Ban Laem village is an old community founded during the late Ayuthaya period (1350 to 1767) with traditional Thai houses built along the Suphanburi river. It was also known as the Angwa troop passage during the great war between Burma and Siam.
There are plenty of things to be said about Ban Laem, starting from the warm welcome ceremony consisting of traditional music to the lush greenery that can immediately calm any restless traveller. However, as I spent half a day in this village, I began to notice a trend. A trend that would delight many sustainable tourism advocates.
This little community has pretty much replaced plastic straws and bags with ones made from the water hyacinth (a common aquatic plant). The fish is caught fresh from the river which flows peacefully right beside the local homestay we have been allocated. As dinner is served, our host informs us that the vegetables are organically grown. “Natural, natural” - he emphasises. Even the warm colourful drink we are served is extracted from a plant. Small leftovers from dinner are fed to the fish in the river.
During our welcome ceremony, we were given beautiful hats. At first, I thought they were as good as the fancy flimsy Instagram hats we have all seen before. But when I actually held one, it felt very sturdy. That’s when I found out that these hats are locally made from the water hyacinth too.
Every few days, the locals take out the time to clean the river, the river that forms an integral part of their life. Compare this to today’s modern societies where most individuals would not consider it their duty to respect (much less try to clean up) natural resources.
There is a rustic feel about the whole place. Ban Laem has tried to accommodate for some of the tourists’ needs but by and large, has remained stuck in time.
The sense of community is still strong here. Everyone supports one another. They work hard during the day, smile whenever they see each other and crack jokes whenever they gather around. Not to mention, Ban Laem completely lives up to the famous Thai hospitality standards. The host said: “Here, we are all family, brothers and sisters.” And he meant it.
As I head back to my room, my mind is filled with thoughts. I can’t help but think how much this community focuses on a sustainable lifestyle without even realising it! No, this is not an experimental home where a bunch of like-minded sustainability advocates have come together to craft a mindful lifestyle. Ban Laem simply sticks to its old ways.
This brings me to the question: is our society progressing backwards? If we continued along to live the way our ancestors did, would our mother earth be better off?
Now, these are interesting questions - especially coming from a person who has never really given such issues much of a thought. I am also not one to be talking as I myself don’t follow a very green lifestyle. However, I am convinced that change needs to be gradual.
The idea that sustainability is not a new trend that we all need to follow, but rather an old way of life that we should go back to is perhaps a good enough first step.