A model community

A model community

The century-old house was built using palm wood and dry palm leaves. KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE

Somjit Bunraknang, 67, weaves a shrimp by using dry palm leaves. She sits inside a gazebo of her neighbour’s house in Ban Ram Daeng in Singha Nakhon district in Songkhla. Despite her impaired right eye, she can skilfully fold the leaves to make fish, grasshoppers, birds, pencil containers and baskets.

The palm leaves are abundant in her Ban Ram Daeng village, promoted as a community-based tourism destination.

Most of the villagers are farmers, said Ram Daeng municipality mayor Udom Takkara. The locals grow toddy palm trees and rice for a living, as in other villages around Songkhla Lake.

The people didn’t believe their simple way of life can attract tourists until a research team of Prince of Songkla University and Thailand Research Fund conducted field research there. They found that the village had tourism potential and that based on the community’s core values. They launched the tourism concept in the Thai language as “Nod, Na, Phai, Khon”, said the mayor.

“Nod” is short for tan tanod (toddy palm tree). “Na” means rice paddy, while “phai” and “khon” refer to bamboo and the people’s way of life.

With support from the municipality, the village introduced the list of seven tourist attractions to promote their community.

The woven animal is one traditional toy visitors can make from palm leaves. They can also buy Somjit’s handicrafts for home or office decorations.

The house where Somjit holds her workshop is known as a model of traditional toddy palm house. It is owned by Ubon Boonrat, 57.

According to Ubon, she inherited the house from her parents. She estimated that it might be more than a century old.

The pillars and beams of her house are made of toddy palm trunks. The house walls, windows and doors are made of dry palm leaves and woven bamboo. The dry palm leaves can last about 10 years before being replaced, she said.

About seven years ago, she thought about dismantling the house and rebuilding it to a smaller and simpler one. But in 2012 a research team of Rajamangala University of Technology Tawan-ok, Uthenthawai Campus in Bangkok found that the house has a unique architecture and construction materials. The house, built without a nail, was renovated with support from the National Housing Authority and Ram Daeng Municipality.

The standing Buddha at Wat Pa Khwang. KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE

In 2013, the toddy palm house of Ubon won the Architectural Conservation Award from the Association of Siamese Architects. Somjit received the award from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and that makes her and her family proud.

“I am very glad that my humble home was selected to be a model house,” she said.

Ubon also allows visitors a quick look inside the house. She asks everyone not to take pictures inside the house for her privacy.

The house doesn’t have a partition for a bedroom, a living room or a kitchen. The room is not hot, although she doesn’t turn on an electric fan.

“I like my house because it has low cost of maintenance and it’s not hot,” she said. During the day, she and her family stay under the raised floor.

If there are visitors, she can treat them with local food in the open-air dining area under the house. The meals include nam phrik (spicy shrimp paste dip) with home grown vegetables, a curry dish made of young toddy palm fruits. There are also desserts made of palm sugar, as well as buatluk tan (sliced young toddy palm fruits in sweet coconut milk).

Behind her house, she has a large rice field and toddy palm trees.

Two years ago, Ram Daeng Municipality wanted to promote self-sufficiency to farmers. One of their efforts was to encourage them to plant tonpor thueang or sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), which can be ploughed in the farmland as fertiliser before planting rice.

When the shrubs bear yellow flowers in August, it creates large yellow flower fields, about 300 rai of land in total. In 2015, the municipality joined hands with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to host the Por Thueang Festival in August. It became a hit among locals and visitors to Songkhla.

The mayor wants to organise the festival every year. Unfortunately, there is no flower field this year because the seeds were all rotten due to excessive rain, said Acting Police Sub-Lieutenant Dararat Chaimontree, who works for Ram Daeng Municipality as a community-development officer.

The yellow flowers of sunn hemp may have other benefits, she said. Last year, another research team of Songkhla Rajabhat University, with support from the Thailand Research Fund, visited the village to collect flowers of sunn hemp. They wanted to produce herbal tea from the flowers and young seedlings. They also plan to use the stems as for weaving baskets or other handicrafts.

Since Ban Ram Daeng opened its village to the public visits a couple years ago, it receives visitors from many parts of the country, especially those who want to develop their village into a community-based tourism destination.

“Our community is a role model of good co-operation between locals and authority. We don’t have outstanding natural resources, but we know our strengths and can promote our values to be tourist attractions,” said the mayor.

Visitors should contact the Ram Daeng Municipality for a guide to Ban Ram Daeng.

Located on the north of Songkhla Lake, the community is about an hour’s drive from Hat Yai International Airport (hatyaiairportthai.com/en).

From Hat Yai, take public van Hat Yai-Ranot and get off at Wat Khanun in Singha Nakhon district. Then hire a motorcycle to the municipality. An alternative is to hire a van (about 1,800 baht per day, excluding the cost of fuel).

Call Ram Daeng Municipality on 074-318-451 or 086-488-2549, or the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Hat Yai Office) on 074-231-055, 074-238-518 or 074-243-747.

Palm trees growing amidst rice paddies. KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE

Somjit Bunraknang making hanging toys from dry palm leaves. KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE