Making the most of mother nature

Thailand December 13, 2017 01:00

By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
The Nation

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How a small village in the Chiang Mai mountains is bringing eco-cultural to a select number of visitors

WITH TEMPERATURES dropping well below 20 degrees Celsius during the winter, Chiang Mai province has long been a popular destination for local and foreign travellers alike. This year, it is upping the ante to cater to visitors concerned about their carbon footprint, with a series of eco-cultural tours and handicraft workshops guaranteed to delight.

An hour’s drive from the city’s downtown is Chiang Dao district where the tiny hamlet of Ban Hua Thung offers lessons in living according to the sufficiency philosophy of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. 

The hamlet of Ban Hua Thung is surrounded by rice paddies. 

Spread over 8,000 rai, it is the poster child for the community forest model, having restored to its former glory a forest concession that produced teak and pradu wood for business. Today the land is divided into two parts: 4,000 rai is used for agriculture and the residences of the 150 families who live there, while the remaining 4,000 rai is pure forest, providing a home for creatures of the wild.

“This land was totally degenerated because of the forest concession and shifting cultivation. We have spent many years rehabilitating the forest and its precious water resources because water is important for agriculture,” says village head Siriwan Rudee, 40. 

“During the rainy season, the forest becomes a ‘supermarket’, a place where residents can ‘shop’ for edible mushrooms, mulberries, vegetables and herbs. The wildlife has returned too and we often see wild boar, hornbills, peacocks and barking deer. We want to maintain our community’s way of life so we have a limit on the number of cultural tours and homestays that can be booked each month.”

Perfect for a one-day trip as well as overnight stays, the village can accommodate up to 50 visitors in five comfortable houses and provides a pick-up truck service for sightseeing. 

Water gushes from a limestone cave in the forst and flows into the Ping River at the heart of Chiang Mai. 

We receive a warm welcome on our arrival and are invited to attend a Bai Sri Su Kwan – a traditional version of the Lanna-style ceremony for welcoming guests and bringing them luck and success.

Extensive organic rice paddies as well as fields planted with glutinous rice, longan, chilli and corn stretch as far as the eye can see. At the heart of village, a trekking trail leads visitors deep into the forest, where local herbs and java coffee beans nestle under the towering trees, and the water flowing freely from a limestone cave makes for a perfect picnic spot. 

“Our forest is an important source of water. During the rains, water flows from this limestone cave and continues past the village to the Ping River. We build check dams to retain water for agricultural use during the dry season and use water from natural ponds for daily life, which is regularly tested and is clean and potable,” Siriwan says. 

Bamboo proliferates and we learn how to weave bamboo baskets with a group of villagers who generate additional income from this skill between harvests. The environmentally friendly baskets are popular with market vendors because of their strength and capacity for holding more than 10 kilos of vegetables. 

A local artist has converted his house into a small art studio and displays wood sculptures and paintings inspired by the wild life and surrounding scenery.

Wat Srisuphan is home to the world's first silver ubosot and is a fine example of Lanna craftmanship. 

Returning to Chiang Mai town, we stop off at Wat Srisuphan, a popular centre for amateur and professional silversmiths. Last year, the temple opened Thailand’s first ubosot made from silver as a testament to top-class Lanna craftsmanship. 

Twelve years were spent in the construction of the ubosot. Designed by Kriangkrai Muangmoon from Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, the masterpiece uses aluminium and silver in a proportion of 70 to 30. 

“Thanks to the collaboration between the community, temple and schools, this beautiful ubosot is designed as both a sacred sanctuary and a learning centre, a place where the young generation can come and learn about their roots, religion and Lanna-style silverware,” says Sawan Kwaenthaisong, who works as a public relations officer for Wat Srisuphan. 

“We have used local wisdom to create an elaborate lighting rod that looks like the Lanna-style flag and reduces the electric power from 220 to nine volts to prevent current leakage in the ubosot.”

The engraved tells the story of when Buddha visited to Thailand and created his footprints in Saraburi and Mae Rim. 

Costing Bt35 million, the silver ubosot is surrounded by aluminium walls engraved with the 12 zodiac signs and a deep blue staircase inspired by the vast sea at the foot of Mount Meru representing the cycle of birth and life in Buddhism. 

It houses a statue of Luang Pho Phra Pratihan and the biggest carved silver banknote illustrating King Bhumibol’s sufficiency economy philosophy. Visitors can also admire the murals engraved on the exterior, which feature 37 scenes from the “Story of Mahajanaka” written by King Bhumibol and iconic landmarks from both Thailand and the rest of the world including the Great Wall of China, Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. 

Silversmiths are on hand to lead workshops that teach visitors to create key rings, small home decorative items and jewellery. 

The writer travelled courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand as part of its Asean Connectivity campaign to promote travel between Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.