quickly oxidize to black are applied to the etched portions, creating a high relief appearance.
Niello was so highly prized that it was used as a sign of nobility during the time of Ayutthaya. The craft was often given as gifts of the king to foreign dignitaries, and King Narai of Ayutthaya sent a golden niello bowl to King Louis XIV of France when diplomatic relations were first established with Siam.
Niello is difficult to find outside of Nakorn Si Thammarat. In the city, you'll easily find gold niello bracelets, but larger items are still rare and expensive. The best place to look is the shops along Tha Chang Road, behind the Sanam Na Muang park field. Expect to pay US$25 to $50 for small items like bracelets or pens. Bowls can cost $750 or more. We found a good selection at Tom Lai Thai (no sign in English) about mid-way along the street. Of course, be sure to bargain the prices.
Another specialty: Basketry
Other crafts include finely woven baskets. A very common souvenir is purses made of the tightly woven ferns. You will also find beautiful brass wares, mostly in the shape delicate religious vessels. Of course, as Nakorn Si Thammarat is the center for traditional Thai shadow puppetry, you'll find the puppets for sale in several places.
Where to Shop
There are two main areas we would recommend for local handicrafts. For niello, gold, silver and brass, the best place to look is Tha Chang Road, which runs parallel to the central Ratchadamnoen Road on the other side of the city's central sports field, Sanam Na Muang.
The market in the compound of Wat Phra Mahathat has many stalls selling shadow puppets, brass and baskets. There are also a few shops across the street from the temple.
There is also a night market of sorts near the train station, but this is mostly food stalls. There is also a daily wet market on Pak Nakorn road which can be an interesting photo opportunity early in the morning.