By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
BANGKOK MIGHT have enjoyed an all-too-brief spell of colder weather last week but up in the Phayaprab foothills of Nakhon Ratchasima’s Pak Thong Chai district, the cool breezes are once again blessing the crops of vegetables and flowers that make Jim Thompson Farm such a delight to visit.
Like every December, the farm has once again opened its gates to welcome visitors for an agro-cultural tour devoted to sustainable living and the Isaan way of life. Continuing until January 6, the tour also offers visitors the chance to learn about the intricate silk production that makes the farm’s namesake a household name all over the world.
The observation tower is surrounded by a field of yellow blooms.
Slightly more than three hours by car from Bangkok, the farm was originally created to raise silkworms and the mulberry bushes on whose leaves they feed. It was developed as a tourist attraction in 1999 and in the last two years alone has attracted almost 500,000 visitors –270,000 in 2016 and 170,000 in 2017.
The theme changes every year. Last year, it was “Ter Toen Wen Wang” (Rushing Water – the Life Force of Isaan) to showcase water’s vital role as a natural resource and a core component of northeastern traditions and beliefs, This year, with “Zap Nua Huamuan: Happy Flavours”, the focus is on Isaan culinary delights and fun spirit for which the region is known.
Different Isaan-style delicacies are on offer.
In the Isaan dialect, zap nua refers to something that is pleasingly tasty while huamuan means bursting into laughter and joy.
“Issan food is chosen as the main theme this year because it’s not just tasty but also narrates the way of life, cultures and traditions. Visitors can discover more about Issan people through their cuisine, such as how they forage for the ingredients, the tools they use, the cooking techniques and what they use to preserve their food,” says Chutima Dumsuwan, Jim Thompson’s communications director.
Grilled chicken is a local favourite and best enjoyed with sticky rice and som tum.
“Many delightful attractions and activities are also arranged for people of all ages. This year, the weather is very nice and the flowers are in full bloom, making the farm an ideal place to relax and have fun.”
The clear sky, cool breeze and stunning vista of flowers as well as colourful organic fruit and vegetable orchards are inviting enough for people to return year after year. Everywhere I look, a visitor is holding a camera or a mobile phone and I find myself taking evasive action to avoid photobombing someone else’s shoot.
The most popular place to take photos at Jim Thompson Farm is the 50-rai pink cosmos field.
The tour of the 600-rai farm starts at its famous 50-rai field of pink cosmos, this year also boasting six site-specific installations by celebrated female artist Pinaree Sanpitak for the “Art on Farm” project that sees the farm inviting guest artists to create works revolving around the tour theme.
Titled “Breast Stupa Topiary”, six structures of steel rebars are created in form of a breast and are entwined with vines of edible plants such as butterfly pea, gac fruits, and ivy gourd.
Pinaree Sanpitak’s site-specific works “Breast Stupa Topiary” are created in breast form and entwined with the vines of edible plants.
For more than two decades, Pinaree has used aspects of the female form as gender metaphors that are both universal yet deeply personal. Breasts become temple stupas, then morph into cooking pots.
Her 1996 installation “Confident Bodies” involved an array of rather scary female torsos sculpted from saa (mulberry) bush fibre. Breast-shaped baking moulds and other cooking vessels continue to pop up (or out) in her ongoing “Breast Stupa Cookery” project that has guest chefs
and artists finding ways to fill out the aluminium and ceramic mammaries.
On the opening day of the farm on December 8, Pinaree collaborated with noted chef Weerawat Triyasenawat of Samuay & Sons restaurant in Udon Thani in holding a special dinner for invited guests. Pinaree created a set of ceramic dinnerware inspired by the form of the breast and chef Weerawat took diners on his culinary journey by adopting a modern take on traditional Isaan fare, with an emphasis on indigenous, sustainable, seasonal and foraged produce.
Pinaree’s installation art “The Mats and the Pillows Jim Thompson Farm” invites visitors to enjoy a short nurturing nap.
At the central pavilion of the Isaan Village is another of Pinaree’s installations titled “The Mats and the Pillows Jim Thompson Farm” featuring mats made out of defective yarns from Jim Thompson’s production and khid pillows made by craftsmen from Maha Sarakham province. These mats and pillows are laid out for visitors to take a rest and recall her previous puffy organza breast cushion “Noon Nom” (Resting on the Breasts), which also encouraged the viewer to enjoy a short nurturing nap.
The popular spots on the farm are, as ever, the pumpkin patch and the observation tower shaped like a traditional bamboo water jar, both of which are surrounded by a sea of yellow dao krajai, dao rueng farangsed, and soi gai blooms.
The rice field forms the backdrop to a cluster of Isaan-style wooden houses.
A cluster of Isaan-style wooden houses with its backdrop of rice fields isn’t just candy for the eyes but this year serves as the central spot in hosting an array of activities related to Isaan cuisine, among them the health benefits of local dishes, the foraging technique, and the local diet that includes freshwater snails, tadpoles, frogs, and insects. A variety of Isaan foods prepared by many eateries are also provided.
The new attraction is an 80-year-old triple roller mill machine that mills grains grown on the farm.
The new on-site attraction is an 80-year-old triple roller mill machine that still functions and mills grains grown on the farm. It also supplies jasmine and sticky rice to the Spirit restaurant by Jim Thompson in downtown Bangkok.
Visitors can enjoy a relaxing boat ride along the reservoir to Jim’s Market.
Visitors can enjoy a recreational boat ride or a journey by bamboo raft on the reservoir to Jim’s Market, which offers a wide range of goods from silk apparel and accessories, agricultural products and processed foods, all of which make great festive season gifts.
The Jim Thompson Farm at Pak Thong Chai district, Nakhon Ratchasima province is open to the public daily until January 6 from 9am to 5pm.
Admission on weekdays is Bt180 (Bt130 for children), and Bt220 (children Bt160) on weekends. Senior citizens pay Bt90.
Online tickets are available at www.ThaiTicketMajor.com.
Find out more at (02) 762 2566 or visit www.JimThompsonFarm.com.