Homestays in three hospitable villages promise relaxing stays and fascinating activities
RURAL COMMUNITIES across Thailand have a problem keeping young people “down on the farm” after they’ve seen the city lights, but now Khon Kaen is setting an example they could follow.
A short drive from the downtown Mueang Khon Kaen, three villages in Sila district have set up with Khon Kaen University’s help the Sila Homestay Project.
Marigolds beg to have their photo taken in Sila district.
It taps into growing interest among urbanites to sample the simple agricultural life and spend some time with nature. And it’s giving local young people a reason to stay: There’s money in this undertaking – and a level of sophistication they wouldn’t otherwise find in their remote hometowns.
Since the middle of last year, the villagers have been sharing the charms of Isaan with weekend visitors. The surrounding land is blanketed with lush rice paddies and colourful flower gardens while the Phong River flows gently past.
“We set up a ‘career group’ to draw young people back home to help develop the community, rather than going off to find a job in the city,” says Sangkom Panikom, head of the Sila Homestay Group.
“We want to preserve our traditions and give tourists – both Thais and foreigners – a chance to experience the pleasant ways of farming life.”
There are currently 14 families involved. Former forestry officer Krajang Janpeng runs the Rom Prai homestay in the village of Takae. It’s a residential compound in the shade of towering trees where guests can stay in either a cosy cottage, ideal for two people, or a spacious three-bedroom villa suitable for families.
Baan Rom Pai offers a choice of comfortable, tidy guestrooms.
It even has a facility where visitors learn how to make organic insect repellent and something called “enzyme ionic plasma”. There are workshops on growing rice and flowers and making floral garlands, traditional Isaan desserts and the thong mangmum flag that’s used in religious ceremonies.
A one-night stay costs Bt350 per person and that price includes breakfast. You can stay for dinner for an extra Bt200.
Daytime hours are delightfully spent roaming around the village or cycling to Wat Pho Sri. The old temple has an ubosot – a sim as they’re known locally – that was built between 1926 and 1930.
Entirely fashioned from hardwood, the prayer hall boasts classical northeastern architecture and houses a golden Buddha statue and an antique cabinet filled with scriptures.
The doors bear carvings of the Lord Buddha in a sequence of elegant poses including Subduing Mara, and a figure of Phrae Mae Thorani in her well-known “Mother Earth Squeezing Her Hair” depiction.
The hardwood ubosot at Wat Pho Sri boasts beautiful Isaan architecture.
Next to the temple is a vast flower garden cultivated by Pitsamai Thammada and Chatree Thongprathum. They started out with marigolds, but the speciality these days is white tuberoses, which apparently proliferate quite swiftly.
“The garden was flooded out in 2011, and when we restored it we planted tuberoses,” says Pitsamai. “It’s well worth spending six months a year planting, because we can keep gathering the blossoms to sell for three years!”
Another lovely outing is a cruise down the scenic river, for which you pay a Bt100 fee. Or you could go on a picnic, for which there are all sorts of tantalising local dishes on offer. The most popular ones among visitors are pla krapong son choo, gaeng om with chicken, jerked tilapia and gaeng noh mai.
A great morning excursion takes in Wanaphan Farm in Nong Rue district, set up a decade ago by Preecha Ngoksima, who might be characterised as a “new-wave cultivator”. He’s totally invested in the royal philosophy of the sufficiency economy.
Wanaphan Farm grows herbs and flowers that will be turned into shampoos and lotions.
The farm occupies 14 rai and offers a persuasive demonstration of how to be self-sufficient and live sustainably, as recommended by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Preecha graduated in agriculture from Khon Kaen University and worked as an instructor at the Chaipattana Foundation, teaching
people about the late monarch’s view of agriculture.
“Once I’d acquired a few years’ experience, I came back to help develop my hometown. I want to build a model that carries on our beloved King’s philosophy.”
The concept involves dividing farmland into separate areas – for living, water storage, raising livestock and cultivating enough rice and vegetables for the family.
Preecha first planted trees and built a fishpond. The property is now surrounded by forest, with the trees – teak, takien and yang na – all commercially saleable or good for turning into cosmetic pharmaceuticals and oil for burning.
The rice field is huge and the gardens produce organic vegetables and herbs that can be used in shampoo, body lotion and bath gel. Chickens cluck in coops alongside the family residence.
“I’m willing to teach our visitors for free about agriculture, but they have to do some work!” Preecha laughs.
Mudmee silk made by the Khum Sukkho Group features a khaen mouthorgan pattern.
The Khum Sukkho handicraft group in Baan Don Kha sub-district also runs a homestay and conducts cultural tours. Visitors can learn how to weave mudmee silk with organic thread and dye textiles with natural materials – the red comes from yor and sappanwood, blue from kram, yellow from jackfruit and black from ebony.
“We’re the only ones in the country weaving the noppakao chalerm prakiet pattern,” the group’s leader, Tawee Sukkho, points out. “It utilises the seven traditional motifs found in mudmee silk and two other patterns, plus one that feature the khaen, the famous Isaan mouth organ.”
“We’ve also enhanced our weaving techniques to make the silk more durable, as well as bacteria-resistant and scented.”
Wat Chai Sri is another local temple worth visiting. It’s known for a beautiful mural depicting the life of Sang Sin Chai, as recounted in the epic Vessantara poem.
Erected more than 100 years ago and refurbished in 1982 with the same traditional architecture, its roof has two sweeping wings and the ubosot has the seven circles of Hell depicted on the walls in indigo, yellow, white, brown and black.
IF YOU GO
>> Find out more on the Sila Homestay Facebook page or call (087) 775 2032.
>> Wanaphan Farm is in Nong Rue district. Call (086) 893 4555 or (094) 526 2925.
>> Book a class or room at Khum Sukkho at (085) 008 2264.