Changplaeng Naowarat weaves suea kok, a paper reed mat.
After Ban Khok Muang in Buri Ram won the Otop Village Champion award in 2006, village head Prasit Loiprakhon was confident that it would help boost tourism in his community.
He was wrong.
He also thought having homestay may help attract visitors to this low-profile farming village, which is located close to the well-known Prasat Muang Tam sanctuary in Prakhon Chai. He was wrong again.
Tourism did not take off.
He realised that something was missing. But he couldn’t find the solution at the time. In 2010,
another chance came around when the village won the Sufficiency Economy Award of the Office Of The
Royal Development Projects Board. He was sent to a workshop that helped enlighten him. “After winning the honourable award, our village must be a learning centre to promote the sufficiency economy and local wisdoms,” he said.
The village head and the locals have applied the concept of King Rama IX’s sufficiency economy in
daily life for years. They grow rice and also plant vegetables and herbs in an organic way for their own
kitchens. They sell some produce when the yield is high. However, Prasit did not truly know the meaning
of “local wisdoms” until he joined a training session at the Community Development Department.
It was his eureka moment. He found the missing puzzle piece.
“Local wisdoms are in every corner of our village. I did not have to look any further. I only have to reach
out for them and put them in the spotlight,” he said.
Throughout the community, there are many types of handicrafts. Women, for example, weave silk cloths. Some people can make coconut oil, herbal teas, fertilisers, clay pots, organic jasmine rice and
mats from ton kok or paper reed plants.
When he told the villagers that he wanted to promote the community as a tourism destination, reactions
were mixed. Those who disagreed were afraid that their simple lives would be changed. They also
did not see any reason why visitors would want to come to the farming village.
“I started with those who agreed with my tourism project. When it became a success, more people
would join me,” he recalled.
He started with a group of housewives who made dishwashing liquid and gradually expanded to other
groups. At present, Ban Khok Muang has 10 craft groups attracting visitors to the village.
A villager shows pha kao ma, a chequered loincloth, woven by locals.
Starting from groups of students, visitors gradually expanded to include government agencies and
members of the general public who want to gain hands-on experience. Some activities can be applied to their daily lives, such as growing organic herbs and vegetables, making kaffir lime shampoo and mulberry leaf tea.
One of the most notable craft groups makes paper reed woven mats. The group has 30 members, of which about 50% are disabled. “I can have a job by weaving a mat, although I can’t move the lower part
of my body,” said Bang-on Karin, 58, who uses a wheelchair after an accident.
Bang-on is part of the the mat weaving group’s creative team. She designs iconic patterns for the village,
inspired by Prasat Phanom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam, well-known historical sites in Buri Ram.
The fine patterns make their mats unique. Another highlight of the woven mats is their soft and smooth texture. The volcanic soil’s fertility helps soften the paper reed stems, she said.
They get the mud from a huge pond in the village, which sits on the site of an old, inactive volcano.
“We believe that the mud from the pond is as old as 1,000 years. It is good grade mud that can enhance
our product quality,” said Changplaeng Naowarat, 62, another member of the group.
The mud is used in the last process of preparing raw material. First, they have to clean and peel the stems of paper reed plants and leave them to dry under the sun for three days. The next step is to soak them in muddy water for half-a-day and dry the stems again before weaving. If colours are needed, the villagers will dye the dry stems before soaking them in the mud. It takes them a few days to finish weaving a mat, which costs about 350 baht.
The group can also produce other products from paper reed, such as tissue boxes, hats, vases and table
plate mats. Visitors also have the opportunity to try weaving a mat themselves.
Yarn is dyed with natural colours, like yellow from marigold flowers.
Another workshop that visitors can join teaches how to dye cotton or silk yarns with natural dyed
colours. The group also uses the volcanic mud to soften the texture of yarns. Patcharaporn Thiamsung, vice-president of the cloth weaving group, demonstrated the process. She
prepared a piece of garden net and poured the mud on it.
She then squeezed the net to screen out dry leaves and stones from the mud. Afterwards, she put the black sticky matter in a plastic washing-up bowl and add water before submerging dyed yarns in the
bowl for 30 minutes.
She then cleansed the yarn with water until the water was clear and hung it for drying, before it
would be woven into scarves and pha kao ma (chequered loincloths).
“We are applying for the Green Peacock certification of the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture. The logo will indicate our product quality of natural dyed colours,” she added.
During the past 10 years, Ban Khok Muang has welcomed people from many parts of the country who want to experience the old wisdoms and the simple way of life of farmers.
According to Ban Khok Muang village head Prasit, tourism has brought new income to the community. On average, each family earned about 100,000 baht a year from farming about a decade ago. Since becoming a tourist destination, average household income
has doubled, he said.
“It proves that we are going toward the right direction. We will continue improving our products and services so that our young generation will be proud of the local wisdoms and keep them alive,” he added.
Paper reed plants are grown in the village.