“Congratulations! You have officially been selected as one of our 44 Finalists to join the Thailand Village Academy Competition!”
I remember that night vividly. It was the 4th of July, 2019 and I was in my living room working on a new article for my blog. I was so filled with joy that I couldn’t contain myself.
“Could this be real?” I thought to myself.
It was a classic “acceptance mail” moment.
18 days later, I arrived the beautiful city of Bangkok where I was lodged at the luxurious SC Park Hotel. It all felt like a beautiful dream and it wasn’t until the opening ceremony a couple of hours later that it really dawned on me.
This was real!
At the opening ceremony, I met the 43 outstanding young bloggers and story curators from different parts of the world who were finalists along with me. We were introduced to our local heroes; important people who hail from the communities that all the finalists had been selected to represent.
Phrom Lok was my designated community. No one tells your story better than you and so it was only right to hear Phrom Lok’s story from an indigene of the community.
In my country, Nigeria, it is popularly said that “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” So, as you may have already guessed I was particularly excited about meeting a hero. I was certain that I would get first-hand information about the village I was scheduled to visit and so I made a plan; to remember every single thing, not just for myself, but specifically so I could tell the world.
Thus began an experience of a lifetime – my journey through the intricacies of life in a Thai Village.
The following day – Wednesday – my Thai partner (Navy), our tour guide (Yor) and I got ready and drove down to Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok to board our flight to Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in Southern Bangkok. After getting our luggage, we drove to Mandy Nok Hotel, a place which I’d highly recommend for first-time visitors in the province looking to get a feel of the culture and a great hospitality experience. The meals there are exceptional, with warm reception at the hotel and super-fast internet. The stunning aesthetic was complimented by a couple of beautiful paintings and art that were in very stiff competition with the swift internet for my attention – I couldn’t tell you who won, you’d have to go see for yourself.
We had dinner (authentic southern Thai cuisine) at Krua Nay Nang. To say it was an amazing meal would be an understatement. I got to try the melinjo leaves along with scrambled eggs, rice, clear water soup and pork, tasty tamarind sauce with cashew nuts. I learned quickly that Thai cuisine can be summarized in three words – tasty, nourishing and filling!
After dinner we got enough time to rest but my excitement for the next day’s activities (and a fair bit of jet lag from my travel from Nigeria) didn’t let me sleep for long. I slept for just about two-three hours.
At 6A.M. the next day, we were up and out. Our first stop was the local temple where we presented special gifts to the monks. I have always had deep respect for monks as they make huge sacrifices for the causes which they strongly believe in. They are truly exceptional people.
We passed by the City Pillar Shrine and the City Wall of Nakhon Si Thammarat. We also stopped by Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, an important temple of the province to pay homage. One very interesting thing I got to learn is that the main stupa (a monument used to house the relics of the Lord Buddha) of the temple has no shadow. Amazing, right?! I would explain the details of this to you but I’m pretty sure you’d much rather come see for yourself whenever you’re in Thailand.
There is one memory from my visit to the temple that I won’t forget any time soon. A lot of Thai people were present at the temple while I was there and quite a number of them walked up to me asking if they could take pictures with me and some even asked to just touch my hair. They were really nice in their approach and I couldn’t help but indulge every single one of them. Their words were along the lines of “You are so beautiful and I love you” This was overwhelming because there is nothing purer than showing or even expressing love for someone you don’t know at all. I found this moment humbling as I thought about the warmth of the Thai people.
I also made a new friend, Aun, a disabled lady who was so happy to meet me. She asked if I was a celebrity or actress and when I told her no, she said, “You are still a star”.
Among the many things I will never forget about this adventure is the sheer happiness and love I felt from the Thai people. I strongly believe it is no mistake that Thailand is referred to as “the land of smiles”. Everyone in Thailand is so cheerful and welcoming. They made me feel so comfortable to the point that I started believing I was one of them.
I got to learn about “niello” which is a type of craftsmanship identified with the upper-class who lived in Nakhon Si Thammarat centuries ago. The niello is as old as Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam (now the Kingdom of Thailand).
After learning the process of making it (niello), I and Navy (the other Representative of Phrom Lok) were given the chance to prove to them that we indeed understood what we were taught. We crafted our own designs; the process wasn’t so easy but it was worth it especially when I got to see the end product. I made a nice key holder with my name inscribed on it. I also got to make another artwork at the Ban Nang Ta Lung Suchart Subsin, a beautiful place where visitors get to enjoy southern Thai shadow puppet performances.
From there, we travelled to Phrom Lok village. The vegetation in Phrom Lok is simply amazing – there are so many forests with a wide expanse of green shrubbery. It is the perfect travel destination for nature lovers. The scenic view of the waterfalls and forests, cushioned softly by the mountains is nothing short of breathtaking.
We were welcomed to the village in stately fashion and I was introduced to the family that I was to stay with.
The people at Phrom Lok are so in tune with nature. One of the most impressive things there was that the people in the community mostly eat vegetables and you could see how that benefited them as even the elderly members of the community looked ageless and graceful. While there, I learnt how to pluck mangosteen (the juice is so lovely). It was great learning rubber tapping; the process of collecting latex from rubber tree, right here because Thailand is known as the largest exporter of rubber in the world.
I got to hear the story of the Manorah dance which is highly symbolic to the people of Phrom Lok. The best part of travel is learning the history of the culture of a people and how it has shaped their current reality and, believe me, Thailand is rich in both aspects. While there are many accounts of this story, here is (an abridged version) of the one I was told:
Kinnaree Manora lived between the heaven and the earth. She usually came down to earth to swim in the rivers but one day, Pran boon, the most famous hunter was sent by King Pra Suthon (the King fell in love with her for she was a beautiful woman) clipped her wings and so she couldn’t leave earth anymore. He found her at a secret bathing pool where she usually played with water. The King then went on to marry her. Her dance moves, which were very fascinating to watch, birthed the Manorah dance.
The story of Kinnaree Manora and King Pra Suthon can be found in many traditional Thai storybooks, but I recommend hearing it from the Thai themselves. There is something exquisite about the way it sounds when told orally, something that makes you almost see Kinnaree Manora dance before your very eyes.
The level of development within the Phrom Lok community is so inspiring and this is because the people and the government are much in tune. The government (their kings) does everything to make sure that every single member of the community is empowered. Everyone engages in one form of craft or the other including businesses and pretty much everyone has a fruit farm in their home. There is also a waterfall park that is the main source of water to the area. The park was commissioned by the king 60 years ago.
Most of my time in Thailand was spent in rural Thailand which was the entire aim of this journey and I observed how Thailand is an exceptionally clean country from the cities right down to the rural areas.
Decades ago, the King began a sufficient economic plan, the “Enough Project”, in order to ensure that no community member lacks anything and also created a platform for them to make high quality products that can be exported internationally. They engage in trade by barter too. It was educating and inspiring to see how these people make most of their systems work. Trade by barter used to be a thing my country but was abolished several years ago due to lack of sustainability. Life in Phrom Lok goes to prove how much can be achieved when people come together, set aside personal bias and even belongings relinquishing all sense of entitlement to embrace each other as a community that accepts differences.
A literal example of this is the way in which they share their fruits – it’s such a routine amongst the locals to the extent that every single home has a variety of fruits simply because they were willing to exchange whatever fruits they grow in their homes with a different species from their neighbors’ farm. I think this way of life is really striking. It inspired me.
Some locals at Phrom Lok told me that I was the first black girl they had seen in their village and were so eager for me to taste the variety of foods they had. Most of their dishes were sweet and spicy at the same time. It really teased my taste buds as having these two tastes combined was a new experience for me and I couldn’t help but want more.
The next day we went to the mushroom farm where mushrooms are grown and gathered. I joined the farmers in harvesting and gathering mushrooms. It was an enjoyable time spent at the farm. My time in the Kitchen of the World (World Economic Forum, 2012) would not have been complete if I didn’t make a local dish or two.
I got to make a local dish out of the mushrooms we gathered earlier in the day and it was delicious. I’m definitely going to prepare this meal again once I get back to Nigeria. I might even start a Thai food house. The meal really was that amazing.
Life in Thailand brought a lot of emotions to the surface for me. Aside from all the rosy moments I had quite an experience with the dogs and this is because I used to have a phobia for dogs. Yes, that’s right “used to” past tense. Staying at Phrom lok helped me overcome my fear of dogs. There are a whole lot of dogs around the village and in every possible size you can imagine. There were really tiny dogs and super huge dogs but this was all fine because the dogs were not aggressive; all of them were well-tamed and at almost every point I was with someone so there was no chance of any dog scaring me off. This made me see how there are two sides to everything and now I can safely say that I no longer fear dogs. I learnt how to approach an otherwise scary thing. For this I am grateful.
From the friendly dogs of Phrom Lok to the happy and cheerful locals as well as the city dwellers and all the people I met at the temple. I got to see that Thailand is a country where visitors are valued. As an African and one who is very visibly dark skinned, I came to realize how Thai people are not racist, not even in the slightest bit.
On my last day here, I was really sad to leave Phrom Lok. The family I stayed with through the homestay program were really just like family. They reminded me of my grandparents, which was especially touching for me as I lost my grandfather a week to this program.
In spite of the language barrier I was able to understand them and them me. Communication that goes beyond language is rare and, for this, I will cherish my experience at Phrom Lok for as long as I live. I even got to learn a few Thai phrases as well as the beliefs of the people of Phrom Lok community. This affirmed how a connection to the divine is important for living a good life. In Phrom Lok, if a cow gets struck by lightning the people perform certain rites and the skin of the cow is made into an ornament and hung on walls in their homes as a mark of respect and to adorn their homes. The houses in Phrom Lok are built in a manner that there is a smaller house in front of the main (big) house in the belief that objects have spirits and the small house would protect the main house almost like a spirit guide. They also have a city wall for protection. The existence of the wall goes way back in time to when there were wars in Thailand. Overtime the walls were left as a sort of monument to remember those times.
Phrom Lok is a very safe and welcoming community.
At this point I must say that Phrom Lok was so impressive I almost didn’t want to leave. The level of development coupled with the togetherness and the 4G network in every single location. Phrom Lok should be called a Thai Paradise and not a Thai Village.
At Phrom Lok, 7 houses are used for the homestay program for tourists this is where they host most tourists that come to the village and it is an all-encompassing package. Once you pay for the tour, you spend literally nothing on anything else; except for shopping because there are many things you will definitely love to buy when you visit the market.
From the food to moving around the community to learning new things and receiving gifts, it was the perfect experience not to mention the skill set of the home owners wherever I turned every need was met. One of the home owners runs a hospital another has a batik business, it’s really endless.
I got to learn about new businesses, I overcame my fear of dogs and large bodies of water, I became the first black girl to come to Phrom Lok. Yes, I’m claiming that haha. I am super grateful for this opportunity and I would never exchange the experience for anything else.
Thank you Phrom Lok! If given another opportunity to choose a community to visit, I’ll still choose you.
What’s better than visiting one village?
After leaving Phrom Lok, Yor, Navy and I got to spend a night and half a day at Baan Laem, a neighboring village.
There we experienced the fisherman’s way of life. We had yummy breakfast on the boat, tried the mud spa (moisturizes and detoxifies the skin) and planted Kongkang (mangrove) in the forest. We went on to take a much-needed shower!
We had healthy lunch with a variety of seafoods such as crayfish, crabs and fish with crunchy mangrove leaves. About an hour later, we said goodbye and left for the airport.
The next day was a free day. We (some other Finalists and I) got to explore the beautiful city called Bangkok; thanks to Local Alike!
We got to visit the Grand palace, Temple, mall and local market where we had lunch.
The 31st of July, 2019 was the closing ceremony. The 44 Finalists graduated from the Thailand Village Academy. We were so excited especially because it was a well-planned ceremony. We were highly honored and celebrated.
When I got the opportunity to participate in the Thailand Village Academy Competition, I had mixed feelings to be honest. I was excited about being a part of an amazing project but I was also really scared. I was going to be the writer, photographer, graphics designer and videographer at the same time. I have never tried doing most, if not all, of them. I was also going to be capturing moments and telling stories in real time – I’ve never had to do this before.
I was super grateful and happy when I emerged 4th runner-up! I mean, my first time doing this and being one of the winners?!
I am also sincerely grateful to you all (GOD, family, friends, my Tour Guide, my Thai Partner and everyone who stood by me and supported me through this journey).
Thank you Thailand for welcoming me and making me feel at home, literally! 😍
Thank you amazing Finalists for being a part of my journey. We are ALL winners! 👏🏾👑 Being a Finalist and coming here is no small deal. You are wonderful!
Thank you, Thailand, for giving me an experience of a lifetime! ❤️
To learn more about Thailand Village Academy and the 22 villages represented in this competition, click here