They go to collect shellfish, clusters of women swaddled in sarongs. Placing plastic buckets atop their heads, they wade quietly into the mangrove swamp and head toward a muddy embankment, a treasure chest for hoi, a delicious local oyster exposed at low tide.Women with soft faces flash brilliant smiles as they sink their feet into the sludge.
The task of collection is a time of fun. The ladies joke and splash about, relaxing as the evening sky drops curtains of orange, mauve and violet into the water surrounding their shins.
Built with the help of donations from cosmetics giant L’Oréal, Baan Krachang is run by a community-led cooperative of Pak Triam village, a small community just off the main road, that was completely destroyed by the 2004 tsunami.The scene unfolds on the way to Baan Krachang, a floating bungalow resort in southwestern Thailand on the Andaman Sea.
Villagers have rebuilt their lives thanks to the construction and training involved with the resort’s operation. All the money made from the project goes back to the community, helping supplement traditional incomes based on fishing and rubber tapping, and contributing to the economic reconstruction of the region.
Rustic and simple, the eco-resort comprises 10 bamboo thatched bungalows. Each low-budget room comes with a mattress, mosquito net, a fan, a cushioned chill-out area and its own hammock. At first it may appear a bit austere, but the warmth of the surroundings and the kindness of the local hosts soon make it feel like home.
Cultivating that feeling of community is one of Baan Krachang’s biggest aspirations. The resort promotes “meaningful tourism,” one that embraces culture, encourages exchanges and supports the natural environment rather than the building of resorts and hotels. There are organized fishing and snorkeling trips, village tours, handicraft and Thai cooking workshops, among other activities.
“The goal is to make it so villagers can do community-based tourism on their own terms,” says Kelly May, director of Andaman Discoveries, a community-based tourism company that supports Baan Krachang toward achieving sustainable tourism.
Having heard from various travelers that Thailand lacked a certain authenticity, I decided to put Baan Krachang to the test and made reservations. After arriving in the Khura Buri district, a small outpost in the Phang Nga province only a few tourists pass en route to the renowned Surin Islands National Marine Park, I was picked up by a driver in a wooden boat and transported through the mangrove-lined canals that hide the resort sanctuary.
I was sleepy after my journey and decided to laze about in one of the hammocks suspended over the canal.A woman named Kii greeted me at Baan Krachang’s dock and explained that she would look after my needs. With warmth and strength that seemed impossible for her small frame she swept up my bags and showed me to my private bungalow.
I followed my nap with a swim and a refreshing bucket shower. A walk along the long, deserted beach capped the evening. One of the village fishermen joined me as I searched for shells in the sand, showing me the traditional methods he used to trap and catch squid. I eagerly accepted his invite on an evening fishing trip the following night, when the canopy of stars serve as the fishermen’s guiding light.
When I returned to Baan Krachang after sunset I found a feast — cooked vegetables, curries, spicy salads and fresh seafood. Tomorrow Kii would teach me to prepare these dishes myself, and I was enticed by the ability to replicate such culinary beauty.
Tonight Kii’s son had helped with the meal, and I invited them both to join me. Because the resort is run entirely by Pak Triam villagers trained in hospitality, visits like this are common, giving guests the chance to interact with many of the local families.
The next morning I awoke to the distant tut-tut of long-tailed fishing boats. The palm-thatched bungalows at Baan Krachang float slightly apart from the mangroves, and the wooden walkway that connects them stretches down the muddy banks. Soft, muted light kissed the walls of the complex, a solid structure set amid a fluid landscape.
A troupe of long-tailed macaques played among the mangrove roots and vibrant sea birds flitted among their branches. At Baan Krachang life rises with the sun, and the beauty of such unadulterated wilderness becomes awesome.
Despite its remoteness, the resort has access to a generator that provides light into the evening hours, and it boasts quaint decorative touches, such as lampshades made from traditional fish traps that add a touch of charm and culture.
My favorite activity was sitting on the open deck at night and watching the stars, or listening to the water lap against the planks of my bungalow floor, a lullaby better than any I could have asked for.
“The shellfish here are delicious,” Kii had said. But it wasn’t just the food that was delicious.Two days after arriving at Baan Krachang I passed the women fishers again as I departed. I took in their silhouettes, reflecting on my short but restful stay, and I began to admire the beauty of a nightly ritual that is awe-inspiring in its authenticity.
At Baan Krachang I had found a part of Thailand that wasn’t manufactured. I’d found a place where human interaction was honest and organic. And I couldn’t image anything tastier.
If You Go
Baan Krachang resort
Originally from Ohio, Sara Schonhardt went to Thailand three years ago to embark on a career in political journalism. A former associate editor for Artasia Press in Bangkok, Sara now devotes her time to traveling around the region and documenting her experiences.