Tucked away in the eastern coastal province of Trat, there’s a good chance you may not have heard of Ban Nam Chiao. But this unassuming fishing village is a wonderful example of the positive benefits of community based tourism. This form of responsible tourism enables tourists to gain a deeper understanding of the local way of life and in turn encourages the younger generation in the village to preserve their heritage. A visit to Ban Nam Chiao is not only an educational experience, it’s also a hands-on and sanuk (fun) experience. See if you can match the dexterity of the community elders as you learn how to make traditional palm leaf hats and discover how to cook local delicacies. Or spend an afternoon under the expert tutelage of the community fishermen and try your hand at catching long-tongue crabs before helping the local environment by planting mangroves.
Cultural diversity at Ban Nam Chiao
Ban Nam Chiao is a diverse community that lives and works in harmony. Located on the banks of the Khlong Nam Chiao waterway, the village was originally settled by Thai Buddhists who made their living from fishing and farming. Maritime trade between what was then Siam and China brought Chinese merchants to Ban Nam Chiao. Attracted by the peaceful location and fertile land, a number of the Chinese merchants settled here. And in the first half of the nineteenth century, conflict in neighbouring Cambodia saw more people arrive in search of refuge. The newcomers were Muslims of Malay descent and, as with the Chinese merchants who preceded them, they too were welcomed into the Ban Nam Chiao community.
The residents of Ban Nam Chiao are proudly Thai and the cultural diversity of the village is respected by all who live and work here. There are three significant locations in Ban Nam Chiao that celebrate the heritage and diversity of the community: the Buddhist temple of Wat Nam Chiao, Al Kubaro Mosque, and Zhou Shi Cheng Shui Shrine. Let the children of the village take you on a guided bicycle tour to show you these and other locations and see for yourself what makes this community so special.
Learn how to weave a traditional palm leaf hat
When the first Chinese traders arrived in Ban Nam Chiao all those years ago, they brought with them distinctive lampshade style bamboo hats. The Thai residents adapted the design replacing bamboo with the leaves from atap palms that grew in abundance locally. The palm leaves were used on house roofs to protect from the sun and the rain and the material proved perfect for the hats too. These hats became known as ’ngop nam chiao’ and the technique of making them by hand has been passed down from generation to generation.
Visitors to Ban Nam Chiao can learn how to weave the palm leaf hats under the watchful guidance of the senior women from the community. There are different styles of ‘ngop’ depending on the use of the hat. For example, the turtle shell style is for rice farmers. The shape of the rim drains water downwards, but still provides a clear view forward for planting. The skull or military helmet style is used by fishermen with the absence of a wide brim meaning the hat doesn’t get caught in the wind, but a small peak protects from glare. And then there is the ‘Somdet‘ or pointed top style which is good for farmers working in the fields and protects against sun and rain.
Ecotourism at Ban Nam Chiao
The Ban Nam Chiao community has adopted various initiatives to protect the environment where they live and work. Older members of the community remember the times when rubbish was a persistent problem in the nearby waterways and the mangrove forests were suffering. But that has all changed now. Waste is properly managed and the mangroves carefully monitored. The traditional way of life has also been championed and Ban Nam Chiao is now established as a highly respected ecotourism destination.
Ban Nam Chiao has won awards from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for the community’s outstanding achievements in the field of responsible tourism. The awards recognise the way the community have joined together to promote the culture and local wisdom of Ban Nam Chiao.
Life on the water
Before dawn each morning, the fishing boats set off from the harbour at Ban Nam Chiao in search of crabs, shrimps, mackerel and other fish. An unwritten code of conduct ensures that the fishermen respect the traps and fishing area of others. It is the combined catch they bring in that helps all of the community and not just one individual. This community approach to harmony and co-operation is exemplified with an old adage from Ban Nam Chiao: “A mackerel boat can’t catch a crab.”
If you visit Ban Nam Chiao, take the opportunity to go out on a longtail boat and try your hand at catching the long-tongue crabs that live in the shallow waters and nutrient-rich mud of the estuary. It’s messy work, but a unique and fun experience with the added bonus that the mud is said to be good for your skin. The waterways of Ban Nam Chiao play an important part in the ecosystem and visitors can learn more at the Mangrove Forest Study Centre. Walk the nature trails and climb the Birdwatcher Tower to get an overview of the village and observe dozens of bird species including sea eagles and kites.
Taste the local dishes
After spending time on the water with the fishermen, return to the village where you can help prepare the catch of the day with crab, squid and shrimp all on the menu.
Ban Nam Chiao is not only famous for seafood, but also for a couple of other speciality dishes. Don’t miss the delicious crispy caramel concoction known as ‘tang may’. And then there is ‘khao kriap ya na’, a rice cracker with a topping that has its own story attached to it. When the first Muslim settlers arrived in Ban Nam Chiao, they brought with them a recipe for rice crackers. This was soon adapted to take advantage of a couple of extra ingredients that are plentiful here: coconuts and shrimp. These tasty additions to the rice cracker make khao kriap ya na a must-try dish for anybody visiting Ban Nam Chiao.
To make the most of your trip to Ban Nam Chiao, stay overnight in the village as part of the community homestay service. Hosts and rooms have to meet specific criteria to meet the Thailand Homestay Standard. Rooms aren’t luxurious, but they are comfortable and provide visitors with the chance to stay in the heart of the community. Prices are around 200 baht per person per night. Although most of the visitors who stay overnight are Thai, everybody is welcome and this is a wonderful opportunity to learn some Thai from your hosts and be welcomed into the local community.
Ban Nam Chiao is located on the Trat coastline not far from Laem Ngop and the quirky black sand beach known as Hat Sai Dam. Walk along the nature trail here that takes you through the mangroves before visiting the photogenic Laem Ngop lighthouse and the nearby Yuttanavi Memorial Monument that commemorates the Franco-Thai naval battle in 1941. Laem Ngop is also the location for boats departing to the lovely island of Ko Chang.
How to get to Ban Nam Chiao
Ban Nam Chiao is located approximately 5 miles south-west of Trat town centre. The village is off Highway 3148, the road that links Trat and Laem Ngop. For more information about visiting Ban Nam Chiao or to arrange transport, ask at your hotel in Trat or at any tour office in the city. Or check online with a responsible tour operator such as Local Alike. 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:
Tel. 084 8925374 (Thai language) or
Contact the Ban Nam Chiao Ecotourism Group
Tel. +66 8 4892 5374