Tourists can learn all things rice-related at a centre based on a working farm in Suphan Buri
A group of visitors put on mohom (indigo) cotton shirts and pants. It was their first time learning how to harvest rice and plant rice seedlings as well as tasting purple rice tea.
The activities are part of tourist services at the Learning Centre of Farmer’s Way of Life and Wisdoms in Muang district of Suphan Buri. The centre lies in the 86 rai rice field belonging to Nipat Charoenthammaraksa, whose business is selling rice seeds to 300 farmer families. He also calls the centre “Na Here Chai”, referring to the rice paddies of Mr Chai, which is the nickname of his father Pichai.
“My family used to run a rice mill and offered loans to farmers. But it was not a business model that I liked,” said Nipat, 43. When he was asked to take care of the family’s legacy after his father got sick, he decided to change the business to produce and supply rice seeds to farmers.
In 1997, he started planting rice on his family’s land with two staff members and imported rice planting, harvesting and polishing machines from Taiwan.
During the initial years of operations, they could harvest 4 tonnes of rice. At present, the total production has jumped to 18 tonnes. He has 104 staff, including farmers who are hired to give visitors guidelines on how to plant rice.
After succeeding in the rice business, he initiated a tourism project to encourage city people to learn more about being farmers and how to grow rice.
“The project is my mission to show my gratitude towards farmers and my motherland,” he said. He wanted to highlight farmers’ endurance and wisdom and at the same time promote Suphan Buri, which is well known for its vast expanses of rice paddies.
The project started in 2010. Nipat set aside a 60 million baht budget to create the Na Here Chai learning centre on a 10 rai plot of land at the zone close to Road 322.
Opened last October, the learning centre features paddy demonstration fields, water buffalo pens, a 14.5m-tall observation tower where visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the centre and a group of traditional Thai-style houses. There is also an open-air food centre and a coffee shop decorated with old items of shophouses, such as dial-up telephones, metal candy boxes and an old bicycle.
The centre can organise activities for group visitors. A group must have at least 20 people if they want to know how to grow rice seedlings or harvest rice. Those who travel in a group of at least 10 can learn how to make some local desserts such askhanom tan (toddy palm cake in banana leaf).
Individual visitors or those who are travelling in smaller groups can still enjoy the learning centre. The main visiting attraction is the complex of four traditional Thai-style houses. The largest house comprises a main room, imitating a parent room, and two smaller rooms and a cooking area.
Each room is decorated as a gallery to showcase collections of everyday items 50 years ago, such as charcoal irons, silver chain girdles and smoking pipes. Under the raised platform of the house is the exhibition zone where visitors can see old farm tools and other household items, such as rice huskers, stone rice grinders and hanging cradles.
Another house is a gallery to show collections of pictures and items related to Their Majesties the King and the Queen such as old photos, old coins and banknotes as well as sculptures of King Rama I to the present Rama IX.
A third house is dedicated to Mae Phosop (the Mother of Rice) and the last house, which is decorated as a classroom, is where visitors can find collections of books written by HM the King.
The centre also has bicycles for rent as well as a souvenir shop if some want to buy rice. Varieties include khao riceberry (dark violet rice), khao hin lek (light brown rice) and khao leum phua (dark violet glutinous rice which is used for making tea at the centre).
Recently, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) selected the learning centre as a destination to promote farm tours in the central region. Although the centre does not grow rice in an organic way, it receives recognition from TAT because of the activities and facilities, including having clean toilets for tourists.
In addition, the centre also has farmers who can share their farming knowledge with those who are interested.
Na Here Chai is a one-stop learning centre where anyone can have a once-in-a-lifetime experience to happily get their feet dirty with mud in a wet field and learn how to plant rice seedlings like a farmer.
The Learning Centre of Farmer’s Way of Life and Wisdoms is located in Muang district. It is about 10km west of Suphan Buri City Hall.
The centre is open daily from 8am-5pm. There is no entrance fee.
For more information, visit its website at www.herechai.com or call 092-626-1515.