The red earth of Buriram
11 September 2017
Often considered the poorest region of Thailand, Isan is rarely part of the tourist trail, despite the attraction of the Khmer temples. However, longer and more personalised immersion provides the option to get to know the locals and discover some ancestral savoir-faire.
In fact, Buriram province is known for its orange-coloured fabrics, naturally dyed using the volcanic rock. The community platform VeryLocalTrip organises 2- to 3-day trips to discover the traditions of these communities and to explore the region off the beaten track.
It is 8:00 am. when Yim comes to get us from our hotel, a few kilometres from Phanom Rung. For the next two or three days, she will be our local guide to the region. Originally from the Chonburi province, Yim has been living in Nang Rong for 20 years and is passionate about the history of the Khmer Empire and the communities and each of their skills. She knows the history of every temple by heart, and explains to us how to identify when they were built based on details on the bas-reliefs.
After visiting the temples, we leave for the village of Charoen Suk. Next to the house of one of the village’s elders is a place where the women come to dye cotton thread in a mixture made from earth, bark and fruit. A full range of shades of orange is achieved, depending on the brightness of the mixture and the time left to steep. This is a supplementary activity for many of these women. After two days dying and drying the cotton, they weave head scarves, blouses and trousers which they then sell to visitors, and mainly to wholesalers for derisory sums. Yim acts as an interpreter, while we pour out questions about production, sale prices, these women’s lifestyle and origin of this skill. With very little written evidence, the elder dates this dying tradition to 60 years ago, perhaps 80, she’s not too sure.
The skill, however, might well be lost – younger generations are turning their backs on this type of manual and low-paying work. The meeting is extensive and we do not leave before until we, ourselves, have answered many questions from the community.
During our stay, we also discover a community which specialises in silk at the heart of the village of Nong Ta Kai, silkworm cultivation as well as the village of Baan Somjit, where we taste khao tok (ขๅว้ ตอก), a crispy rice pancake with caramel, a delicacy.
VeryLocalTrip’s idea is to offer experiences, trips and immersion at the heart of a village, a community, while taking into account the impact this will have on them, as founder Maxime Besnier explains: “We pay attention to social impact, it is all a matter of training, which we carry out with these communities so that they can continue to live off their own activities and not off tourism, even if tourism does bring them money, since they receive 70 % of the money that the travellers pay.” In order to achieve this, VeryLocalTrip works in partnership with the Research Center of Communication and Development Knowledge Management (CCDKM).