The word “Farm” conjures images of sheep, goats or expanses of crops and a sweaty day in the outdoors. If you are looking for an agro cultural tour in Thailand, then the Jim Thompson Farm Fair experience is one of the highlights of the agro industry in the country. This agro farm experience in Thailand is only open to the public once a year for a month and falls in the winter month of December to January. ‘Winter’ in Thailand means the cooler months where the temperature hovers around 20 to 25 degrees Celsius with a fairly cool breeze blowing. It is a much awaited farm fair in the country and from opening day to closing, it is packed with local and foreign tourists who manage to find their way there.
Situated in the province of Nakhon Ratchasiman in the Pak Thong Chai district, the Jim Thompson Farm is a good two hour drive from Bangkok City. Visitors keen to join this agro farm fair would need to find a way to get there either by self-driving or to join special tours that would make all the necessary arrangements for transportation. Thaitourismguide is one such tour group that arranges private tours to Jim Thompson Farm annually as part of their sightseeing Thailand tours but it means you will have to book ahead. Despite the difficulty to get there, it is still worth the effort as the tour to Jim Thompson Farm is a whole day affair that has ample activities for the whole family.
The name Jim Thompson is synonymous with the silk industry in Thailand and the brand name of some of the finest silk fabrics and clothing with stores worldwide in some of the famous fashion houses of New York, Paris and Milan. However, the Jim Thompson Farm is not just all about silk. Did you know that the Jim Thompson Farm also produces some of the best melons and pumpkins in Thailand as well as signature teas, rice and a wide variety of organic vegetables? The Jim Thompson Farm Fair is open daily during this season from 9.00 am in the morning to the last guided tour at 5.00 pm in the evening and this year 2015 it is open from the 5 December till the 10 January 2016.
The idea for the Jim Thompson Farm was first established as a one stop centre to supply all the necessary raw materials that were needed by the company to produce the silk fabrics for their outlets. Within this farm in the early days of 1988, a form of silk worm culture was developed known as “sericulture” which meant the development of self-sustaining mulberry plantations and the breeding of good quality grade silkworm eggs through a breeding method to produce hybrid silkworms for sale and distribution to the company silk worm farming contractors.
A ride out to the Jim Thompson Farm is an enjoyable ride albeit a little bumpy in the off roads but rewarding in the picturesque scenes along the way. As the farm is situated in the Isaan territories, you will get good views of the mountains and bamboo groves along the way and at the farm itself which occupies 280 acres of land. There are two areas to the farm, one is the actual farm area itself and the other which is open for camping and outdoor activities a little further down. The idea to include ecotourism into agrotourism was to encourage the younger generations into a more outdoor lifestyle rather than an urban lifestyle and to encourage agro industrial vocations.
The silk industry in Thailand is one of the most notable products to come out of Thailand, thanks to the efforts of the legendary Jim Thompson. A visit to the Jim Thompson Farm would be an eye opening experience where you will get a first-hand glimpse into how silk is produced from the plantations of mulberry bushes all the way to the production of the beautiful fabrics. However, the silkworm and silk producing industry is not just the agenda of the farm. There are a lot of other activities for the whole family as well as an abundance of food and shopping to be done here not to mention great photography opportunities.
Once you get to the Jim Thompson Farm and have presented your entry tickets, there are guided coaches every 15 minutes to take you on a tour of the farm which is divided into five different areas. Bear in mind that the hard working staffs of the farm have spent a whole year to prepare this wonderful event for you so you can expect fresh organically grown vegetables and fruits, games, cultural shows, a farmers market, retail shops and off course plenty of Isaan food during this farm tour experience! So hop onto one of the coaches for a great tour of the farm.
First stop along the way is the Giant Pumpkin Patch and Maize farm. Here you can stroll around the pumpkin patch where the pumpkins are all ripe and ready for harvest. Among the pumpkins are also a beautiful field of marigold flowers which turns the whole area nice bright orange as well as golden sunflower fields. There is also a huge hay stack climbing facilities for the kids to enjoy themselves. If you are a little tired have a seat on one of the brightly silk covered hay bales which are ample around the place or have a drink and snacks at the coach stop. You would also not believe the varieties of pumpkins they grow on this farm of different shapes, sizes and colour.
Next stop is the Isaan Village tour where there are a good collection of antique teak Isaan and Korat style wooden houses, padi fields and games along with cultural shows. Where the coach stops, walk down a little to meet the resident friendly water buffalo named “Boonlai” who is more than happy to give you a nuzzle. Water buffaloes are the working backbone of the farming industry in Thailand and revered by the farmers. A walk up to the village is divided into two sections. The one on the left through the padi fields brings you to the rice harvest and milling stations. Here you get a chance to experience rice harvesting and milling using the traditional wood mill method. Did you know that the Jim Thompson Farm produces a variety of red and brown rice which is not only nutritious but has a unique fragrance when cooked? You can later buy some of this rice at the farmers market along the way if you did not mill your own harvest at the village! This village is part of the conservation project by Jim Thompson Farm to preserve the fast disappearing teak wooden houses which are being replaced in favour of the modern brick houses and apartments all over the country especially in rural northeastern Thailand. The Isaan community is a blend of Thai and Laotian cultures and unique in their traditions, lifestyle and cultures, all of which you can watch and experience right here at the farm. There are culture shows, games, ceremonies and sampling of snacks for you to complete the experience. If you make one round of this village, try your luck at the lucky draw tree. This was a form of entertainment at fairs in the villages in the olden days. Pieces of paper with numbers are formed into beautiful origami birds and hung on a big tree. For a mere few Baht, you are given a long stick to try and get one of these “birds” off the tree. If you are lucky, your number will correspond with some of the wonderful prizes prepared such as packs of red rice, vouchers and other goodies! The tree is also beautifully decorated with yards of colourful silk fabrics hung from the top to form a silk tent and worthy of a great picture. One thing you will note is the effort to decorate the whole farm area from the entrance all the way in and back again with whimsical handmade decorations of rice stalks, silk fabrics and farm produce to make your visit to the farm even more colourful and memorable. Do not forget to drop by the retail shop where you can buy beautiful silk fabrics, clothes, bags and other knick knacks or have a drink at the café while watching people try their luck at the “Lucky tree”.
The Weaving village is next on the list of the guided tour. Here are a series of wooden and brick buildings that house the silk production facilities. The entranceway to this weaving village is fascinating with its spider web like weavings of silk threads along a metal arch frame and interspersed with decorations of rice stalk ornaments of various bright colours. Take a peek into the silk worm breeding rooms if you are not squeamish about caterpillars. The silk worms are bred from top grade silk worm eggs and fed with mulberry leaves until they are matured and form cocoons. The Jim Thompson Farm produces two varieties of silk worm cocoons such as the Golden Yellow Silk cocoons which are a Thai Hybrid and the Chinese White cocoon. Villagers in Isaan who supply to the Jim Thompson Farm are provided with these varieties of silk worms which they breed and harvest to be sold back to Jim Thompson Farm. The cocoons are formed in round slotted rattan baskets to make them easier to sort out and remove. Once removed, they are placed into vats of boiling water to loosen the threads of silk and unravelled. The threads are they sent for dyeing into the various bright colours that will be used to weave the silk fabrics. Here you can learn how the various coloured dyes are made and used. Most of the colours come from natural produce such as flowers, spices and minerals to give them that unique colour. Then head out to the weaving looms where you will have a first-hand experience of how silk is woven on hand looms to form the beautiful silk fabrics. The new looms are a modification of the old hand looms in the mechanism for threading the silk threads row by row. Where it used to be hand slide mechanism it is now a slide carrier to make it a little faster in the weaving process but note that all silk fabrics are still hand woven!
The highlight of the tour is also the farmers market. Here are two big blocks of open market space where you can buy fresh produce or products from the weaving village. The first market block is where you can find a good variety of freshly harvested and pesticide free vegetables and fruits. They are all grown organically and the variety available is quite impressive especially the melons, cantaloupes and pumpkins. There are also fresh mushrooms from their mushroom farm, all manner of gourds, snacks and a personal favourite is bottles of fresh honey still with their combs intact. There is also an open space here for you to have a meal of authentic and traditional Isaan food. The food menu has been specially picked for you to get the best eating experience of traditional village Isaan food varieties. Some of the dishes are a little spicy but a favourite is the Isaan sausages which are all hand made from spiced meats. You can enjoy your meal here after a day in the outdoors exploring the farm area and sit down to a good meal with a view of the mountains and mulberry plantations to entertain you. The next block is the product market. Once you get inside, take a look at the ceiling, and marvel at the beautifully handmade silk lantern shades hanging from the rafters. Makes you wish you could buy a few of them to bring home but unfortunately these are not for sale! Instead there are hand woven silk carpets, silk cushion covers, straw mats, clothing, bags and other home decorative items for sale here that make good mementoes of your trip to the farm and bring a signature Jim Thompson product back home.
Last but not least on the stops is the self pick vegetable patch. Here you will find a variety of ready-to-harvest vegetables all ready for you to pick and bag to bring home. Take your choice of beans, bitter gourds, egg plants, cucumbers and vegetables for your dining table and eating pleasure. They are all pesticide free and organic. This is to encourage the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits into the local diet especially organic varieties for better health. From this point it is back to the start and entrance way where there is the signature Jim Thompson Retail outlet that you can buy other souvenirs like mugs, magnets or an up market trend of clothing. All-in-all, the Jim Thompson Farm experience is like no other and something that should be experienced at least once to appreciate part of the culture and lifestyle of Northeastern Thailand while gaining a better understanding into the agro culture industry of the country. Do also remember that the farm is only open to the public once a year and if you miss this one, you will have to wait till the end of the year to go to the next one!