A Green prospective of Thailands culture and traditions
There’s a strong smell of incense as I enter the temple, the sweet spicy aroma wafting gently on the warm air. The moon has moved a call to prayer and the community has gathered in unison, bringing with them offerings of coins, lotus flowers and fruit. Monks in orange robes chant their prayers as they gently rock back and forth. I drop to my knees, lower my head and welcome the holy water sprinkled onto me, while meaningful words I don’t understand are said.
Thinking back to my first visit to Thailand a few years where the focus was on discovering a greener side to this sought-after destination where Buddhist temples, spectacular islands, white beaches, a rich history and unique culture remain the key drawcards. Not to mention the delicious Thai food and healing massages.
My trip saw my arrival into Bangkok for a night’s rest, before traveling to Trat, a province in Thailand’s south east that borders Cambodia along the Cardamom Mountains. Trat encompasses a strip along the Gulf of Thailand with islands, white-sand beaches and coral reefs, many of which lie within Mu Ko Chang National Park. The largest island is Koh Chang, known for its dense jungle, waterfalls and offshore coral reefs, plus the stilted Bang Bao village.
My days were spent in the rural surrounds, visiting three significant local communities and learning about the symbiotic relationship they enjoy with the environment. These are the lessons I took away from each.
The Chong Changtune Community
The Chong Changtune community aims their focus on the tradition of health and wellness, which is deeply ingrained in Thai culture. I enjoyed a deep Thai massage and a Spa de Chong – a herbal steam treatment in a woven chicken coop that was invented here. It was such fun sitting with my head sticking out chatting, while my body enjoyed its own concentrated sauna. The community has a strong passion for natural and cultural conservation, and this was evident as we walked the area set aside for regenerative tree planting. The Chong people live strongly by their philosophy ‘whatever we take from nature, we need to give back’ – and that they do.
Dedicated to environmental and cultural conservation, they are replanting a variety of plants and herbs in the area, most specifically varieties which are no longer found in the wild. They use endemic plants and herbs not only for their chicken coop saunas, but for the food they serve and the soaps, exfoliating scrubs and massages they offer. All sending wonderful heady aromas into the air. I stocked up on loads of products for home.
The Huai Raeng Community
The various communities touched me in their respective ways, yet the sense of space and calm in the wooded Huai Raeng farming district stood out. Referred to as the ‘Land of Three Waters’, the fertility of the land and success of their agricultural projects is credited to a combination of fresh, brackish and salt water in the river. Here they demonstrate a respect and gentle coexistence with nature and the environment.
We took a cruise on the Khlong canal to see how the men harvest palm leaves and catch prawn for consumption. The women taught us how to make betel palm leaf wraps, a traditional lunch pack with rice, salty eggs, walnuts, onion, pineapple. This was following by lessons in the production of coconut oil and mangosteen soap, before we were invited to feast on delicious freshly cut palm fruit, which resembled litchi in flavour and texture.
The Nam Chiao Community
Ban Nam Chiao is a living and working community complete with schools, places of worship, markets and the trimmings of modern-day life that sees motorbikes weaving along the narrow lanes. A mix of Muslims and Buddhists have successfully maintained their traditional way of life here for millennia, living peacefully with an ancient temple a short walk from the 200-year-old mosque.
Situated on the canal lined with colourfully decorated boats, one of the best ways to appreciate life at Ban Nam Chiao and the work of the fishermen is by longboat out to the estuary with views of Koh Chang in the near distance. In the shallow waters I tried my hand at catching long-tongue crabs that live in the thick mud below the surface.
Back at the village we enjoyed a cooking demo before sitting to savour the catch of the day, as well as learn how to make as tang may, a delicious crispy caramel sweet treat. A highlight was weaving a hat called Ngop Nam Chiao made from palm leaves that grow in the nearby mangrove forests, and for which the area is known. Highly recommended is the cycle tour around the village.
A week in the company of these beautiful people who so generously shared their traditions, culture and home with me offered a true and honest look into the gentleness and respect with which these communities co-exist with nature, and how openly they welcome visitors and tourists.
My first visit to Thailand from Buddhist temple blessings to meals shared on grass mats under shady trees, was ever imbedded on my memory and I knew I’d return for more – which I have done. Numerous times.
How to get there
Many of these villages mentioned are not that easily accessible without the help of somebody on the ground and we recommend Local Alike www.localalike.com, a Thai-based social enterprise that assists with developing authentic eco-tourism while offering support to the communities they visit. Access to Trat is conveniently serviced by daily direct return flights to Bangkok.
Thailand’s Trat. A Green Perspective.
By Dawn Jorgensen