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Bangkok Travelbug October 12 The Phu Thai of Kalasin
September 28, 2012

The Phu Thai of Kalasin

Welcome back to the Bangkok Travelbug. We continue with our tour of Kalasin with this last visit to see a very old ethnic group living in Thailand and the surrounding region.

Contents (click on the link to go directly to the topic)

The Phu Thai

The Phu Thai originated from Dien Bien Phu* in north-western Vietnam near the China/Laos border. They belong to the ethnic and linguistic group Tai Kadai and have similar culture and language as the Lao. They are Buddhists and animists and also believe in spiritual healers, "moh yao".

As an agricultural society, they are famous for their textiles, cotton and silk. They rear silkworms and weave silk with colourful designs.

Phu Thai women in traditional dress

In the early 1800s the Phu Thai migrated to Savannakhet province, Laos across the Mekong River from Mukdahan province, Thailand. In the reign of King Rama III (1824 – 1851), Thailand# went to war with the Vientiane kingdom and sacked Vientiane in 1829. Large numbers of Lao were resettled in north-eastern Thailand.

Another war in 1830 war with Annam (present day central Vietnam) over control Cambodia resulted in more Phu Thai migration to Thailand.

Those who migrated to north-eastern Thailand settled in Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, Sakhon Nakhon and Kalasin.

The Vietnam War and the war in Laos in the 1970s resulted in the migration of more Phu Thai to Thailand. After the war many migrated mainly to the USA and other parts of the world.

Please see the map of the locations of the Phu Thai in Thailand.

View Locations of Phu Thai in Thailand in a larger map

Let’s pay a visit to the Phu Thai communities in Amphur (district) Kuchi Narai, Kalasin.


*Dien Bien Phu was the site of a battle between the French and Vietminh during the First Indo-China War. The Vietminh overran the French garrison on 7 May 1954 after a 54 day siege. That defeat led to the end of French influence in Indochina and the partition of Vietnam into north and south.

#Before 1939, Thailand was known as Siam. To avoid confusion, Thailand is used throughout in this article.

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Amphur Kuchi Narai

Amphur Kuchi Narai is one of the 18 districts in Kalasin. This district is right at the eastern end of the province near the border with Mukdahan province which is on the Lao/Thai border formed by the Mekong River.

The countryside in Kuchi Narai

The main provincial town Kuchi Narai is about 80 km from Kalasin city. The district is further sub-divided into 12 tambon (sub-districts), the ones of interest to us are Nong Hang and Kut Wa which are about 7 km and 17 km from Kuchi Narai town respectively.

Nong Hang and Kut Wa are home to two Phu Thai communities which we will be visiting,
  • Nong Hang Handicraft Group

  • Khok Kong Cultural Village

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Nong Hang Handicraft Group

There was a fair going on in the community hall when I reached Ban Nong Hang. People were milling around stalls selling all kinds of snacks and handicraft.

A man approached and welcomed me, then took me to the meet the community leader. I was surprised as to how they knew I was a visitor. Then I realised I was the only stranger there!

Khun Phirak, the community leader of Ban Nong Hang welcomed me warmly. He asked someone to open the handicraft shop for me to view and told me about the Nong Hang Handicraft Group.

The Phu Thai community in Ban Nong Hang has set up a cooperative bank and handicraft shop to help develop professions in local handicraft products and community projects.

Nong Hang Credit Union Cooperative Limited

The bank gives loans to the residents to produce handicraft products and the shop helps sell these products. Training sessions are conducted to teach residents the necessary skills. Cooperative fairs, like the one I just walked into, provide a market for residents to sell their products to each other or to visitors.

Shop selling community handicraft

Phu Thai textiles

In addition the Nong Hang community has homestay facilities in the area for visitors who wish to stay and enjoy the country environment.

Khun Phirak glowed with pride when he told me about the Phu Thai international community gathering in Kalasin a few months before. Thai Prime Minister Ms Yingluck Shinawatra graced the occasion as Guest of Honour in a traditional Phu Thai dress.

Traditional Phu Thai dress

The Phu Thai in Ban Nong Hang is a wonderful example of self-help and self-reliance in a community

Contact details

Ban Nong Hang
223 Mu 1 Tambon Nong Hang
Amphur Kuchi Narai

Tel: +66 43 851 090

People to contact

Acharn Sunthorn Phusithan +66 895 742 613
Khun Mirinthorn +66 872 301 031

Friendly residents of Ban Nong Hang

My souvenir – a Phu Thai cloth sling bag from Ban Nong Hang

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Khok Kong Cultural Village

Our next stop was the Phu Thai Khok Kong Cultural Village further up Highway 12. The village is about 3.5 km off the highway and is located at the foot of a mountain, Phu Pha Wua.

Arch over the entrance to the Phu Thai Khok Kong Cultural Village

In contrast to the place we visited earlier, the village further down the road was relatively quiet when I got there in the afternoon. I didn’t see very many people around.

Residents of Khok Kong Cultural Village

The Phu Thai community here live in a self-contained village with their own temple, community hall and school.

Community hall

The rice fields are just south of the village, separated from the village by an irrigation canal. The village even has a factory that produces fertiliser for the fields.

Photo taken in one of the community halls

There is a souvenir shop selling a variety of Phu Thai textile products made by the residents. I gathered that there are homestay facilities here as well but didn’t manage to get the details.

Afternoon nap at the souvenir shop

Phu Thai dress at the souvenir shop

Another attraction near the Khok Kong Cultural Village is the Tat Sung Waterfall which is about a km north-east of the village. The waterfall is located up in Phu Pha Wua, the mountain behind the village.

The entrance to the Tat Sung Waterfall Forest Park

Unfortunately it was during the hot season in March and as we entered the forest park, the officials told us that the waterfall was dry!

Nonetheless, I thought I would give it a try. However after 15 minutes of walking up this rocky path, the thought of going on for a km in the 37° C afternoon heat to see a dry waterfall didn’t seem appealing. So I decided to give it a pass.

The route to the Tat Sung Waterfall

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Map of Kalasin

View Map Kalasin, Thailand in a larger map

Getting to Kalasin

From Mor Chit the northern bus terminal in Bangkok the journey by bus takes about eight hours. Fare for the 1st class tour bus is 441 baht.

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Map to Kuchi Narai

View Map of Kuchi Narai, Kalasin in a larger map

Getting to Kuchi Narai

From Kalasin city go north-east along Highway 12 all the way to the Talat Somdet intersection. Turn right to continue along Highway 12 for another 40 km till you get to Kuchi Narai town.

The Nong Hang Handicraft Group is approximately 7 km north-east of Kuchi Narai town. The Khok Kong Cultural village is 17 km east of Kuchi Nari town.

How to get around Kalasin, please see this link in the August 2012 issue, getting around Kalasin.

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Where to stay – hotels in Kalasin

The Paiboon Place Hotel is just 500 m from the Kalasin bus terminal.

A P Garden Hotel Pailin Hotel Phaiboon Place Hotel

Ponthong Garden Ratchapreuk Resort Suak Hotel

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My thanks

I wish to express my deep appreciation to the Phu Thai people in the Nong Hang and Khok Kong communities for giving me an insight into their way of life and for sharing their local knowledge with me.

My thanks too to all the people in Kalasin with whom I had come into contact during my visit for their warm friendliness.

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Next month

The Bottle Art Museum, Pattaya

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Eric Lim

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