Tucked away in the Petchaburi province is the agricultural village Ban Thamrong. If you’re looking for something different from the usual Thai experience of beaches, malls and night markets, then a visit here is a great way to experience rural life in Thailand’s countryside. Ban Thamrong is famous for its sugar palm plantation, and you can expect to spend an afternoon here learning about how one plant has provided a myriad of livelihoods for the villagers.
Recently, I had the chance to visit Ban Thamrong, thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and had a fascinating afternoon learning about the sugar palm and the villagers' lives. Hopefully, this article will pique your interest enough to want to check it out too!
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One man's foresight
The story of Ban Thamrong’s relationship with the sugar palm begins with one man, 54-year-old Mr Thanom, who decided to plant sugar palms despite the long years before they yield results. Typically, it takes about 20 years before you can reap the fruits of your labour from the sugar palm. Today, Mr. Thanom has over 450 sugar palms and a sprawling 10 rai (1.6 hectares) plantation.
Visit the plantation and learn how nectar is harvested
My visit to Ban Thamrong started out with hopping on an open-air tram, enjoying the breeze and the scenes of village life going by. The village has a river and lake which feeds the plantation and local crops.
The tour first started out at the sugar palm plantation. Here, we had the privilege of meeting Mr. Thanom in person. The neat, towering rows of sugar palms we wandered through are a testament to over 20 years of hard work and vision. Fresh palm nectar is collected overnight from the trees. In order to do so, workers scale up the high trees with bamboo or plastic cylinders to harvest the nectar.
The fresh palm nectar is then taken to be boiled down and concentrated to form a light, refreshing drink. The nectar can also be heated and caramelised into palm sugar. You can stock up on palm sugar to bring home here – it’s excellent in coffee and desserts!
Side note – I made the mistake of wearing shorts and got badly bitten. Do yourself the favour of wearing pants, and bring some repellent.
A 700-year-old statue
The second stop on the tour was a hidden gem that I never expected to find in a sleepy Thai village. Tucked away in a steep hillside is Wat Tham Rong, a temple-cave. Inside, you’ll find a towering Dvaravati-period statue of Luang Pho dam. The statue is over 700 years old. The cave is small, so don’t expect to spend too much time here. Also, look out for monkeys!
Get hands-on with the sugar palm
Our last stop on the tour was where we really got hands-on with the sugar palm, and realised just how many uses a single plant could yield. For starters, we were shown how to separate the bright yellow, fragrant pulp of the ripe fruit. The pulp is used to create a dessert known as khanom tan – these are steamed, bite-sized cakes topped with grated coconut.
I also got to try my hand at weaving crafts from the leaves from the sugar palm. This is where I admit that I was completely useless – this activity was just me sitting on the floor and pulling palm leaf strips in whichever direction I was instructed to. However, it was quite a humbling experience to watch these Thai ladies deftly weave the leaves into shapes of elephants, birds and balls. The shells of the sugar palm fruit are also used to craft wind chimes, lamps and all kinds of other handicrafts, which can be bought here.
The sugar palm fruit also yields sweet jelly seeds. These are pale white, with a watery fluid inside the flesh. They taste similar to the lychee but have a much milder flavour – perfect for a refreshing snack.
These are just some of the uses of the sugar palm – the tree can also be used to make furniture, household items and wood – just to name a few.
A slice of rural Thai life
Ban Thamrong is quite out of the way and it’s not advised to drive there by yourself unless you can read Thai road signs! It’s best to speak to your hotel’s tour desk so they can make the necessary arrangements for you to get there.
All in all, this trip was an eye-opener on how one tree can provide so much for people. It was also a fascinating glimpse into life in rural Thailand – before this, my impression of the kingdom was limited to malls and sandy beaches. I was very glad for this chance to see the different ways life is lived in Thailand!