Watch traditional artists at work
Published/Last edited or updated: 17th February, 2021
The families of Baan Pa Ao have hand-crafted beautiful brass and silk products for five generations. Not a tacky made-for-tourism attraction like some of Thailand’s craft villages, this is an opportunity to watch the artists at work as you soak up the rural lifestyle, all without straying too far from Ubon city.
Baan Pa Ao was settled some two centuries ago by Lao immigrants from Vientiane who were probably part of the larger movement of people that resulted in the founding of Ubon Ratchathani. With them came an adeptness at crafting silk and brass from scratch. In an era when many crafts are fading away throughout Southeast Asia, Baan Pa Ao appears dedicated to keeping its traditions alive.
The first stop as you enter the village is a Community Silk Centre, where local craftspeople demonstrate the various steps of silk-making for visitors. A fairly large museum/shop displays some of the exquisite wears created here. The public centre is a great starting point, but you can also wander the narrow lanes and pop into family-run silk workshops run out of modest stilted homes.
Whereas some Thai silk villages purchase their thread from elsewhere and only do the weaving on site, Baan Pa Ao creates its silk from scratch. Grown in front yards, the lime-green leaves of mulberry bushes sustain tiny white silkworms until they’re ready to spin their bodies into oval-shaped cocoons made of raw silk. These are are tossed into pots of boiling water to relinquish the precious fiber.
After craftspeople stretch the fibre into thread that’s dipped in natural dyes, old-fashioned wooden looms are used to slowly piece together scarves, tablecloths and clothing in gorgeous colours and patterns. If you’re lucky, the craftspeople will snatch up some of the leftover worms and offer them up as a deep-fried snack.
Continue northeast past the old village temple, Wat Burapha Pa Ao Nuea, and you’ll notice smoke rising from a workshop at the foot of the forest. Here the descendents of a few of Baan Pa Ao’s original settlers continue to perfect the centuries-old art of brass-work, using largely unchanged methods handed down over generations.
The craftspeople work in a team of around a dozen people, shaping molds out of clay, manure and rice husk; hardening the molds in a wood-fired kiln; fitting liquid brass around the molds and ultimately cooling, polishing and refining each piece into a work of art. The workshop creates everything from 40-baht keychains to 800-baht bowls and large Buddha images for temples all over Thailand. Many items are available for purchase.
Most of those who aren’t employed in the silk and brass studios work in the fields surrounding Baan Pa Ao. During our visit, farmers were taking advantage of the first monsoon rains to sew their paddies with bright-green rice plants.
While Baan Pa Ao is usually visited as a daytrip from Ubon city, you can settle into a homestay set in a large wooden house in the centre of the village, marked by a red-and-white sign in English [T: (085) 613 4713 ; (081) 076 1249]. A brass-smith also runs a homestay near the workshop, and we were told that a few other families have rooms for rent as well. Expect to pay around 300 to 500 baht per night, per person, which may include a meal or two. All are welcome, but keep in mind that most of the hosts speak little or no English.
Baan Pa Ao is located 35 kilometres northwest of Ubon city and nine kilometres north of Highway 23. It’s marked off the north side of the highway by an archway topped with a blue sign that says, “OTOP Champion Ban Pa Ao”, in English. From there a narrow road takes you past rice paddies before entering the village, with the Community Silk Centre marked by another blue archway on the left. The unmarked narrow lanes wind around and are easy to lose yourself on, but the village is tiny so you can’t get too lost.
To reach the village by public transport, catch a Yasothon- or Khueang Nai-bound bus at the main Ubon bus terminal (multiple departures every hour until 18:00) and ask to be dropped at Baan Nong Khon (tell the driver you’re headed to Baan Pa Ao), where you can catch a motorbike taxi to Baan Pa Ao for 20 baht. The other option is to pay around 300 to 500 baht for a roundtrip from Ubon city by taxi or tuk tuk.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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