By The Nation
Phichit town and the adjacent community of Wang Krod come into their own as tourist destinations
Phichit – a lush and green province in the lower north of Thailand that’s known for its captivating legends, interesting culture and long history – is bringing an old town in Wang Krod sub-district back to life and promoting it as a travel destination.
“Phichit is a small city with a lot of temples, It’s quiet, not crowded with tourists and has a lot of charm,” says the provincial governor Verasak Vichitsangsri.
“Visitors can offer alms to the monks at Kampaeng Haeng Kwam Phakdi or the Wall of Loyalty on Bussaba Road in front of the old Phichit Provincial Hall, which is painted with 84 portraits of the late King Rama IX. The murals were painted by locals to express their sincere gratitude for the King’s hard work for his people during his reign. After the alms offering, they can visit Nad Nee Puea Nong Market, which was built up by a group of students who grew and produced food for sale. Before I became Phichit’s governor, this market didn’t have cooked foods and desserts but now it does. It also offers organic agricultural goods at affordable prices,” he adds.
After assuming his position in 2016, one of the first tasks the governor undertook was to fill Bueng Si Fai Lake. Water levels had reduced considerably following almost four years of drought but now it is third largest lake in Thailand and welcomes pilgrims from far and wide during Loy Kratong. It also boasts a statue of a giant crocodile that’s six metres wide, five metres high and more than 38 metres long representing Chalawan from the Thai folklore “Krai Thong.”
Verasak is also planning to build a bicycle lane around the lake and has set aside Bt65 million for the purpose.
Another of his initiatives has seen the conversion of a former landfill site for waste disposal and a slum near Phichit Railway Station into a market. This officially opened at the end of January close to a building that dates back to the reign of King Rama V and which has undergone a thorough cleaning. And work is currently proceeding on the construction of a wooden skywalk from one giant monkey pod tree to another.
“Right now, I am working on a campaign that will promote Phichit as a tourist destination throughout the year. From June to August, we mark the ‘Dok Krachiao Yak’ Festival that celebrates the blooming of Siam tulips in the Baan Khao Lon community. Our dok krachiao yak are much larger than the ones that grow wild in Chaiyaphum. The villages traditionally ate the stalks with nam phrik, the spicy, chilli-based sauce typical of Thai cuisine,” says Verasak.
I take the governor’s advice and take a walk through Nad Nee Puea Nong market, admiring the organic produce as well as such delightful snacks as Mahachanok mango, the traditional Thai sweets khanom kong and look choup, and the crispy rice noodles known as mee krob. Old-fashioned coffee is also available and the sweet milky nectar is welcome on this early morning.
Refreshed and awake, I catch the train to the old town of Wang Krod. It’s only six kilometres from downtown Phichit but I can’t resist embarking on this rail journey that takes no time at all and costs a mere Bt2.
“The Wang Krod community is more than 100 years old and in its heyday boasted some 200 to 300 barns around the Luang Prathuang Khadee Building, as well as two mills,” says Traisit Rhiandamrongporn, mayor of Wang Krod Municipality.
“The bend in the Nan river here looks just like the belly of a dragon. Its head is at Wat Bueng Takon and its tail is at Kha Mang sub-district. The Mon boats used to moor at the pier and the paddy was then transported to the mills. That’s why this community had so many barns in former times. Today, of course, they have all gone.
“When public transport came to Wang Krod, the young people relocated to other provinces to find work and left the elderly behind. Wang Krod became quiet. Later, Wang Krod Sub-district Municipal Office and the Wang Krod Conservation Community joined up to bring it back to life and turn it into a tourist destination. We seem to have succeeded too as Wang Krod has managed to retain its charming two-storey wooden houses and the locals still live much the same way as they did decades ago.”
Stopping outside an old house, Traisit tells me that it used to be a popular place for khao man gai [chicken rice] prepared in Hainan style.
“In the old days, Phichit people would pay one salueng [dime] to catch the ferry to this house. The people of Wang Krod are mainly Chinese – 90 per cent Chaozhou and 10 per cent Hainan. This municipality has 700 households and there are also 200 households in Wang Krod proper. Nowadays, Wang Krod is part of the tourism drive in Phichit and we have visitors staying, which helps generate more income for the residents. Otherwise, the main income comes from rice.”
I walk to Wang Krod market from the Clock Tower in front of the railway station and find myself surrounded by old-fashioned two-storey wooden houses. Some are now serving as museums, another has been converted into a tourism information centre and lots of them offer food like kuaytiew pinto (noodles in a tiffin) and sago sai moo. Other signature foods are phad thai hor bai bua (phad thai wrapped with lotus leaf), moo satay (pork satay), which was traditionally sold at performances of Chinese opera, kaeng khee lek (Siamese cassia curry), kaeng yuak kuay (banana curry), khanom phak kad (fried radish cake), and Thai traditional coffee, which amazingly costs a mere Bt6.
Leaving the market, I visit the Wang Klom Shrine, one of the important historical landmarks of the area and admire the vintage architecture. Continuing along the river, I stop at Baan Luang Prathuang Khadee, a European-style building that is now a museum displaying the old way of life of Wang Krod of the past. Luang Prathuang Khadee, I read, was the first mayor of Phichit during the reign of King Rama VI.
“Today, people of Wang Krod community don’t sell their products for profit but out of pride,” says Traisit. “As the governor says, ‘money isn’t the most important thing in life; pride is how we can preserve our charming identities.”