One of the best parts of an exotic vacation to a top Asian holiday destination is exploring local handicrafts, from the beautiful batik fabrics of Southeast Asian islands to the tribal textiles of China’s Li people, canang sari baskets made of coconut palms or garlands made of fresh flowers. Check out our favourites to discover new cultural traditions, bring back a one-of-a-kind souvenir and maybe even learn a new skill!
Discover Asia’s Happening Handicrafts!
Batik is a traditional Indonesian method of fabric dyeing using wax to create patterns and designs. Now found all over Southeast Asia, colours and patterns vary from place to place—even within the same country! In Indonesia, Inland batik uses primarily dark or earthy colours such as black, indigo, brown and ochre, with symbolic, indigenous patterns, while coastal batiks showcase vibrant colours and motifs inspired by the range of cultures locals encountered when trading merchants landed on their shores. On Bali, patterns are inspired by nature; daily activities like Balinese dancing or ngaben processions; or religious and mythological creatures like barong, kala or winged lions.
While Indonesia is the largest producer of batik, the craft has gained popularity in Thailand over the last century, particularly on Phuket. The most popular designs here are brightly coloured and reflect the tropical climate, with lavish scenes incorporating fish, palm trees, dolphins and flowers. Plenty of batik artists have started to create more modern interpretations, too, so you can also find batik depicting everything from abstract designs to cartoon characters!
Thailand’s floral garlands—‘phuang malai’—can be seen everywhere: draped over shrines in front of office buildings, sold in stalls on narrow streets or even hanging from the rearview mirror in a taxi! They are often given as offerings or kept for good luck.
Where to find it: Learn to make floral garlands at Anantara Vacation Club Bophut Koh Samui, and take home a skill that you can use to make beautiful decorations and memorable gifts for friends and family for years to come!
Li Tribal Textiles
The minority Li people of Sanya, China have a long history as masters of dyeing and embroidering fabrics. Their brocades feature more than 160 distinctive patterns, all passed down from generation to generation by master craftsmen. Boldly coloured with natural dyes and accented with flecks of mica or metal, Li textiles are not just beautiful garments, they are living pieces of history. Though the ancient weaving tools used by the Li people are simple, the exquisite textiles they produce are renowned both locally and abroad, with patterns illustrating the evolution of Li culture and customs. Dragon quilt embroidery is especially valuable, as masters of this time- and labour-intensive craft are slowly dying out.
Where to find it: Watch a traditional weaving demonstration by Li elders from Bing Lang Gu village at Anantara Vacation Club Sanya. To support the Li people and their art, you can purchase items such as cushion covers, bags and skirts that display their elaborate patterns and colourful figures.
Uluwatu Coconut Leaf Weaving
Used to construct everything from hats to houses to decorative and religious items, coconut palm leaves are an important material on Indonesia! They’re lightweight, versatile and surprisingly durable, so the possibilities for use are nearly endless. Take a quick stroll through any market and you’re likely to see it woven into baskets, mats, sandals and decorative sculptures.
Where to find it: Visit Anantara Bali Uluwatu Resort and learn to make intricate handicrafts from a coconut leaf, such as a grasshopper, a traditional Ketupat dumpling dish or a Canang Sari basket tray used for offerings to the Hindu god Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.