Friday, July 19, 2019

Wintry waterworld in Isaan

Dec 05. 2017
An observation tower resembles a bamboo water jar.
An observation tower resembles a bamboo water jar.
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By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
The Nation

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The Jim Thompson Farm Tours pay homage to the importance of water in everyday life in the northeast

THE JIM Thompson Farm in Nakhon Ratchasima is back among the country’s top winter attractions with its annual eco-cultural tours and fun family activities, continuing through January 7.

The flowers are in bloom and the fields are teeming with ripe organic fruit and vegetables, affording picturesque natural settings for photos, games and leisurely strolls.

The theme this year is Ter Toen Wen Wang, which means “Rushing Water – the Life Force of Isaan", showcasing water’s vital roles as a natural resource and a core component of northeastern traditions and beliefs. 

The waterdrop pumpkin patch sits in a sea of multicoloured flowers. 

“The farm tours started in 1999 and ever since it’s been an annual challenge to come up with different ideas for every year,” says Chutima Dumsuwan, who’s in charge of communications for the Jim Thompson company. 

“Ecotourism is booming around the country, and we always look for a unique theme capitalising on that success. Five years ago the theme was Sudsanan Dan Isaan, which featured a ‘mor lam bus’ that travelled around Isaan, and in the future that’s going to be developed as a mor lam museum. 

“This year it’s water that provides the inspiration, because it’s so closely linked to every aspect of Isaan life,” Chutima says. “We even look at the folk legend of how the Mekong River was formed.” 

The 700-rai farm boasts rice paddies, an imitation Isaan village, a handicrafts market and wide expanses of blossoming flowers – the pink cosmos and yellow sunflowers are perennial favourites. Right at the entrance is a bamboo walkway built to mimic the winding Mekong as it flows into an Isaan wonderland. 

On arriving at the farm, a walkway makes you think you’re entering Isaan along the Mekong River.

The pumpkin patch, a magnet for youngsters, is set out like a huge water droplet surrounded by a sea of white and red English roses, spiny spider flowers, blue salvias, petunias and orange cosmos. This has to be the most photogenic spot on the farm. 

New this year is the playground of Sa Lue Kue, a titan of Isaan lore, and Jung Kung Dung Dang, a huntsman, both of whom were present at the creation of the Mekong River and the Kaeng Khut Khu islets in Loei. 

Kids pack the area, bursting with glee, as they climb across a huge metal framework and spin on rides built by hand in the form of fishing equipment. An observation tower is shaped like a traditional bamboo water jar. 

“Lots of outsiders think of Isaan as being all dry, barren land, but in fact it’s full of wetlands,” says Yoothapong Martvisiet, the farm’s “Isaan cultural adviser”. 

“Ancient drawings of giant Mekong catfish on the cliffs in Pha Taem Nation Park prove that the region was abundant with fish 3,000 years ago. So, with this year’s water theme, we’re educating people by having some fun with the old-time folk tales.

“One legend has it that the Mekong is the flooded pathway used by Sa Lue Kue the titan, 

 and Jung Kung Dung Dang the huntsman lay down and died in the river, his body forming the islets known as Kaeng Khut Khu.”  

A playground has sprung from the legend of Sa Lue Kue the titan and Jung Kung Dung Dang the huntsman.

A water fountain powers a castle fashioned from translucent materials. Fields of organic rice and vegetables encroach on Isaan Village, where contemporary artworks are displayed. 

“Water is at the heart of life in this region, and particularly of agriculture,” says architect Phahonchai Premjai, another adviser at the farm. “We’ve borrowed ideas from the royal initiatives of His Majesty King Bhumibol in drawing water from the air, as in the giant bamboo jar filling up with dew and the floating garden of lemons and mangoes.”

Artist Intanong Chinnawong illustrates local fishing practices in the intriguing bamboo installation “Luang Pla” (“Fish Decoy”), which he built using various traditional fishing implements. It doesn’t catch fish, but it certainly lures the photographers. 

“I first collaborated with Jim Thompson in 2012 on ‘Sud Wiang’, a likeness of a fisherman casting his net,” says Intanong. “This time my parents, who are good with bamboo crafts, helped me create this rather complicated bamboo dome.”

An artwork by Intanong Chinnawong pays tribute to the ways people in the Northeast catch fish.

Another artist, Tanupon En-on, has rendered 77 “rockets” – actually cartoonish Naga reptile dolls suspended vertically – from discarded pha khao ma, in a nod to the eerie phenomenon of the Naga fireballs. 

“We’ve made the pha khao ma remnants more durable and waterproof,” he says. “The designs come from traditional Isaan murals.”

Artist Navin Rawanchaikul, who had a memorable role in last year’s winter festival with his “Lost on the Farm” exhibition, is back with comic-book-style illustrations tracing the history of Korat’s Pak Thong Chai district and the way Jim Thompson’s company became Thailand’s leading textile manufacturer and retailer. 

Tanupon Enon celebrates the Naga fireballs with an installation of colourful fabric rockets.

In Isaan Village, rice is set out in offerings to a sacred wooden Buddha stature more than 100 years old. Workshops are held showing visitors how to dye cloth naturally with indigo and how silkworms are raised and their silk woven. There’s a food street where you can sample authentic Korat delicacies and sweets. 

Weary visitors will surely welcome another new addition this year – an enjoyable boat ride to the Jim Thompson Market, where they sell silk apparel, accessories, home furnishings and agricultural products.



>> The Jim Thompson Farm Tours continue through January 7, daily from 9am to 5pm. 

>> Admission on weekdays is Bt180 (Bt130 for children), on weekends Bt220 (children Bt160) and during the New Year holidays Bt240 (children Bt180). 

>> Find out more at (02) 762 2566, and the “Jim Thompson Farm” page on Facebook. 


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