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Pumpkins in Pha Khao Ma

The popular Jim Thompson's Farm in Nakhon Ratchasima opens its gates to visitors next month

DECEMBER is just around the corner and to folks living in and around Nakhon Ratchasima's Pak Thong Chai, the advent of winters heralds the arrival of the popular Jim Thompson Farm Tour.

The annual cultural fest that showcases everything from agriculture to art gets underway on December 14. This year's highlight is the "On Son Lai, Laai Pha Isaan" exhibition, which captures the charm of the region's traditional costumes with new patterns through a collection of magnificent, hand-woven textiles created by students from eight leading universities and specialists from 11 northeastern communities.

The textiles in "On Son Lai", which means "much appreciated" in the Isaan dialect, combine old techniques with modern designs and are inspired by age-old cultures that the students discovered during their visits to various weaving communities and groups in the Northeast.

"Our aim is to educate visitors about these hand-woven textiles, which are at the very root of Isaan society. Now that most of the weavers are elderly, it's essential that this local wisdom is passed on to the young generation." says architect Phaholchai Premjai, an adviser to the Jim Thompson Farm.

Owned by the Thai Silk Company, which was founded by Jim Thompson in 1950, the 600-rai farm has been operating since 1988 and ensures a steady and reliable supply of raw materials for silk production. Members of the public interested in the silkworm's life cycle, toxin-free agriculture and the Isaan lifestyle have been welcomed to spend time at the farm every winter since 2001.

In 2009, the farm introduced "Art on Farm" as a pilot project of art in the context of ecological agriculture and Isaan architecture and this year, in keeping with the "On Son Lai" theme, veteran artists from Japan, Korea and Thailand will show works created with local fabrics around the Phrayaprab Hills and the Lam Sam Lai Reservoir.

"Textiles will also be very evident everywhere on the farm," Phaholchai adds.

The tour takes visitors around the colourful gardens, vegetable fields, Isaan village and market in a shuttle bus with students from local schools acting as the guides.

A new landscape joins the more familiar attractions this winter - a 50-rai field of pink cosmos blooms that is guaranteed to have visitors reaching for their cameras.

Next to the cosmos are the magnificent sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. The giant pumpkin patch with its more than 30 species is a sea of oranges and browns and a favourite place to linger with visitors young and old.

The Isaan village is another popular spot, occupying 10 of the 600 rai. Along with the impressive wooden Korat-style house, there are homes typical of the Phutai and Yao ethnic groups as well as religious buildings that showcase the simplicity and charm of old-fashioned architecture.

Among the structures, many of which have been moved to the site and repaired, are a traditional Isaan drum tower, village hall, a Sim, the northeast's version of the Buddhist Ubosot, and the Tripitaka Hall. Visitors can also enjoy such local merit-making rites as "Boon Koonlan", "Boon Khaotok" and "Boon Bangfai" as well as demonstrations of candle making for the rains retreat and the "Hong Hodnam" ritual.

"We have recently renovated the village to ensure that it fully represents the traditional Isaan-lifestyle. We have added the drum tower and village hall as they are becoming ever rarer in this region and we feel there is a need to preserve this culture," Phaholchai says.

The Hor Jak pavilion is home to the "On Son Lai, Laai Pha Isaan" exhibition and the hand-woven textiles come complete with explanations of how these fabulous works saw the light of day.

Highlights include the "E-Pop Street Style" of Chulalongkorn University students, who teamed up with the Satr]ee Thor Pha Kit Mai of the Baan Pho Kham Group in Nong Bua Lamphu to learn how pha kit mai is made. Their concept was to draw inspiration from water reflections and the colourfully lit temple fairs and add a little Isaan mirth to streetwear.

The Mudmee silk, entitled "Kled Tao Mongkol" is the fruit of a collaboration between students from Ubon Ratchathani University and the Thor Pha Baan Nong Ya Plong Group. Inspired by the tortoise known as tao pek, a symbol of Mancha Khiri district in Khon Kaen, they utilise the pattern on the reptile's carapace to imply that wearing the pattern offers protection. The fabric is naturally dyed to safeguard against the health hazards of chemical dyes.



Students from Khon Kaen University offer the Moon Mung Lam Kha Praewa Kalasin, produced by the Thor Pha Baan Phon Group in Kalasin. This, like the original pha mai praewa pattern, tells of religious beliefs and rituals. However, the weaving is more modern and the silk very shimmery.

Next door is the Jim Thompson Village, where visitors can admire the distinctive silk production of the renowned Jim Thompson brand and learn about the lifecycle of the silkworms, how the creature makes the natural fibre and the silk reeling, yarn dying, silk weaving and fabric printing processes.

The tour ends at the Jim Thompson Market, where visitors can have fun snapping up vegetables, fruits, pots of flowers and fresh produce as well as silk fabric and other handicrafts.

"This year we will hold a special competition on the final day of the tour. We're calling it 'Last Minute with Big Pumpkins' and inviting teams of four to decorate out pumpkins. The team who manages the most will receive a giant pumpkin to take home," says Chutima Dumsuwan, corporate communication director of Jim Thompson.



ON THE FARM WITH JIM

>>Jim Thompson Farm Tour will run from December 14 to January 12. Tickets range from Bt120 for adults and Bt80 for children on weekdays to Bt140 for adults and Bt100 for children on weekend and December 31 to January 1.

>>Call (02) 762 2566, (085) 660 7336, (044) 373 116 or visit www.JimThompsonFarm.com and "Jim Thompson Farm" on Facebook.


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