Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Being an American living in Thailand certainly has made life interesting. The ever changing gem world virtually revolves around this magical land. I love shopping the wide variety of gem markets here for the fun, adventure and great bargains. Traveling is a great way to learn and when it comes to gemstones and jewelry there is likely no better place to absorb information naturally than here.

All the best things in life are better when shared with another. I have such great fun when someone comes to visit with me here. Several friends that I have met thru gemology forums and thru my business of selling gems and jewelry have come here to share the adventure. I get a kick out of playing the tour guide and traveling companion, so much that I now am inviting anyone interested in gemstones and jewelry to come and be a part of it with me. I vow to keep our expenses low and any fee that I need to charge to be humble.
I have outlined several packages below so you can get an idea of what we can do together, however, there is no standard routine, it is all up to what we decide upon together. The options are more than I can type as well so the outline of packages is simply for information and ideas.

First and foremost, I am a husband to a beautiful Thai lady and a Daddy to six great children. We all speak at least American English and the Thai language. We live in a remote and rural village in the mountains of Chiang Rai. Everyone here knows us and is always delighted to see our visitors. Expect to be the center of attention at times. These folks are very playful and soon you will understand why this country is fondly nicknamed LOS, the Land Of Smiles.

I am also a metalsmith, I make modern jewelry by ancient techniques in Sterling Silver and 18k yellow gold. I do not consider myself to be a master in these arts but I am happy to show you what I have learned. My instructor is Thai and he is indeed a master so I am very grateful to have sat with him. Initial demonsrations are free, of course, and lessons are $10 per hour while I supply the materials.

In addition to making jewelry I am also a gemologist. Understanding gemstones is a very important feature of this business. Naturally I am willing to share identification techniques and offer guidance in the selection of gems in the markets, no additional charge.

Here are some locations and options. All charges include transportation to and from, lodging where applicable and a little something for me. Food, shopping and massage are separate, of course.

A.) The northern most point of Thailand, the Burmese/Thailand border town of Mae Sai is a 50 minute drive from my house. I prefer to drive my own car to get there but we could also take a couple of buses or rent a driver with a pick up. There we will find a wide variety of gemstones primarily from Burma. Synthetics are rampant so it is buyer beware. Tons, and I do mean tons, of jade in the form of cabochons, bangles, carvings and rough stone will be everywhere. The hard to find gem Maw Sit Sit will be there in quanity. Plenty of Spinel and Mong Shu Ruby. The rough stone market will offer unpredictable bargains. Hundreds of stone cutters and carvers live there as well as many metal smiths. I have been shopping this market and visiting this town for over ten years and am always happy to see my regular vendors and friends there.

Option #1.) We leave early in the morning so we arrive in time to get there by 9AM or so. Thais believe that the morning sales are lucky so they will slash prices, even below cost, to sell us something early. By their belief this lucky sale will help them sell all day long. You tell me what you want to see and that will determine the days activities. We can stay until the shops close if we have the endurance, foot massage is available in the street market at dusk. At the end of the day we can return to Chiang Rai.
Cost for the day trip is $70 for the first person and $10 for an additional person. For another $60 we can spend the night in a hotel and continue our fun there the whole next day.

Option #2.) We arrive there in the late afternoon and check into a hotel. There will be a little time for late shopping then when morning comes we will be fresh and ready to start hunting for lucky morning sales. Cost for the day and a half trip is $105. At the end of the day we can return to Chiang Rai.

B.) A trip to the stars, the Burmese/Thailand border town of Mae Sot is a 3 day minimum trip and I prefer to make it a four day adventure. We leave early morning and travel by taxi, bus and van, arriving in the small town by early evening and check into a hotel. The next day we will see a wide variety of shops selling gems and stones, especially Burmese Star Sapphires and Rubies. Lots of Maw Sit Sit carvings and quite a bit of jade will be there. Rare Trapiche Sapphires will be there as well as faceted stones including Mogok ruby, and rare specimens. There are large shops full of glass cases and then some shops are so quaint that there are no display counters, vendors goods are spread out on the floor which is where we will sit to look and buy. While anywhere in the gem market area, vendors on foot will approach us, often with a single stone for sale. If one is not careful the street vendors will surround them and walking away will become a difficult option. We should stay together and I will be in charge of crowd control. Often the second day is when the best buys are made if we restrain ourselves a little the first day. When they see us again the price we had offered and they had refused the previuos day is then generally accepted. I have also been shopping this market for many years and am well known there as well. For those especially interested in seeing the culture of these earthy folks I can arrange a visit to one of their homes. This four day trip will cost $280 for the first person and $70 for an additional person. Another option that I have not yet calculated would be to drive there in my car or a rental. It would be about the same amount of time but more freedom and more expense as well.

C.) Faceted gemstones and so much more, the world famous location of Chanthaburi. Said to be the heart of the worlds gem trade, this richest area of Thailand is loaded with options. The primary item for sale will be faceted gems. Treatments abound but you will see few synthetics. Not the place to buy Jade or Burmese stars.

Option #1.) Plan to spend at least four days on this trip. Once we arrive here in the afternoon from an overnite journey, we will check in to a hotel and then stroll the market. Shops are everywhere, gem dealers and stone cutters are more popular here than virtually anywhere in the world. The second and third day we will let them come to us as we sit at a desk in an air conditioned room. The gems will be carried to us for our inspection by employees of large dealers. We can work at our own pace and will likely eat our lunch at the same desk since it will seem that there is no way we can walk away from this stream of gemstones. We can take time out of these two days to visit the homes of stone cutters and gem treaters that I know. We can also shop for gem tools and equipment and we can visit the rough stone market for unusual finds from all over the world. Total cost for this trip is $320 and $70 for an additional person.

Option #2.) After a few days of this I would recommend we hit the beach! Not far away we will find a gorgeous beach known primarily only to Thai people. Expect attention. Spend the night. About $90 for this diversion.

D.) Bangkok! Much too many options to type out for this 12 million population city. We can discuss this one in person.

I could go on and on but these outlined give you the idea. I also want to stress that any of you are welcome to come here and have lunch with me and my family anytime! We will parade you around the village and I will take you out for a cold drink on a hot day. You get this far and you have earned it! There are lots of things to see that are not gem or jewelry related too. Let me know what you like and I will take it from there. Happy trails, Lee


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  3. Hi Lee Little,
    That sounds very interesting!
    I might want to go visit you.
    Could I go to see you in April 2011?
    Let me know.

    Thank you for your sharing and generosity.

    Young Hee