Travel

All about Thai loincloth, Isaan lifestyle

If you visit Thailand in winter, make a beeline for the Jim Thompson Farm, which is open for only one month each year

With the cool season now in full swing, the Jim Thompson Farm in Pak Thong Chai district of Nakhon Ratchasima has once again thrown open its gates and is inviting Thais and foreigners to take in the beauty of nature and experience the Isaan way of life. The farm is over three hours from Bangkok by road.

Designed around the theme Kak-Ta-Ta! Phrae E Pho (Amazing Loincloth), this year's farm tour aims to broaden visitors' knowledge of the multifunctional pa kao ma.

And the pa kao ma in new palettes inspired by golden rice paddies and the fields of flowers are everywhere on the farm, forming giant wind wheels and a home for giant pumpkins as part of renowned artist Navin Rawanchaikul's multifaceted exhibition, Lost On The Farm, marking Jim Thompson's 110th birthday.

The twin allure of tradition and nature in bloom makes Jim Thompson Farm tours a much-awaited event each year. PHOTOS: THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Thompson was an American businessman who revitalised the Thai silk industry.

FIVE ZONES

The 96ha farm is divided into five themed zones covering colourful flower fields, organic vegetable plantations, a wonderfully decorated pumpkin patch, a model Isaan-style village and a handicraft market.

"We've introduced a new kind of bloom and created a new garden by focusing on the loincloth's functions," says Phahonchai Premjai, architect and adviser to the Jim Thompson Farm.

"Our aim is to show how the people of Isaan interact with the pa kao ma from birth to death.

"Navin and his team have created a new music-video version of the Pa Kao Ma song by Surin Phaksiri as a complement to the exhibition."

Like every year, the cosmos field greets visitors with a sea of pink as the shuttle buses head to the heart of the farm.

A favourite with all ages, the pumpkin patch is this year joined by a giant pumpkin-like house built from loincloths and a towering wind turbine that is covered in vibrant tartan cloth fluttering in the breeze.

New on-site attractions include a picturesque Loincloth Labyrinth and the sea of multicoloured blooms boasting white and red English roses, Blue Sundew, French sunflowers and the Sulfur Cosmos.

Standing alone on the grassland, a model castle complex, built to resemble the Phimai Historical Park, is decked out in loincloths of different shades of yellow to reflect the beauty of ripening rice fields.

Next door is the Isaan Village, which is home to many magnificent wooden houses in the Korat-style, and religious buildings found only in the north-east.

The Lost On The Farm exhibition is centred on the village courtyard. Navin showcases an avant-garde mobile art gallery modified from a vibrant E-tan farmer's truck.

Featuring all the people involved with the farm, visitors will enjoy a fun scene that explores the life of Thompson through creative, handpainted billboard art.

The adjacent Ruan Nang Auey house has been transformed into a mini-theatre and furnished with loincloths, stools and walls made from hay.

The exhibition also features comics that take readers back to the origins of Pak Thong Chai district and portray the development of Jim Thompson into Thailand's leading textile company.

The village itself is home to a 2.5m rice offering made from pa kao ma, a sacred wooden Buddha image created more than 100 years ago and fortunes adapted from the 13 chapters of Maha Vessantara Jataka as contained in the Isaan pha phawaed literature.

Families can join workshops and learn how to weave the loincloth from skilful artisans.

"The word pa kao ma comes from Persia, while E Pho comes from the Chinese. It was originally an Arab design that came to Asia via marine trade," says Yoothapong Martiset, a cultural adviser to Jim Thompson.

"The pa kao ma is multifunctional and is used for many things, including as a hammock for a newborn or as a garment, shawl and handkerchief.

"Isaan people often wear silk loincloths to religious ceremonies and other important events, while cotton pa kao ma is worn in daily life for better ventilation." - THE NATION

The Jim Thompson Farm tour runs through Jan 8, from 9am to 5pm daily. Visit www.JimThompsonFarm.com for more details.

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