Every so often, I come across a place that promises an interesting story — a ceramic museum that makes chicken bowls. Wait, what? Just what is a chicken bowl? To find out, we had to head to Lampang in northern Thailand.
Originally from the Canton region in China, a chicken bowl (koey oua) holds rice soup or noodles — take your pick. In the early 20th century, Chinese immigrants came to Thailand in larger numbers, and during the Sino-Japanese war the imported chicken bowls came in short supply. Chicken bowls started being produced in Lampang in 1937, and were fired using a Dragon Kiln:
Once used as the kiln for all the chicken bowls made here, the Dragon Kiln is no longer used in favor of some modern technology.
Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum is a look into a Thailand tradition that’s slowly fading away. They’re still made here — in large quantities — and the guided tour offers a glimpse into how they’re made. The modern ways may make the process a bit more efficient, but there’s a lot of history that’s sort of fallen by the wayside.
You’ll see the museum just past the building full of ceramic surprises. Pay your admission fee, receive a fan, and step in.
As most museums are wont to do, the story begins with the man that started making chicken bowls. Meet Mr E. (Chin Simyu), who in 1954 discovered the kaolinte deposits in Lampang that make up the bowls today. Most of the history is in Thai or badly translated English — to the point of hilarity — so listen to the tour guide to get the full story.
For those that enjoy the world’s largest or smallest items, we’ve got one for you here: the world’s smallest chicken bowl. You’re really only going to see it through a magnifying glass, and it’s surrounded by various Thai coins. That’s a grain of rice in the center, by the way. Also around Lampang: the largest chicken bowl is also around the town, but you’ll need to ask around since we couldn’t find it…
Just a couple of the many chicken bowls on display. They’re far from identical, although there are several styles shown on the shelves.
The next main phase of the museum shows how they’re produced, both in the traditional way and the modern way:
Making the bowls the traditional way — they’re all the same size, spun by hand, and start with a pre-measured amount of clay. Not pictured is a machine-spun ball of clay with a handle that came down to press the bowl into the right shape.
Hand-painting is just one step of the process, but you can watch them as they work.
The stickers are carefully applied, then dried. Not pictured nearby is the modern industrial kiln where the clay is actually baked — it’s kinda boring anyway and not nearly as photogenic as the real kiln anyway.
Rimming and lining…
Glazing. In her calm, deliberate manner, the workers dipped each cup in the glaze in such a way I was afraid to disrupt her cadence.
Now that we’ve seen how they’re made, the room next to the kiln is a showroom of modern chicken bowls:
More for the artsy-fartsy crowd than the actual eating, the gallery brags a bit about the artists (see their resumes on the walls) and their distribution network of high-end shops around the world.
Not everything they produce is a bowl shape…
The guided tour ends here — but since the souvenir shop is just a few meters down the road, you may as well consider it part of the tour.
The souvenir shop is surprisingly vast, and is a reminder of how much else is produced here. Chicken bowls are of course for sale, along with all your ceramic needs and wants.
This is perhaps one of the best reasons to come to Lampang, both for a bit of the history, and also for the oddity. Look for the big chicken that welcomes you into the city along the main road, and enjoy some oddball bowls.
Name: Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum
Address: 32 Watjongkham Road, Prabath, Muang Lampang, 52000 (GPS: 18.28054,99.512512)
Directions: From Lampang’s Airport, head east on the main road, Phaholyothin road. Turn right (south) on Prabath / Phra Bat road, then head left on soi 1 (just across from soi 2). This is a hard left, and you’ll actually be heading back towards the highway. Go about 300 meters, head right down the 2 o’clock right, then go about 250 meters to the last fork, then bear right down the fork. You’ll pass by the souvenir shop first on the right — keep going and look for the sign for the museum on the left.
Admission: 100 baht for foreigners (50 baht for Thai nationals)