Cruising on a ferry along the Klong Chak Phra, I am exploring a different Bangkok from the one I know. We are sailing towards some of the villages of Thailand to get a glimpse of Rural Thailand. The silence is soothing and long-tailed boats replace the cars snarling down the roads. But it is not just the tourists who are floating along with us. The locals who live along the canal are taking the boats to the mainland. I see beautiful mansions and big bungalows with pretty gardens, built along the banks. While some of them are private residences, others are hotels and restaurants. My boat seems to wander aimlessly, entering narrower canals and I see a water monitor peeping its head from the foliage. The canals lead to the Taling Chan Floating Market , where an array of fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, and other dishes are being prepared.
I am completely charmed by the Bangkok that I see. Musicians are getting ready to perform while locals throng the narrow canals to savour the colourful dishes served in the boats. The vegetarian dishes are tempting and I bite into some local sweets and try the sticky rice. “This is just the beginning, “ says my guide, introducing herself, “ Call me Uma. My name is otherwise rather long and you won’t be able to pronounce it.”
As we take photographs of the variety of dishes prepared on the boats, Uma tells us that we will soon be heading into Rural Thailand and our destination will be Nakhon Nayok and Parchinburi Provinces. The sky is a pristine blue as we set out in a huge convoy of vehicles with the tourist police at the helm. I have done several road trips and yet this seems special as we are in the company of travel bloggers from all over Asia.
Our first stop is for shopping, We stop in the middle of nowhere, amidst a verdant village, and head to a local arts and crafts shop called Creation World Wild Wood where a local sustainable small-scale industry thrives. Mango wood which was once discarded is now being used to design and create hand-crafted home décor items like furniture, lamps, candleholders, plates, vases, and several home décor items. We stop by at a small workshop where the men are busy at work, chipping away at the wood and creating unique designs.
It starts drizzling. Suddenly the landscape transforms into a dream. It seems like an artist has dipped his brush in many shades of green and has given life to a painting here. The mist tiptoes upon us and as the mist and the scenery turns magical. A huge expanse of water greets the eye. We are at the Khun Dan Prakarnchon Dam in Ban Tha Dan town, Uma tells us it is the longest reinforced concrete dam in the world. The mountains cling to the waters, while we can see small hamlets dotting the lush landscape.
While agriculture is the main industry, eco-tourism and adventure tourism projects seem to be the next source of livelihood to the locals. Small resorts and hotels have mushroomed in the region and travellers can spend the day rappelling, rafting, and driving ATV bikes.
Our tryst with Rural Thailand gets more intriguing. Uma announces that our next stop is a hospital but when we land there, I see a palace. Standing in front of me is a magnificent monument, painted in shades of mustard yellow and white with a beautiful garden. For a moment I wonder if I am in Europe. Meanwhile, Uma quickly gives me some historical facts. The century-old palace was built as a residence by the local Governor for King Rama V when he visited the region, Prachinburi in the early 20th century. The king however hardly stayed here. The architectural style of the building is distinctly colonial with ornate doors and windows and it looks like a little castle surrounded by statues of roosters, standing for good luck. Today, however, it is a hospital and focusses on traditional medicine.
The Chaophya Abhaibhubejhr Building as it is referred to today is a part of the hospital which specializes in Thai medicine. A museum here showcases the ancient therapies and traditional healing methods. Jars containing snakes and scorpions, herbs, and potions are said to cure people of various diseases and allergies. There are also creams and lotions made of flowers and fruits, hibiscus and mangosteen in particular. The foundation works with the local farmers in cultivating herbs that are used in their remedies. We are then treated to a traditional Thai massage and the masseur gently prods and nudges the tired muscles and soothes the nerves. As I lie there pampered the soothing music lulls me to sleep,
But the best experience is yet to come, whispers Uma. And it is indeed, one of the most overwhelming experiences I have ever had. We head to a traditional village, Ban Dong Krathong Yam and the entire village is waiting for us, dressed in their finery to meet their international guests. And they had cooked for us. I am completely humbled. I have never seen such hospitality before. As I gulp down the delicious food, I learn that this village is often referred to as the noodle strainer village as the locals here make the noodle strainers used all over Thailand. There are so many experiences in the villages of Thailand but for me, this is the most memorable of them all.
As I potter around the village, I realize that there is so much of history tucked away in the lanes. Home to the ancient Thai Puan people, the village is still steeped in its own culture and customs. We see homes preserved for years and visit a museum to see some of their local items used by them. I step out to see a small monastery and some temples as well.
I walk around and see the men walking around in stilts egging some of us to try. There is a genuine bonhomie around. I sit by the temple and watch the people laughing and exchanging pleasantries. Life in a village is so simple indeed. Cities are bustling with life, but the soul of a country lies in its villages. And it is moments like these that play in your mind’s eye years after the trip is over. I have always been a fan of slow travel and after visiting Rural Thailand and some of the villages in Thailand, I slowly transform into a mindful traveller as well.
Finally, we are at Nakhon Nayok. Surrounded by mountains, lakes, waterfalls, fields, it is like a dreamland. Khao Yai National Park, Thailands oldest national park is located partly in this province as well. Historically the city dates back to the 11th century when it was ruled by the Dvaravati kingdom and later used aa as a garrison of the kings ruling Ayutthaya. Uma tells us that even today ruins can be found.
As we drive from the Town Hall towards our hotel, we are suddenly lost in verdant nature wrapped in a layer of mist. The provincial seal shows an elephant holding rice in his trunk – a symbol of the abundance of nature and prosperity.As I look upon the blooming lotus lakes and the surrounding mountains and forests, I tell myself that one day I will come back to explore more of Rural Thailand and take some time out in the villages of Thailand. Perhaps it will be one of my first trips as travel unlocks after the pandemic.
Where is Nakhon Nayok and How do I get to Nakhon Nayok from Bangkok ?
Nakhon Nayok is the capital of the Province and is located in the Chao Phraya Basin of Thailand. It is barely 100 kms from Bangkok and can be reached by taxis or buses. It takes about couple of hours by road and takes you through some of the beautiful villages of Thailand. Buses leave Bangkok every 30 minutes. There are plenty of tours and local transport that can take you to various sights in and around the town. Buses leave to neighbouring provinces like Prachinburi, while tuk tuks are around to take you around to local sights. You can also hire a taxi and explore some of the sights around Rural Thailand. The local tourism office is located in the Town Hall in Nakhon Nayok and can help you plan your trip.
This post made me Rediscover Thailand when I decided to go on a nostalgic trip for the #BlogYourThailand contest announced by #TATIndia and #TATNewDelhi. I dont participate in contests anymore but I honestly could not stop the flow of nostalgia. Its been over seven years since I visited Thailand and I really look forward to travel unlocking and #AmazingThailand opening up for tourists. Here is to #ResetInThailand