Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A heritage revived

Aug 24. 2018
The Old Market in front of  Wat Phra That features traditional performances, workshops and local street food.
The Old Market in front of Wat Phra That features traditional performances, workshops and local street food.
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By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
The Nation Weekend

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The Southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat relies on its traditions to draw tourists

FORMERLY KNOWN as the Kingdom of Ligor, Nakhon Si Thammarat is one of the most ancient cities in Thailand with a history that can be traced back more than 1,800 years. Located some 600 kilometres from Bangkok but easily accessed by air, the town is promoting itself as a new weekend escape for people of all ages. 

With a good selection of homestay accommodation and plenty of old markets scattered in and around town, this southern province is a great place to unwind and revel in the charms of the good old days. 

Nakhon Si Thammarat is the hometown of veteran artisan Nikom Nok-aksorn and his students from the Nakhon Crafts club. In 2004, Ajarn Nikom turned his house opposite Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan into the Nakhon Nielloware Learning Centre from where he happily demonstrates the art of making elaborate niello jewellery and household items.

Master Nikom Nokaksorn and his students show off their skills in crating elaborate gold nielloware.

In 2012, he was selected as a Master Artisan of Thailand by the Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (Sacict) and is best known for the exquisite one-of-kind gold-lacquered amulet case crafted especially for Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

“Nakhon Si Thammarat has been famous for nielloware for centuries. Our ancestors formulated a perfect mixture of sulphur, lead, tin and silver with five per cent copper to ensure the durability and maintain the beautiful shape of niello. It’s a skill that has been passed down through the generations,” says Nikom, who graduated in art and crafts from Poh-Chang Academy of Arts and studied nielloware at Nakhon Si Thammarat Art & Craft College.

“Nielloware can be divided into three categories: silver-lacquered, gold-lacquered and gold-painted. Different skills are required for the painting, carving and moulding.”

Inspired by local leaves, flowers and plants, Nakhon Si Thammarat’s original nielloware is carved by hand to create sharp, long-lasting designs, different from the nielloware produced in Thailand’s central region for which acid is used.

Visitors to the centre can admire striking gold-lacquered clutches and camera cases, silver-lacquered glasses, bracelets and bowls as well as gold-painted niello clutches, ranging in price from Bt8,000 to Bt90,000.

After joining a handicraft workshop, we head to Chian Yai district and board the Choomai Riverside Resort’s ferry. Our private cruise along the Chian Yai River takes an hour and rewards us with striking views of lush jungle, fishing villages and temples. 

On the way we stop at Baan Yai Homestay, where former teacher Wilai Srirordpet, 63, greets us with refreshing herbal drinks and home-made Thai sweets. Seven years ago, Wilai and her architect son transformed their 100-year-old house into a small boutique resort on the theme “when was the last time you cuddled your grandma?”

Shaded by towering trees, this lovely compound accommodates three comfortable cottages modified from the original rice granary and kitchen. The prices are ultra reasonable: Bt200 for a mattress and Bt300 for a bed. 

There’s no air-conditioning and the decor is simple but the cottages boast TVs and fans and the shared bathrooms are spotless and kitted out with all amenities. A pavilion on the bank is designed as both a living room and open-air spa where during the day guests can enjoy a herbal compress massage and footbath given by the villagers. 

“Guests can also go fishing or paddle a boat along the river. My house is surrounded with banana plantations and rice fields so I’m planning to create some creative activities like a mud slide for children,” Wilai says. 

Baan Yai Homestay offers accommodations in an adapted rice barn and kitchen. 

The boat drops us off at the popular Chian Yai Riverside Market that is packed with booths and stalls every Saturday. A group of students performs cultural dances on the stage and the market presents a wide range of local desserts, rare Southern delicacies and OTOP merchandise at reasonable prices. 

Well worth sampling are the khao yum (spicy rice salad with vegetables), khanom jeen namya koei (rice-flour noodles in a shrimp gravy), khanom ta bod made from sticky rice flour and topped with residue of coconut oil and khanom khuen (nipa palm cake). All the food and drinks are served in eco-friendly banana leaf floats, bamboo glasses and wickerwork.

“Nakhon Si Thammarat is rich in nature and culture. We’ve set up street markets to help communities generate more income while also conserving our traditions. The markets combine OTOP products and handicrafts, which make great souvenirs,” says Khajornkiet Rakpanichmanee, vice governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat. 

 Food stalls line the colourful Chian Yai Riverside Market every Saturday. 

Back in downtown Nakhon Si Thammarat, the one-kilometre road in front of Wat Phra Mahathat Worawihan is converted into a colourful market every Saturday night. Operated by the local Chamber of Commerce, this iconic walking street was set up last year as a new tourist attraction. 

“It’s a collaboration between the community, provincial officials and the private sector. We want tourists to stay in our province for an extended period rather than just passing through. We added arts and culture to the market to represent the unique lifestyle of Nakhon Si Thammarat,” says Kiattikorn Charoenpanich, the Chamber’s deputy secretary.

“Currently the market is generating some Bt3 million a week and has been named as one of the 

 top 10 Cultural Street Markets by the Culture Ministry.” 


The Old Market in front of  Wat Phra That features traditional performances, workshops and local street food

The market is divided into three zones. The Art and Culture section offers Do-It-Yourself workshops on batik, shadow puppets and textile dyeing. The OTOP corner combines all kinds of local handicrafts including refined Yan Lipao bags in different designs and gold niello jewellery from Nakhon Crafts. 

Local vendors dressed in period costumes man the 300 stalls, many serving tempting dishes and sweets in banana leaves, paper bags and coconut shells. The lively entertainment zone is popular with young visitors, with classical cultural performances by 

 veteran and new-wave artists of manorah, likay hulu, rong-ngeng and shadow puppets.

The Wisdom Village showcases all sorts of local handicraft products and hosts cultural performances by students. 

A little out of town, the Wisdom Village in Tha Ruea district is open every Sunday. It belongs to Ajarn Thawee Plaiduang and features more than 30 fashion boutiques, souvenir shops and food pavilions plus a mini shadow puppet theatre. 

“This green market combines culture and local wisdom under one roof. We have more than 40 members selling food made without MSG along with handicrafts and agricultural products,” Thawee says. 

“I’m developing 100 courses in arts and crafts so we can turn this market into a lifestyle learning centre. I’m also working with other local craftsmen to develop new designs of lipao and krajood bags and nielloware inspired by shadow puppets.”

Hemmed in by lush gardens, guests can spend a few hours checking out the latest collection of colourful batik fashions, krajood bags and mats, bamboo wickerwork and home decorative items. And in addition to the many snacks and herbal beverages on sale, there’s a mini super market packed with vegetables and fruits from local farms.

The Pak Phanang Old Market is packed with vendors dressed in Thai period costumes selling signature local dishes and desserts. 

In Pak Phanang district, Bang Chalang Canal is home to the first old market in Nakhon Si Thammarat and boasts some 50 pavilions with nipa leaf roofs and more than 300 street stalls. 

Every Sunday evening local vendors dressed in period costumes offer a rare selection of Pak Phanang signature desserts and specialities including traditional red fried rice, nine-filling sticky rice dumplings, khanom patung (coconut-filled soft waffle made from Nam Hom coconut juice, duck eggs and butter), and khanom krok (soft coconut crepe roll made from rice flour, eggs, coconut milk and shallots).

“Pak Phanang district was a marine trade hub before the U Tok Vibhaja Prasid Barrage in the Pak Phanang River Basin Royal Development Project was constructed in 1996. Three years ago, the mayor set up this traditional market to help villagers earn more income and promote tourism. The fee to rent space is just Bt10 so the vendors are able to keep their own prices low. We adhere to the sufficiency economy philosophy and use local natural materials like lotus, banana, nipa palm leaves and paper bags that are friendly to the environment and save money,” says Nattanun Juntaratip, deputy mayor, Municipality of Pak Phanang. 

The Pak Phanang Old Market is packed with vendors dressed in Thai period costumes selling signature local dishes and desserts. 

Also on offer is a collection of innovative handicrafts made with coconut shells, handmade Chinese-style bamboo hats known as muak piew and baskets and accessories made from nipa leaves. Members of the local club for the elderly keep the entertainment going with folk songs and cultural dances.

“Visitors can also take a 90-minute river cruise that allows them to learn about the mangrove forest and experience the lifestyle of fishing villages in the Pak Phanang basin. We recently received a Bt63 million grant to develop our landscapes and security system. We are also opening a new vintage-themed night market that will run from 8pm to midnight,” Nattanun adds.



>> Nakhon Nielloware Learning Centre is on Sarieng Road, Muang District. Call (075) 346 391.

>> A private cruise along Chian Yai River is priced at Bt2,000. Visit the Choomai Riverside Resort Facebook page or call (061) 750 2224. 

>> The Chian Yai Riverside Market is open every Saturday from 3 to 9pm.

>> The Old Market in front of Phra That is open every Saturday from 5 to 9pm. 

>> The Wisdom Village is in Tha Ruea district and open every Sunday from 9am to 6pm. 

>> The Pak Phanang Old Market is next to Pak Phanang Prison and open every Sunday from 3 to 8pm. 


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