Traditional Isaan wisdom gets a modern makeover as Jim Thompson Farm opens for its winter blast

THAILAND (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With the cool season now in full swing, the Jim Thompson Farm in Pak Thong Chai district of Nakhon Ratchasima has once again thrown open its gates and as it does every year, is inviting Thais and foreigners to take in the beauty of nature and experience the Isaan way of life. 

Designed around the theme “Kak-Ta-Ta! Phrae E Pho” (Amazing Loincloth), this year’s Farm Tour aims to broaden visitors’ knowledge of the multifunctional pa kao ma through a series of fun and educational activities.

And the pa kao ma in glorious new palettes inspired by golden rice paddies and the fields of flowers are everywhere on the farm, forming giant wind wheels and a home for giant pumpkins as part of renowned artist Navin Rawanchaikul’s multifaceted exhibition “Lost on the Farm” marking Jim Thompson’s 110th birthday.

“Kak ta ta signifies ‘amazing’ in English and phrae e pho is pa kao ma. This year we are highlighting the relationship between the Isaan people and the pa kao ma. Navin’s exhibition is a continuation of his 2006 show “Lost in the City” exhibition, which saw Jim Thompson returning home to Bangkok 40 years after his mysterious disappearance and his reactions to the very changed city. This year, Navin takes us on a new journey as he imagines Thompson visiting his farm in Pak Thong Chai district,” says Chutima Dumsuwan, the communication director of Jim Thompson. 

The 600-rai farm is divided into five themed zones covering colourful flower fields, organic vegetable plantations, a wonderfully decorated pumpkin patch, a model Isaan-style village and a handicraft market. All are made for lingering and admiring the Isaan wisdom and enjoying a slower pace of life.


The massive flower field is still a popular backdrop for photos. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

  • COOL BREEZES

    The Jim Thompson Farm Tour runs through January 8, daily from 9am to 5pm. 

    Admission on weekdays is Bt180 (S$7.20) (Bt130 for children), Bt200 (children Bt160) and Bt240 (children Bt180) during the New Year holidays. 

    Find out more by calling (02) 762 2566 or visit www.JimThompsonFarm.com and the “Jim Thompson Farm” page on Facebook.

“We’ve introduced a new kind of bloom and created a new garden by focusing on the loincloth’s functions. Our aim is to show how the people of Isaan interact with the pa kao ma from birth to death. It’s inseparable from the Isaan lifestyle,” says Phahonchai Premjai, architect and adviser to the Jim Thompson Farm.

“Navin and his team have created a new music-video version of the ‘Pa Kao Ma’ song by Surin Phaksiri as a complement to the exhibition.”

Like every year, the 50-rai (8-ha) cosmos field greets visitors with a sea of pink as the shuttle buses head to the heart of the farm. A favourite with all ages, the pumpkin patch is this year joined by a giant pumpkin-like house built from loincloths and a towering wind turbine that’s covered in vibrant tartan cloth fluttering in the breeze. 


A pumpkin house is wrapped in orange loincloths. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

New on-site attractions include a picturesque Loincloth Labyrinth and the sea of multicoloured blooms boasting white and red English roses, Blue Sundew, French sunflowers and the Sulfur Cosmos. 


A sea of pink cosmos greets visitors en route to the heart of the farm. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

Standing alone on the grassland, a model castle complex, built to resemble the Phimai Historical Park, is decked out in loincloths of different shades of yellow to reflect the beauty of ripening rice fields. Next door is the 10-rai Isaan Village, which is home to many magnificent wooden houses in the Korat-style and religious buildings only found in the Northeast. 


A pa kao ma castle is based on Pimai Historical Park. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 


A view of the Isaan Village. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

The “Lost on the Farm” exhibition is centred on the village courtyard. Veteran artist Navin and his production team from his Chiang Mai-based StudiOK are showcasing an avant-garde mobile art gallery modified from the vibrant E-tan farmer’s truck. 


PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

Featuring all the people involved with the farm, visitors will enjoy a fun scene that explores the life of Jim Thompson after he vanished to his reappearance on the farm through creative, hand-painted billboard art. The adjacent Ruan Nang Auey house has been transformed into a mini theatre and furnished with loincloths, stools and walls made from hay.


The “Lost on the Farm” comic offers another chapter in the imagined life of Jim Thompson after his disappearance. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

Navin invites visitors to dance to the new music-video version of Surin Paksiri’s “Pa Kao Ma” and watch his documentary detailing how the loincloth has been used in local life in Thailand’s North and Northeast.


A mini theatre at Ruen Na Auey house is screening the new music video version of the “Pa Kao Ma” song. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

The exhibition also features comics that take readers back to the origins of Pak Thong Chai district and portray the development of Jim Thompson into Thailand’s leading textile company. The village itself is home to a 2.5-metre rice offering made from pa kao ma, a sacred wooden Buddha image created more than 100 years ago and fortunes adapted from the 13 chapters of Maha Vessantara Jataka as contained in the Isaan pha phawaed literature. 

Families can join workshops and learn how to weave the loincloth from skilful artisans or check out a series of “Kak Ta Ta Phrae E Pho” books penned by Professor Weera Sudsang. The books and their lovely illustrations narrate how the pa kao ma has always been part of Isaan culture.


Artisans demonstrate the weaving of cotton loincloth. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 


“The word pa kao ma comes from Persia while E Pho comes from the Chinese. It was originally an Arab design that came to Asia via marine trade. The pa kao ma is multifunctional and is used for many things, including as a hammock for a newborn or as a garment, shawl and handkerchief. Isaan people often wear silk loincloths to religious ceremonies and other important events, while cotton pa kao ma is worn in daily life for better ventilation,” says Yoothapong Martiset, a cultural adviser to Jim Thompson.
 

A villager works at making yarn. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK 

And, as ever, the Jim Thompson Market is a perfect place to shop for refined silk apparel, fashion accessories, home furnishings and agricultural products, all of which make great festive season gifts.