Located 25 miles to the west of central Bangkok, the quiet village of Ban Don Kai Dee is a rewarding destination for anybody interested in Thai culture. This unassuming village in Samut Sakhon province isn’t known to the majority of tourists, but is an excellent example of community based tourism in action with visitors able to enjoy homestay hospitality and experience how the local people live and work. And much of that work in Ban Don Kai Dee is related to the most famous product of the village, Benjarong porcelain.
Traditionally, the five primary colours used for Benjarong porcelain are black, blue/green, yellow, red and white. Real gold is often added to complete the look. Although the technique has adapted to add more secondary colours to suit demand from buyers, it is the traditional five-colour Benjarong which remains the signature design of the village.
History of Benjarong
When Chinese traders arrived in Thailand (then known as Siam) during the 15th century, they brought with them beautiful white porcelain with elaborate blue painted designs. This was at a time when Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam and a major trading centre in Asia. The Chinese porcelain proved popular with royalty and the upper echelons of Siamese society and over the years, local artisans copied and adapted the Chinese style. It was during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1824) when the geometric designs associated with Benjarong became established.
Rising from the ashes
Ban Don Kai Dee may be famous for Benjarong porcelain now, but that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, it was the closure of a ceramics factory in the 1980s that proved to be the catalyst for the transformation of the village. Most of the unemployed workers sought jobs at other factories or went back to farming to earn a living, but a small number of people decided to carry on using their skills to make porcelain products by hand. Because the process was so time consuming it was difficult for individuals to make a profit. That all changed in 2001 when the artisans at Ban Don Kai Dee formed a handicraft co-operative to produce Benjarong products.
This coincided with the introduction of a new government scheme, One Tambon One Product (OTOP). The OTOP project promotes speciality local products in various communities around Thailand with the sale of these products boosting the local economies and incomes of those communities. The reputation of Ban Don Kai Dee was further enhanced with royal endorsements and the village went on to win a number of awards in recognition of the work carried out there. The positive impact of the handicraft group has been remarkable for employment prospects and financial independence. Since 2001, hundreds of people have been able to make a living at Ban Don Kai Dee and millions of baht has been generated for the local economy.
The Ban Don Kai Dee community welcome tourists into the village. Not only can you purchase Benjarong porcelain direct from the producers, but you can also see demonstrations of the various steps in the production process and even try your hand at some of the workshops. Tours of the village and to nearby orchards and the coast can also be arranged. Ban Don Kai Dee is a comfortable day trip from Bangkok, but to immerse yourself in local life there is the option of an overnight homestay and the opportunity to try cooking local dishes too. The majority of visitors to the village are Thai, but everybody is welcome at Ban Don Kai Dee.
How to get to Ban Don Kai Dee
Ban Don Kai Dee is located in Samut Sakhon province approximately 25 miles west of Bangkok. Without your own transport, the most convenient way to get to and from Ban Don Kai Dee is on a day tour or arranging a taxi. Your hotel in Bangkok should be able to arrange a reliable taxi driver for you. If you book a private tour from Bangkok to Ban Don Kai Dee, you will also have the option of visiting two colourful markets in neighbouring Samut Songkhram province; Maeklong Railway Market (open daily) and Amphawa Floating Market (open Friday-Sunday).
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All images used here are from the Don Kai Dee Benjarong Facebook page:
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