Limestone stalactites inside Tham Khao Chang Hai.
The place looks more like a school than an attraction. It is a group of humble buildings located in a corner of Ban Khuan Sawan School in Na Yong, Trang, in Thailand’s south.
Limestone stalactites inside Tham Khao Chang Hai.
Yet, the Ban Na Muen Si weaving centre is well-known among tourists for its showcasing of how to make quality hand-woven cotton cloth.
The Na Muen Si Weaving Group was founded in 1973 by a handful of women in their 70s, who wanted to bring back their beloved but endangered traditional woven fabrics for the younger generation.
Meanwhile, the club has grown into a community enterprise and also offers a homestay service for visitors.
“One of our popular original patterns is called luk kaeo. It must be woven in yellow and red,” said Arob Rueangsung, the group’s chairperson.
Luk Kaeo, along with other 32 unique traditional patterns of Na Muen Si, is on display in the group’s museum, which is the brainchild project of Arob.
She wants the museum to collect old clothes that show her village’s identity. The museum today also has old woven cloth donated by people in the village and traditional weaving tools that were widely used before they faded away during World War II.
“Cloth weaving is part of our life, because it is our tradition that in our lifetime we must weave three types of clothes to use during three important ceremonies. First is pha tang, which is used by a son for his wedding ceremony. Next is pha phad, which is used also for a son for his monkhood ceremony. The last one is pha phan chang, which is woven for our husbands’ funerals,” she said.
Most of the patterns of Ban Na Muen Si are inspired by the nature around them, others are pure products of the imagination. As a combination of the two, Arob wants to develop a new pattern based on the mythical fruit makkaliphon, also known as nariphon. In doing so she wants to fulfil a dream of her weaving master Nang Chuayrod, who founded the group back in 1973.
The group’s cloth weaving centre, with a dozen looms, is open daily for members to weave cloth and for visitors to learn how. The centre is located next to a showroom, where visitors can shop for clothes for men and woven, bags, hats and umbrellas, all of which are colourful, being made of pha kao ma, the chequered loincloth.
Although their natural-dyed scarves and pha sin (a traditional wraparound skirt) were very pretty, I liked their lunch sets the most. You must try the local dishes prepared by the members of the weaving group. “Food is another thing that we are proud of,” said Arob.
Several large mats made of khla (Schumannianthus dichotomus), also known as cool mats, were put on the ground floor of the raised concrete meeting hall. On the middle of each mat were two tiffin boxes. I opened the boxes and found yummy looking food inside.
My favourite was kaeng khamin pla (spicy turmeric curry with fish). It looked simple, but tasted creamy, hot and a little salty. Paired with rice or rice vermicelli, it was so delicious that I wish I could buy it back home.
“The secret of the rich taste is that we simmered the curry for four hours,” said a villager who helped prepare the lunch.
There were also dishes I was unfamiliar with like nam phrik hua thue (spicy bitter ginger paste) served with fresh vegetables and bai sommao tom krati (boiled young leaves of sommao in coconut milk and with dried shrimp). For a southern style curry, its sweet but not spicy taste came as a surprise.
Other mouthwatering dishes were a spicy mango salad which the locals called tam mamut (mamut is a small wild mango fruit), pla tao chiao (deep fried fish with preserved soybean) and kaeng lueang (spicy curry soup with shrimp and vegetables). The soup had sliced green papaya and morning glory in it as well as pineapple, adding a sweet and sour taste.
The food in Ban Na Muen Si was really second to none. They can prepare food for any group of visitors with an advanced booking.
Na Muen Si has another popular tourism stop called Tham Khao Chang Hai, a limestone cave about 4km from the village. According to our local guide Prasert, it was opened to the public in 1989 and received its name from local folklore.
“Back when Nakhon Si Thammarat was the centre of Buddhism, its ruler wanted to build a pagoda to house Buddha’s relics. He invited rulers of nearby states to make merit with him by donating valuable items like gems and jewellery to be kept at the base of the pagoda,” he said.
One ruler travelled to Nakhon Si Thammarat with his entourage on the back of elephants. During the journey, one elephant gave birth while the group took rest not far from the cave. The offspring wandered around and went inside the cave.
Prasert continued: “A mahout found it and took it back to the group by using three thin red and white threads of yarn which he had already cast a spell on. But when he and the young elephant slowly walked past a farmland, a group of farmers kept shouting, ‘The yarn will be torn apart’, until the spell was broken. The young elephant ran away and went inside the cave, where despite all efforts, the mahout was not able to find it again. And that’s why people call the cave Tham Khao Chang Hai, or ‘the lost elephant cave’.”
The cave is quite big and has many chambers. But visitors do not have to be afraid of getting lost if they follow the rules and do not enter parts that are not yet open to the public.
Our visit took about two hours and the round trip was about 3km. The route was easy to negotiate, as the concrete walkway was built inside the cave and there are electric lights along the way.
“We haven’t yet finished exploring the cave,” said Prasert. As a result, some parts are still not open to the public.
For visitors like us, the short route was good enough because it allowed us to walk slowly and admire the many different shapes of limestone inside the cave.
If you plan to visit Trang and look for a new destination where you can mingle with locals and experience their way of life, travelling to Ban Na Muen Si can fit the bill.
Pla tao chiao or deep fried fish with preserved soybean.
Above Simply delicious lunch boxes.
Nam phrik hua thue with a selection of fresh vegetables.
Ban Na Muen Si is about 20-minute drive from Trang Airport. Three airlines that fly to Trang are Nok Air (nokair.com), Thai AirAsia (airasia.com) and Thai LionAir (lionairthai.com).
For more information about Na Muen Si Woven Cloth Community Enterprise, visit its Facebook page trangnameunsri or call 075-583-524 and 081-476-4318.