By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej had a long and happy relationship with Kui Buri district in Prachuab Khiri Khan province and today his new agricultural theory on land and water management is being applied here for the first time.
The water management system is called khok nong na – khok meaning a moulded mound, nong a catchment, and na a field. Here, when it rains, the water runs down from the Tenasserim hills into the first catchment. When that catchment overflows, the water goes to the second catchment and runs through a khlong sai kai (spiral filling canal) towards the third catchment and the loom khanom khrok (a small catchment dug along the canal) before ending in the field. Along this canal line, the flow is continuously decelerated by a fai or weir. Crops are planted in terraced fields between those catchments to ensure irrigation.
Kui Buri has developed its own khok nong na and it’s known as the Kui Buri Model.
The district has long offered a range of homestay accommodation, but Viroj Soongying is the first resident to connect his homestay with the khok nong na model to promote sustainable tourism following the royal wisdom of the late King Rama IX.
Viroj, who lives in Baan Phubon, recently turned 50 though he looks considerably younger thanks, he says, to his love of cross-country mountain biking. Born and raised in Kui Buri, he left as a young man to work in the jewellery trade for 20 years, returning to his native land after learning about the late monarch’s philosophy related to natural agriculture.
“I love eating local, wild and organic vegetables that are in season and grow organic vegetables on two rai of my land," says Viroj, who uses a further rai as a demonstration plot for the khok nong na model. “Climate change means that the world is heating up almost daily and we have to reduce the use of chemicals. This Kui Buri Model is a cooperation between three villages – Phubon, Yang Sue, and Ruam Thai.”
Viroj is a mountain-biking coach for five students from the villages and also a member of a group actively promoting the King’s philosophy for sustainable tourism. He has two homestays and also welcomes tourists to his own house.
“Visitors can learn the king’s wisdom by themselves through digging catchments, planting vetiver grass and trees, and finding shellfish, shrimp fresh water fish in the reservoir. And when they’ve done that, they can relax over such healthy dishes as pineapple curry with mussels and pork ribs soup. A homestay is priced at Bt600 per person,” says Viroj.
We start our stay by visiting the check dams built above Yang Chum Reservoir to store water for use as well as slow down the water flow to prevent flooding, maintain soil moisture and to provide water for the elephants that roam this area. The construction of check dams can be done at intervals and take the shape of a pond that is then connected with a pipeline system to disperse water and create moisture for the forest, which continues to serve as a food source for the elephants. We also spend time at the reservoir, which is wonderfully tranquil and demands to be photographed.
We have fried tilapia fish from the reservoir for our lunch and dinner. The freshwater fish, whose history dates back to Ancient Egypt, was introduced to Thailand by the late King in the 1960s. In 1965, the Thai monarch was looking for fish species with high nutritional value and which could breed fast to solve the problem of malnutrition among Thais in rural areas, and the tilapia fish from Japan was the species he chose. Later, the king bestowed the fish with the name “Pla Nil” from its English name “Nilotica” or Nile River fish.
Later, on the way to Kui Buri National Park to watch elephants and gaur and where, we are told, we are only allowed entry between 2 and 5pm, we stop off at a 1,500-rai meadow managed by the Department of Livestock and admire the tunnel formed by chamchuri trees and the herds of cows and flocks of sheep that graze here. Pine trees sway lightly in the background and the bucolic scene reminds me of happy times spent in rural New Zealand. The meadow had also been planted with ruzi and pangola – the highest-quality tropical grasses – which serve as forage for Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahon, the first white elephant of King Rama IX.
Kui Buri National Park is a sight for sore eyes and we quickly climb into a ranger’s vehicle for the almost eight-kilometre drive to our first stop. After a while we spot a family of three elephants and others in the far distance. After that, we drive on to Phu Yaisai, Payang Ranger Station and Pong Saladdai, spotting the occasional elephant and also some gaur. On our way back, the ranger receives a report of elephants near the path and we stop for a while until these magnificent beasts move away of their own accord.
Prior to the park’s creation, villagers and elephants were at odds, with many conflicts turning tragic, even deadly. In the late 1970s, settlers migrated from all corners of Thailand to the area, establishing the village of Ruam Thai and cultivating pineapple where elephants had once roamed unimpeded. With fields of the fruit encroaching on what had been their territory, the animals began raiding farmlands, destroying crops, and leaving villagers furious. The killing of two elephants in 1997 – one poisoned, the other shot dead and burned – marked the peak of the conflict, attracting countrywide attention, including from King Bhumibol Adulyadej – the unquestionable patron of Thailand’s conservation movement.
Upon the park’s establishment in 1999, the king issued a special royal address calling for people to protect the elephants and their habitat: “Elephants should be in the forest. But we must ensure that there is enough food for them. In practical terms, we should create many small food plots spread around the forest in order to keep the elephants from invading the plantations and to help protect the elephants,” he said.
And thus came the Conservation and Restoration of Kuiburi National Forest Project to conserve wild elephants and wildlife.
The following day, we head back to the national park but this time through a different entrance to see the stumps of sandalwood trees. Nine of the trees were cut for use in HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s royal cremation ceremony, three for that of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, and a further three for the funeral rites of Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, the 19th supreme patriarch of Thailand.
“Some Thai tourists sit and cry while hugging the stump,” Viroj tells us.
We take the longest of the two routes to see the stumps and are led up the two-kilometre climb by park official Somnuek Klinhom, who tells us about the trees, insects and salt licks along the elephant trail.
“Kui Buri National Park has more than 200,000 sandalwood trees and is the first and only place that can grow sandalwood for the royal family’s cremation ceremonies. Because of the dry evergreen forest, the timbers of the sandalwoods don’t contract like in other places. For King Rama IX’s cremation ceremony, a royal brahmin spent more than a month with us selecting the trees that met the criteria – they must be dead and aged over 100 years,” says Somnuek.
If You Go
- To reserve Viroj Soongying's homestay, call (090) 784 7298.