The peaceful village of Sanuan Nok shares its sericulture and weaving wonders with homestay guests
WITH THE RAINY season greening the vast stretches of Buri Ram, the little village of Sanuan Nok has emerged as an alluring weekend escape for travellers from the big cities, offering a chance to get back to life’s basics.
As a part of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Creative Tourism Project, residents conduct “eco-cultural” tours and workshops on silk weaving and other handicrafts.
It’s a fascinating lesson in how people in the village live within the parameters of sufficiency and at the same time retain beloved Isaan traditions.
Yai Chun built this wooden bridge in 1885, little knowing it would become a scenic outlook.
Just a 12-kilometre drive from downtown Buri Ram in Huai Rat district, Sanuan Nok was once covered in dense growths of the sanuan (Kratie rosewood) that gave the village its name.
Nai Dam, a blacksmith from Roi Et, is credited with founding the community in 1805.
Fearful of attack, Nai Dam built a circular earthen mound as the foundation for three layers of clay walls, the ruins of which are still visible in places.
Otherwise the site is now completely occupied by mulberry plantations, rice fields and a smattering of houses. You get to see all of this from a tour bus that’s been cleverly designed to resemble a combination weaving shuttle and spacecraft.
Yes, there’s plenty of fun to be had here.
Phanom Klahan’s shop, Baan Krading, sells handmade wooden bells suitable for buffalo, cats or dogs.
Village head Boonthip Karam explains that the land Nai Dam settled gradually became two villages, Sanuan Nok and Sanuan Nai.
Most of the residents are rice farmers, he says, and many learned from the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture how to raise silkworms and plant mulberry shrubs to earn extra income between harvests.
“We set up a silk-weaving centre in 2004, where we host several workshops. In recent years the District Administration Organisation and TAT have helped us improve the landscape and develop eco-tourism projects.”
In the hallowed Luang Pu Udom Joss House at the entrance to the village, residents bring their wishes and pray for protection from mishap.
From there the bus takes us to the all-wood Yai Chun Bridge, a fantastic spot to take pictures of the green rice paddies sprawling as far as the eye can see.
The Luang Pu Udom Joss House greets visitors at the entrance to the village.
“A millionaire named Yai Chun built this bridge in 1885 and it’s been restored twice since then,” Boonthip says. “It makes getting around more convenient and also happens to be a wonderful lookout point for tourists.”
Next we visit the Ancient Market, where every Saturday vendors sell homemade dishes and desserts, herbal drinks and handicrafts.
There we don’t get to meet Grandfather Kat and Grandmother Riang Phetlert in their classic Isaan-style house built in 1926 of pradu and daeng wood. As has long been the custom owing to the hot, dry climate, the house sits on stilts, with the floor more than a metre above the ground so the breeze can flow through.
A family of Kat and Riang has turned it into a cultural museum, filling it with vintage household wares. Visitors feel like they’re stepping into the past. There are even typical outfits of the Northeast that you can don for souvenir photos.
In the heart of the hamlet, which has a population of only about 150 families, Boonthip’s house has its own cultural attractions – starting with a culinary one.
He treats guests to a tantalising feast of Isaan specialities, all served on large rattan trays. You can sample kaeng kluay (coconut curry with pork and unripe bananas), kai tom bai mon (chicken soup with mulberry leaves) and fiery nam prik pla tu (chilli paste with grilled fish).
We’re also guests at a Bai Sri Su Kwan – a traditional ceremony for welcoming visitors that’s meant to sharpen their minds and bring them luck, good health and success.
A beautiful dance is performed, the ram trod, which promises to both bring on rainfall and keep away ghosts and misfortune.
The village has 10 families ready to accommodate tourists in their homes for two or three nights, with the prices starting at a supremely reasonable Bt420 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
For Bt700 and up, the Sanuan Nok Resort boosts the comfort quotient with its six villas and 24 guestrooms – air conditioning, en-suite bathroom, cable TV and a coffeemaker all part of the deal.
The local tour bus might be a spacecraft – or maybe it’s a weaver’ shuttle.
The simple life in remote areas customarily involves rising at 5.30am to prepare offerings for the monks. Once that’s done, resident Samrueng Kotiram is ready to be our guide for a roam around the village and a lesson in sericulture and weaving.
“The Sirikit Department of Sericulture developed a new species of mulberry for us, called Buri Ram 60, that’s easier to plant and more durable,” Samrueng says.
She shows us the woven pattern for which Buri Ram is most famous, hang kra rok (squirrel tail), which was adapted from Lao pha sin and a Khmer motif of the same name.
“It depends on the weather, but it usually takes a month to raise the silkworms and produce the thread. After the butterflies lay their eggs and the larvae emerge, we feed them with mulberry leaves and then harvest the threads of the spittle they produce when they form their cocoon.”
You can see how silkworms are cultivated.
Silk is organically dyed with extracts of plants and flowers – lac produces red, kae lae yellow, kram blue and the ebony tree black.
Maneerat Prachanban holds visitors’ attention as she weaves a 45-square-metre bolt of silk with no fewer than 20 different patterns featuring animals, the Asiatic pennywort, butterflies, squirrels’ tails and pine cones.
The hardwood bells that clatter around buffaloes’ necks come from Baan Krading, a shop where the original techniques are still in use after two centuries, handed down through the generations.
Uncle Phanom Klahan has quite an assortment of bells to show, not just for buffalo but also cats and dogs. He uses the wood of pradu, phayung, teng and jackfruit trees because it’s both lightweight and gives the bells a resounding tone.
Grandpa Mak Khajeefah, 70, will set you up with a handmade bamboo fan to keep cool, and he also weaves dish covers, trays and baskets.
The adorable dolls at Baan Tukkata are made from coconut shells and palm fruit.
Over at Baan Tukkata, Uncle Uthai Kumram, 60, uses coconut shells and palm fruit to fashion coffee cups and dolls that look like flamingos, snakes, owls, spiders, penguins and wasps. A retired farmer, he’d begun carving coconut-shell dolls as a hobby.
“It turned out that the tourists loved them, so I’ve expanded my product line and make coffee cups now too,” Uthai says.
The village temple, Wat Sanuan Nok, has in its vihara a 200-year-old Buddha statue crafted from tamarind wood. In the ubosot are colourful murals depicting the Buddha’s 10 incarnations.
IF YOU GO
>> Book a tour or a homestay by calling (085) 411 4435 or (080) 472 4435.