Monday, March 03, 2008

A Trip to Phrae

Well, well, well... look who's back?

I arrived early this morning from the province of Phrae in the north of Thailand, eight hours by train from Bangkok. Our office has a project on cultural awareness and heritage preservation in the area in which we partner with an NGO called House of Books. The latter mainly caters to kids in the town and facilitates activities (such as local tours and pottery and cooking lessons) that enhance the kids' understanding and appreciation of their local culture. I'm not really a part of the project, but since I'm a big pakialamera, I pressured my colleague to bring me along with the team.

We visited the 100-year old train station in Ban Pin on our first day...

Last Saturday, I volunteered to cook breakfast for the team. Adobo was of course the easiest dish, although I have not made it since, I don't know, the first EDSA revolution or something. Anyhoot, they loved it. They really did LOOOOVE it, I'm surprised as well.

Later in the day, we brought the kids to the Khum Jao Luang, the palace of the last King of Phrae, built in the 1880s. It's a nice mixture of Western and Thai architecture. This is apparently called a Manila-style house! No wonder it reminded me of some of the old houses back home, especially the lace-like trimmings on the windows. The basement of the building served as an eerie dungeon where prisoners were kept. I hated seeing those chains that they used for the prisoners during those days.

We also visited a house that sells shirts, scarves, and pants made of cotton that were dyed with indigo. The place was done in traditional Lana architecture, which means that it stands high on stilts and with an open floor plan on the second floor. Most northern Thailand houses are made of teak wood, the area being the epicenter of the teak wood industry of the country.

Later in the afternoon, the group visited an organic vegetable farm where the kids squealed at the sight of mud fish and pigs. I spent my time taking pictures of the flowers.

The next day, a group of conservation activists took us and the kids on a walking tour of the old teak houses in the district. Most of the houses are not occupied anymore, with the owners choosing to build newer houses adjacent to the old ones. A number of these houses have been demolished through the years, making calls for conservation very critical. The guide was pointing out a lot of the details of the houses we visited but since he was speaking in Thai I did not pick up anything at all *sob*.

At around lunch time, we met the mayor , who guided us around the ancient wall of the city. We started at the spot of what remained of the moat and we clambered to the top of the wall (made of mud) where they placed a path for strolling. The walls had been overgrown by tall trees now, making the walk very pleasant indeed.

In the afternoon, while the kids tended to their compost pit at the House of Books, my colleague brought me to the Baan (House) Vonburi, which is the house of the first wife of the last king of Phrae, built in 1897. The house, again following the Manila-style, was painted pink because the wife was supposedly born on a Tuesday. In Thai culture, each day of the week has a corresponding color and that also serves as your personal color. It's a wonderfully-preserved house with old furnitures and items are placed carefully around the rooms to evoke old times. We found a crib that was supposedly used by four generations of the family.

It has been a long time since I've been to a place as rural as Phrae. Life is really slow. We spend our afternoons and early evenings picking fruits and listening to the wailing of a traditional Thai instrument called saw, which one of the volunteers play (incessantly). Sometimes, our host would perform traditional dance to the music of the saw.

My stay in Phrae ws relaxing for the first two days but on the third day I was dying to go back to the chaos of the city. I had great memories of the experience though. Particularly stirring was how the residents truly value their heritage. Their effort of instilling such pride among the kids is probably the most important aspect of their work.

And of course, the requisite solo shot (and you actually thought I'd forget that?).

Tomorrow, I'm off to yet another province in northeast Thailand.

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