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A Time Capsule of Thai Farming

by Danny Speight

There are many ways to preserve a country's history, such as museums and libraries. When someone at Wat Nam Daeng (the Red Thorn Temple) started to collect the implements and utensils used in his neighbourhood it made yet another way, for now we have a time capsule of what was in use there 40-70 years ago. Following on from last month's trip to the 100 Year Old Market we are still in the area north of the Chonburi motorway, between Chachoengsao and Bangkok, which could be a diversion from your usual Pattaya to Bangkok trip.

Wat Nam Daeng is about 15 kilometres out of Chachoengsao on Route 304 to Minburi and Bangkok. Turn left off the main road onto Nakhon Khlong Nueang Khet 15 and at just over two kilometres you will see the temple entrance road on the left. There are two bridges across the canal that runs in front of the temple and I would suggest using the cement one rather than the wooden one, just in case. For GPS users the temple's position is 13.7473N, 100.9664E. An alternative to the above directions and a possible return route would be to turn north off  the Thepphrat-Lat Krabang Road which eventually becomes Onnut Road or Sukhumvit Soi 77.

The temple is situated towards the northern end of a canal linking the two major canals east of Bangkok, Thailand's longest, the Saen Saeb, and the Prawet Burirom. These two canals in their turn link the Chao Phraya and Bang Pakong rivers. Khlong Saen Saeb was built in 1837 by King Nangklao, the third monarch of the present dynasty, in order to transport troops to Chachoengsao and then on towards Cambodia more speedily.

A mere 40 years later under King Chulalongkorn the Great, Khlong Prawet Burirom was built for a far different primary purpose. At that time we are looking at the beginning of the making of modern Siam or Thailand as it became, which included an expansion of rice production and its export. This region was changed from marshy wetlands into a rice bowl by building drainage canals. Helping to finance the Prawet-Burirom khlong, the primarily Chinese labour force earned contributors farmland along the canal edge.

Farming equipment
So back to Wat Nam Daeng and the rice farming communities that lived around it. A monk told us the temple was about a hundred years old but I suspect it could be quite a bit older. It's a pleasant and colourful temple but that's not unusual in Thailand. What is unusual is the collections stored in various open-sided sheds of household and farming equipment now long past their useful life.

The farming equipment ranges from simple buffalo harnesses and ploughs to quite complicated towed wooden harvesters. There are scales ranging from simple spring balances to sack scales which must have been used when selling the farmer's produce. A highlight is the large collection of farm pumps and motors from before, during and after the Second World War. There are Japanese and European manufacturers which perhaps show the rise of post-war Japanese engineering as well as the earlier Japanese occupation of Thailand.

Although the later canals were built to drain farmland they still were the main means of transport for the communities. A large collection of old canal boats and longtail boat engines are also at the temple. It should be said that some of the boats have disintegrated, but others look as though they were used as an early bus service, possibly the forerunners of today's Saen Saeb commuter boat service.

There are shelves of pots and other cooking utensils including some extra large woks. Wicker work and cane baskets and fish traps are spread around. Look out for the stone rice flour grinders on the floor of one of the sheds. There is just about one of everything a farmer's kitchen needs.

From about the 1970s you can begin to see the local community buying electrical and electronic equipment. Not so many early TVs, but plenty of early PC monitors and printers perhaps showing why old typewriters were also given to the temple. There are telephones aplenty along with fans and the dreaded PA systems which we know were invented to stop weekend lie-ins. Old clocks hang on the temple's office outside wall.

While visiting the temple it is worth looking at and inside the rather magnificent main hall. The workmanship is superb and suggests the temple is well financed. A word of caution. Don't fill your car up with all your old junk to give to the temple as it looks like the collecting has just about stopped.