The pagoda of Wat Nong Ngueak that houses a Buddha image and relics. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Ban Nong Ngueak is part of the Yong ethnic community in Lamphun’s Pa Sang district. It has been known as a source of fine quality cotton woven fabrics in the northern province. A couple of years ago, the community was promoted by tourism authorities as a creative tourism destination. But when I went, the village was quiet. There was no sign of tourists nor a tourist guide map.
“Hello! Hello! Is anybody home?” I shouted while entering a cloth shop that was open in the front room of a house. A sign reading “a hand-woven cloth centre with natural dyes” was haning at the door. I heard the sound of a TV, but I saw no one.
Sharing the same fence of the house were six wooden looms. There was also a garden corner in the backyard where some cotton plants are grown among herbs and vegetables. I started surveying unfinished woven fabric at each weaving loom. There was a distinguished loom that was twice the size of others. A small signboard hung on the loom stating the word ki khu rak which means a loom for a loving couple.
Finally, a middle-aged woman emerged from the house. She wasn’t surprised to see me, a stranger. I immediately greeted her and asked if the weaving centre was still open.
“Of course, it is. The centre is always open and visitors are mostly welcome,” said Chuenchom Sukrongchang, the chairperson of the Cotton Woven Cloth Group of Ban Nong Ngueak, which was founded more than two decades ago.
She told me that the centre used to have countless visitors during its glory years a decade ago. Most of them liked ki khu rak. It was a unique wooden loom created for making large size cloth.
“We can weave bed covers at the size of 2.5m wide with the loom. We call it ki khu rak because it needs two people to work together while weaving cloth,” she said. To add a gimmick for tourists, a story was told that the love of a couple will last longer if they have a chance to weave cloth with the ki khu rak.
The centre also has choices of weaving courses if visitors want to learn how to make fabrics. Normally, the wooden looms of the centre are used by some members of the group. In total, the group has about 20 members and many of them weave cotton cloth at home.
“We do not weave cloth every day. Cloth weaving is not our main source of income. We grow longan for a living so our members are not always at the centre. They will show up when they have free time from the orchards. This month is the season for harvesting longan,” she said.
Ban Nong Ngueak is home to the Yong ethnic group, whose women are skilful in cloth weaving. They migrated from Muang Yong of Shan state of today’s Myanmar to the northern part of Thailand in 1805 or in the early Rattanakosin period.
Locals still speak the Yong language. The word “ngueak”, the name of the village, comes from the Yong language, said Chuenchom, adding that it meant naga.
According to the folklore of the village, naga lived in a natural pond where the water was never dry. The villagers believed that the naga helped protect their village and today the pond still exists. The pond has been developed to be a green space for the community. It is located only a short walk from the Hand-Woven Cloth Centre.
Most of the villagers of Ban Nong Ngueak are Buddhist. The centre of Buddhism activities is Wat Nong Ngueak. Built in 1828, the temple has the sacred Buddha image called Phra Phet, a 12-inch tall seated Buddha image and a golden painted pagoda to house 100 Buddha relics.
Every year on the Full Moon day of June, locals will organise a festival where the temple abbot will reveal the Buddha image of Phra Phet for people to be blessed by watering the Buddha’s image.
Another attraction of the temple is murals on the inside walls of Hor Tham, a hall for keeping manuscripts. The fading paintings tell stories of the life of Buddha with descriptions in the Lanna language.
Opposite the entrance gate of the temple is a folk museum. It is located on the second floor on the top of a row of shophouses. The museum has three exhibition rooms that house daily items used by Yong people, old Buddha images, manuscripts and other collections like coins and photos.
Unfortunately, the museum is temporarily closed because there is no budget for operations, according to a local who holds the key of the museum. He was kind enough to open the museum for me to see the old collections and even volunteered to be my guide.
“We have waited for the budget for renovating the museum for a while. We want to reopen it at least for our own people to see their roots,” he said, adding that in the meantime if visitors stopped by the museum and show an interest, he would open the door and would be happy to be a museum guide.
He also suggested that I come back to the village from April 9-12 when an annual walking street will be organised on the road in front of Ban Nong Ngueak Temple. He said during Songkran, locals wear traditional Yong dresses to make merit at the temple.
Men and women will wrap a long white cotton cloth around their heads. Men wear indigo-dyed cotton long-sleeved shirts, with straight collared and coiled buttons down the front, and cotton trousers. Women will wear cotton blouses and ankle-length pha sin or traditional tube skirts with brocades called pha yok dok.
“You will be stunned with our beautiful tradition,” he assured me. He just gave me an interesting idea about where to spend my vacation during the coming Songkran festival to mark Thai New Year.
Ban Nong Ngueak is about 20km southwest of Muang district of Lamphun. The village also offers a homestay service.
A night stay for two in an air-conditioned room is 800 baht including breakfast.
A two-day package including one-night accommodation and four meals is priced at 2,000 baht per person.
The homestay can offer a shuttle service between the city of Chiang Mai to the village. The distance is about 50km. The round-trip service fee is 1,000 baht for up to 10 people.
Call Chuenchom Sukrongchang, the chairperson of the Cotton Woven Cloth Group of Ban Nong Ngueak on 089-559-6805 and Boonchum Kaewkan on 085-039-8088.