Ban Chiang Community dancers

I recently had the opportunity to join a tour of Udon Thani and the Ban Chiang Community put together by Thailand Village Academy.  Ban Chiang is just 1 of the 22 villages that the Thailand Village Academy is showcasing. The Ban Chiang Community can boast that they are one of the oldest villages. They are able to trace their culture and traditional roots back to nearly 5,000 years!

We had a full day which began by viewing the archeological evidence of the community’s ancient beginnings at the National Museum of Ban Chiang. But most of the day was spent in activities with “masters” of the village who showed us how to make traditional Ban Chiang handicrafts. We also had the opportunity to visit the nearby beautiful lotus blossom shaped Pa Dong Rai Temple (Santiwanaram Temple). Our tour day finished with an amazing traditional dinner made from locally produced ingredients, and festive dancing.

Ban Chiang Community dancers

The Villagers from the Ban Chiang Community were so warm and welcoming. The experience of spending the day with them had a positive impact for me. It’s my hope that this article inspires you to visit this wonderful community and experience it for yourself. Let me show you what makes it so special..

A warm welcome…

One thing can certainly be said about the villagers of the Ban Chiang community, they really go out of their way to make you feel welcome! As soon as we arrived they greeted us in full traditional outfits. The women and girls of the village performed a welcome dance while the men and boys played traditional instruments that provided the music.

Important to Note: This extravagant welcome is only available if you book a large tour for a coordinated visit to the Ban Chiang Community. 

After a quick introduction to the village we where whisked away on a tram to the National Ban Chiang Museum about 100 meters away.

Ban Chiang’s 5,000 year story…

Before entering the National Ban Chiang Museum we were first offered a small bouquet of flowers and a stick of incense. These gifts were to be presented as offerings at the little shrine nearby which honors Grandfather Kun Chuang Sawas. He was Ban Chiang’s leader from 1906 until his death in 1930. He contributed so much to the village’s development that he is still revered today. The shrine was built to house his spirit and villagers believe he is the guardian spirit of Ban Chiang.

Though the Ban Chiang area had been populated for several thousand years, and villagers were often unearthing things from the past, its prehistoric significance was discovered by accident in 1966 when a visiting Harvard anthropology student named Steve Young tripped over a kapok tree root. He fell face first in the dirt path and noticed several buried pottery jars with their tops exposed. He noticed that firing techniques appeared to be primitive and the patterned designs unique.

In terms of archeological discovery, this was HUGE. The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is a prehistoric human habitation and burial site that is considered by scholars to be the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in Southeast Asia.  As a result, in 1992 it received the designation as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This designation helped to provide resources that enabled the museum to make many upgrades, and to accommodate foreign visitors with English information placards and audio tours.

The museum has curated an excellent collection of uniquely designed pottery that are in great condition despite the fact they were created by hand millennia ago. Also showcased are the tools, brass jewelry, and figurines that were important to the culture. To get a sense of what life was like then, there are several exhibit scenes of daily activities such as hunting, cooking, and pottery making from the primitive Ban Chiang culture.

Where is it?

The National Ban Chiang Museum is centrally located in the Ban Chiang Community. Information about their hours, entrance fees, and other details can be found on this Thailand Tourism Directory page.

Though there are many aspects to the Ban Chiang culture, it is most famous for its uniquely patterned pottery designs. After visiting the museum our next stop was to learn how to paint these designs!

Painting Ban Chiang designs…

The ศูนย์เรียนรู้ กลุ่มปั้นหม้อเขียนสี (Learning Center Pottery Group) allows visitors to get their hands dirty learning how to make pottery and decorate it with the unique Ban Chiang swirling motifs.

During our visit we were given a quick lesson in making pots from a lump of clay. The worker expertly shaped several perfectly symmetrical pots with ease. But don’t be fooled, it’s not as easy as it looks. One of our group members tried but only succeeded in flinging clay at the onlookers. It got messy quick.

They sell many different kinds of decorated pots on site, but the real attraction here is to find a pot and decorate it yourself. If you would like to paint it with a Ban Chiang swirling design they are more than happy to give you step by step instructions to do so. I have ZERO artistic talent–but at the end of lesson I made a pot that I’m certain my mother would love (and probably only my mother).

Dying fabric with mud…

Also on site they dye fabric with a special kind of mud. When we arrived they were stirring strips of fabric in a pot of boiling mud, which they then rinsed and stretched out.

Tie-Dying fabric with indigo is another traditional Ban Chiang craft, and what we learned about next on the tour.

Where is it?

If interested in learning how to make Ban Chiang style pottery you can schedule an appointment on their ศูนย์เรียนรู้ กลุ่มปั้นหม้อเขียนสี (Learning Center Pottery Group) Facebook page. It’s a great activity for families with children or anyone with a passion for making artistic handicraft. It’s also an excellent place for shopping if you want to buy from the village “pottery master”!

Learning to tie-dye…

I’m a bit of a Deadhead. So learning how to tie-dye at the ศูนย์เรียนรู้ทอผ้าย้อมครามบ้านเชียง (Ban Chiang Indigo Dye Weaving Learning Center) really appealed to me.

In Thai, indigo is called khram. The plant is widely grown along the Songkhram River that originates in Udon Thani which is why dyeing clothes with indigo is a common practice along this waterway.

Our lesson was hardly advanced. We learned how to tie-dye a handkerchief. In order to make patterns the napkin is folded in a particular way and then ribbons are used to tie the napkin tightly at strategic points before the dyeing process.

The folded/tied fabric is then dunked in a bucket filled with indigo dye and allowed to soak. I’m too embarrassed to show you the picture of my artistic results–Jerry Garcia would roll over in his grave.

Happy at the loom!

At the ศูนย์เรียนรู้ทอผ้าย้อมครามบ้านเชียง (Ban Chiang Indigo Dye Weaving Learning Center) they also have several loom stations where women sit and weave the dyed yarns into ornately patterned fabric. It’s mesmerizing to watch them work cheerfully yet with industrial efficiency.

Where is it?

After our lesson in indigo dyeing, we went to the nearby Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai, one of Thailand’s most unique Buddhist temples.

Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai

Pa Dong Rai Temple (Santiwanaram Temple)
Pa Dong Rai Temple (Santiwanaram Temple)

Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai has many names. Its shortened name is Pa Dong Rai Temple. But it’s also known as Santiwanaram Temple and “White Lotus Temple” due to its unusual lotus blossom shaped architecture. The large structure is located on a platform in the middle of a lake to give it the appearance of floating. A long bridge walkway extends to the entrance.

Inside the Pa Dong Rai Temple (Santiwanaram Temple)
Inside the temple…

Inside the large dome is painted from floor to ceiling and is gorgeous. Along the walls are several scenes from the Lord Buddha’s life, and a large Buddha statue and alter for worshippers to pray. There is no entrance fee to visit. The maintenance and operation is funded by donation so if you enjoy the visit please consider donating.

Pa Dong Rai Temple (Santiwanaram Temple)
Pa Dong Rai Temple (Santiwanaram Temple)

Unlike other Buddhist temples where you take off your shoes in front of the entrance, at this temple you remove your shoes before you even step on the bridge walkway!

Where is it?

Located 4km North of the Ban Chiang Community, this is a must visit attraction for its unique architecture!

After visiting the temple we headed back to the Ban Chiang Community to where we were first greeted at the beginning of our tour. We’d worked up an appetite, and I was looking forward to some local chow!

Dinner time!

When we arrived the area was buzzing with activity. Folks were setting up tables and preparing food dishes (the smells of which were deliciously intoxicating). But before we could eat we participated in a “Baysri Sukwan” welcoming ceremony. This is a longstanding community tradition.  According to the Ban Chiang belief when visitors arrive from faraway, it is necessary to call back their ‘spirits’ which might have wandered off during the journey.

The Baysri Sukwan is very similar to a blessing ceremony I received during a visit to Pakse, Laos. During the ceremony the elder chants a hypnotizing mantra before a large decorative banana leaf structure and the sitting group (all of which hold a single white string).

There’s no verbal queue that the ceremony is winding down to a finish (none that I can pick up at least). When it finally does end each person is given a blessing as a white string is tied around their wrist. Done! Let’s eat.

I love Thai food. The best Thai food experiences I’ve had is “going local”. For this dinner we were in for a real treat. All of the dishes had been prepared using ingredients that were grown and produced locally.

We feasted on grilled meats, sausages, local veggies with dipping sauces, and banana leaf wrapped steamed fish. We were also fortunate to have a few dishes that are unique to the Ban Chiang Community such as the Galangal Fried Rice with Chili Paste. Yum!

It was a fantastic meal and a great way to wrap up an amazing day with the wonderful people of the Ban Chiang Community!

Where is it?

This location was the starting and ending point of our adventure. It’s where we were welcomed in the beginning and feasted at the end. It’s not exactly a restaurant you can just pop into. Though they do have homestay options, and there are a few stores that are selling locally produced clothing and handicrafts. It’s certainly worth checking out if you want to do some shopping!

For the DIY traveler…

The Ban Chiang Community will charm you. The people there are representative of why Thailand is often referred to as “The Land of Smiles“. If you have a car it’s easy to get around to the places that we visited. There’s no hassles of traffic or parking to worry about!

The community itself seems geared to welcome visitors, too. They are quite proud of the rich heritage they have. One note, English is not prevalent here. Aside from the museum all of the other locations that we visited most of the signage was in Thai and most of the workers didn’t speak or understand English.

That being said, they were still quite happy to try. If your charades game is strong or you have the Google Translate app on your phone you’ll get by just fine!

Can I experience it as a tour?

Absolutely! The Thailand Village Academy has designed a 3 day/2 night tour that includes 1 day/night exploring Udon Thani and 2 days exploring the Ban Chiang Community with a night at a local homestay. The itinerary includes a lot more activities and sites than what I experienced. The tours are run by Local Alike and you can view the complete itinerary and prices on this e-brochure.

I really enjoyed this experience and I hope sharing it with you has inspired you to visit. Should you decide to visit the Ban Chiang Community please share your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!

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