There’s an old saying in Ban Nam Chiao that typifies the way the fisherman from the village co-operate: “A mackerel boat can’t catch a crab.” The simple idiom embodies the honesty and integrity of the inhabitants of this small community in the east of Thailand where Muslims and Buddhists have lived in harmony for many generations. Before sunrise each morning, boats set out from the village to catch shrimps, crabs, mackerel and other fish. Each fisherman plays an important role in the community and mutual respect means that nobody impinges on another’s traps or fishing area; “a mackerel boat can’t catch a crab”.
Located in Trat on Thailand’s eastern seaboard, Ban Nam Chiao makes for a fascinating and rewarding diversion for travellers en route to Ko Chang or Cambodia. The award-winning eco-tourism community welcomes Thai and overseas visitors, but this is not a contrived tourist attraction. Ban Nam Chiao is a living and working community complete with schools, places of worship and markets. You’ll see the usual trappings of modern-day life in Thailand with satellite dishes on rooftops and motorbikes weaving along the narrow lanes. But amongst the modernity you’ll also witness a community that has successfully maintained a traditional way of life.
Established by Buddhists on the waterways of Khlong Nam Chiao, the original inhabitants of the village were Siamese fishermen and farmers. An increase in maritime trade in the early 1800s saw Chinese merchants move into the area. During the reign of King Rama III in the mid-1800s, there was conflict in territories neighbouring Siam. This resulted in Muslims from the Cham and Malay community fleeing from regions that are now part of Cambodia. A group of the displaced Muslims sailed to Khlong Nam Chiao where they found refuge and were welcomed by the established Buddhist community.
Hands on experience
The mangrove forests, waterways and nature trails around Ban Nam Chiao are rich in wildlife and provide a treat for bird-watchers with more than 30 species found in the area including sea eagles and kites. One of the best ways to appreciate life at Ban Nam Chiao and the work of the fishermen is to take a longtail boat ride out to the estuary with views of Ko Chang in the near distance. In the shallower waters you can try your hand at catching the local delicacy, long-tongue crabs that live in the thick mud below the surface. It’s messy work, but a sanuk experience. It’s also educational and watching the fishermen expertly ply their trade and observing their weather-beaten faces, it helps you appreciate how hard a job this is. Fishing for a living anywhere in the world is a tough and often perilous occupation. For spiritual protection, Thai fishermen and boatmen attach flower garlands or coloured ribbons to the prow of the boat in honour of the spirits of the water and Mae Yanang the spiritual goddess of journeys. At Ban Nam Chiao, lingams are also placed as another protective offering at spirit houses amongst the mangroves.
Back at the village you have the opportunity to cook and eat the catch of the day as well as sample other local delicacies such as ‘tang may‘ (a crispy caramel) and fruits including durian.
Ngop Nam Chiao
Ban Nam Chiao is famous for producing a multi-purpose hat called ‘Ngop Nam Chiao‘ made from atap palm leafs that grow in the nearby mangrove forests. The weatherproof qualities of the palm leaves mean they provide excellent protection against the sun and rain. The technique for making the palm leaf hats has been passed down from generation to generation. Visitors to the village can test their own millinery skills by making a ngop hat under the skilful and patient guidance of one of the community elders. The hats are made in different styles to suit the activity of the wearer. The narrow-brimmed ngop are specially designed for fishermen whilst those with wider brims are tailored for farmers.
The future generation
Walk or cycle around the village and you’ll soon see children waving and hear the braver ones saying hello and practising their English language skills on you. And it’s good to see that the youngsters of Ban Nam Chiao are encouraged by the elders to appreciate their local culture and traditions. They are taught about the history of the village and pass that on to visitors via guided cycle tours to the Buddhist temple of Wat Nam Chiao and the Al Kubaro Mosque.
Homestay at Ban Nam Chiao
Ban Nam Chiao operates a homestay service allowing guests to stay overnight. To be part of the Thailand Homestay Standard, homes and hosts have to meet specific criteria. Accommodation is basic, but comfortable and provides a wonderful opportunity to experience Thai hospitality in somebody’s home. Prices are approximately 200 Baht per person. Visitors from all countries are welcome, but please keep in mind that most hosts in the community speak only a little English and you are also expected to respect the community rules which includes no consumption of alcohol.
Visiting Ban Nam Chiao
Ban Nam Chiao is located approximately 8kms to the south-west of Trat town centre on Highway 3148 (the road from Trat to Laem Ngop). For more information about visiting or arranging transport to Ban Nam Chiao, ask at your hotel in Trat or any tour office in the city. You can also contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office in Trat:
Tel: 03 959 7259
To book a homestay at Ban Nam Chiao telephone 084 8925374 (Thai language).