Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phattalung

The other Thailand

Text: Julia van den Muijsenberg | Photography: Frits Meyst

Quiet, endless rice fields, fishermen towns and old traditional tributes: they still exist! Somewhere in between the flashy sky bars in Bangkok and the sunny beach resorts in the south of the country, you can find the other Thailand, barely visited countrysides. The provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung are amazingly authentic. 

Rhythmic drums and string instruments echo underneath the palm leaf roof. The squeaky sound of the khlui –the traditional Thais flute– swells while nasal children voices are mumbling mystic rhymes. The sound of their voices is somewhere between talking and singing. The children of the Phrom Lok village, in the Thai province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, surprise us with this performance. Because of the big colorful layers of make-up, you can hardly tell the boys apart from the girls.

Still holding my insanely sweet welcome drink, I have taken a seat on the first row. Or actually, I didn’t ‘take’ it. I am welcomed like royalty and escorted to my throne

All the stereotypes about Thai hospitality are, in this barely touristic area, very very true. The locals enjoy sharing their culture, including this Menora dance..

Jokes about sex and penis length in a tribute? When you pass away you do not lose your sense of humour.

Seated on my plastic lawn chair throne, I try to create a cooling breeze by waving my hand in front of my face. It is hot in the improvised bamboo wooden theatre. The air is moist and carries a hint of the bittersweet smell of the durian fruit. In colorful costumes, the children sing and dance in sync. Because of the overwhelming brightness of the colors and all the details in their clothes, the seven children almost appear to be the same person. Only when you look closer, you discover that all the beaded costumes are handmade and unique.

The Menora dance, better known as Nora dance, is taught from generation to generation. The dance is a tribute to the ancestors, a southern Thai tradition. Aside from dancing and acrobatics, there is also a lot of humor involved in the show. Especially when the Nora dance is performed by adults, it is almost a stand-up comedian act. The performers keep the audience and ancestors attention span sharp by little acts and even dirty jokes. Jokes about sex and penis length in a tribute? Yes, when you pass away, it does not mean you lose your sense of humour. The Nora dance is not only for honouring but also for entertaining the ancestors; to give them something to crack up about.

Per family, the Nora dance differs. Officially it is hard to tell when a performance takes place. The ancestors themselves will give a sign whentheyare in need of a Nora dance. Nowadays, however, there are more and more performances organised for tourism. The chance to be treated by an authentic, actual traditional dance, is the biggest when you visitcommunity-based tourism initiatives.For example, in the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, but also in Phatthalung, small communities start to open up for visitors.

Officially it is hard to tell when a performance takes place. The ancestors themselves will give a sign when they are in need of a Nora dance.

Travelers are guests, and guests are welcome at your home. Through community-based tourism, you will stay with the people from the village: before the dance started the villagers enthusiastically showed me how they grow their mushrooms and where they catch their fish.

The children voices, that were producing the in-sync nasal verses, are now laughing and joking with each other. The Nora dance is over. The golden headdresses are thrown in a corner. The boys and girls are crowding around the table covered with fresh fruits which is located just behind the plastic lawn chairs.

Also in the neighboring province Phatthalung, the Thai people – known for their smile for a reason– love to share the real Thai life.

In a long tail boat, we float through the yellow, brown Pakrpa river. The narrow slick point cuts through the silent shimmery water. At the shore line, the dark silhouettes of fragile constructions contrast with the green jungle in the background. If you squeeze your eyes, a silhouette appears to by mystic spiderlike creators. The long, tortuous poles rising up from the water are its legs, the wooden shed its body and the immense net its wide-open mouth. But actually, the constructions are fishermen huts. The entire river which runs into the Thale Noi lake is full of them. It's no surprise that freshwater fish and river prawn form the bases of the traditional local kitchen.

The jetty goes deep into the jungle, through the banana leaves and ferns.

At the shore, fishing is not the only craftsmanship that is being practised. After we moor, I carefully climb on the splintery jetty. The jetty goes deep into the jungle, through the banana leaves and ferns. We balance ourselves over the wood until we hit an open spot where the community is awaiting us: the people from the Thachang village. With folded hands and a small nod, they cheerfully greet us. Excited to show us the local crafts. From leaf roof tiles to coconut sweets, everything is made just here, in the woods, at the hidden workspaces behind the trees

To taste the real Thailand, you cannot skip Phatthalung. The long tail boat is swopped for a small Datsun pick-up truck. The worn out blue paint is showing rips and cracks which reveal the rusty metal underneath. The buzzing sound of bugs swells while children voices laugh and yell goodbye. The low sun shines dreamy soft through the hazy air; the green rice fields seem endless. Women and children stop planting new seeds into the mud for a moment to offer us fresh coconut water. Thai hospitality is the essence of life for its wonderful people. 

The low sun shines dreamy soft through the hazy air; the green rice fields seem endless.

My trip was organized by Amazing Thailand

Their green tourism tours give you the opportunity to see the authentic Thai life. The initiatives are meant to responsibly strengthen the communities.

We are a big fan of Turkish Airlines. From Amsterdam, they can fly you to the Thai capital Bangkok and Phuket, the tropical island in the south. Tickets start at € 537,-  for return flights: including meals, luxury care kit and 30 kg (!) of luggage. A stop-over and free city tour in Istanbul? Yes, you can!