Destinations, Featured Places, Food, Landscape Architecture, Thailand

The Travelling Soul: In Search of the Northern Thai Spirit at Tamarind Village

December 7, 2012

The most beautiful glimpse into Lanna culture came from an unexpected turn down a lantern-lit walkway. After admiring handicrafts and tasting our way through local dishes during a warm evening wander through Chaing Mai’s Sunday Market street stalls, Ted pulled me aside.

“What’s down there?”

A bamboo grove lit by spotlights and floating lanterns beckoned us onward, away from the noise of the street and toward the promise of a grand discovery. The flags said something about Travelling Souls…

At the end of the walkway stood the entry to gorgeous Tamarind Village, a Lanna-style boutique property tucked into the heart of historic Chiang Mai, tastefully evoking the spirit, diversity, and history of northern Thailand through art, architecture, and…so importantly, food. Garden courtyards brimmed with lush palms and climbing vines, bright flowers and fruit trees and a 200 year old Tamarind tree.

What began as a peek through the grounds and hall exhibits turned into a stay for dessert and champagne and eventually reservations to return to Ruen Tamarind Restaurant to experience a full dinner.

Tamarind Village’s 2012 exhibit ‘The Travelling Soul: In Search Of Northern Thai Spirit’ showcased a selection of 53 beautiful images by Thai photographer Chamni Thipmanee.

As a collection, the images represent Thipmanee’s past decade of travels through northern Thailand. Individually, they present thought provoking vignettes of daily life and Lanna customs at risk of slipping from cultural memory in this twenty-first century.

I feel like I can’t put to words the ways these photos moved me.

The candid images of Lanna architecture and landscapes, monks and farmers, grandmothers and young children gave me more of a jolt and a taste of culture than any guidebook or website I’d run across in past years. I felt a deep response to the art and instruction: a beautiful lesson in sociology and a people’s history dating back over seven centuries.

Shifting patterns in time and ageless portraits of humanity.

Down the hallway of pillars, each image stood alone.

Each layered with story. The photographer’s. The subject’s. The commentator’s. And now my own.

Here in these halls, my young curiosity in Lanna culture found itself maturing as I read accompanying comments written by Chiang Mai natives and established city residents. Their thoughts and memories planted seeds of understanding, providing a filter to make sense of the sights I’d been encountering as a traveler in a foreign land.

“I travel to record the world around me. The camera is my eye but photography reflects something deeper; it goes beyond what they eye can see and connects the viewer to the subject. The journey of a photographer is first and foremost an inner one.”
– Thai Photographer Chamni Thipmanee

Tamarind’s General Manager Naphat Nutsati shares the hotel’s hope to “focus attention on the many charms of the north and encourage people to hold on to and preserve their valuable culture… [while sharing] the special character of the north with foreign visitors and Chiang Mai residents alike.”

Naphat puts it well, “Change is inevitable but we should not forget from where we come.”

In the same vein, Ruen Tamarind Restaurant shares with guests its selection of Northern Thai dishes, both classics and variations on themes, including original family recipes handed down through the generations.

We sat in a cozy table in the corner, overlooking the deep blue of the courtyard pool, and ordered the chef’s recommendation, happy to be surprised…

Traditionally, Thai families share communal meals, and Ruen Tamarind encourages the same. Salads, soups, appetizers, and mains appear in soon succession to allow guests the experience of complex taste, texture, and seasoning combinations.

We munched on banana chips and sipped our drinks and watched the little geckos scurry across the walls in their own classic hunt for food.

Soon, Spiced Mushroom Tempura, mouthwatering Ming Chaploo Tuna, Pan Fried Tom Yum Goong J’Fa and the incredible Tamarind Glazed Pork Spare Ribs came out from the kitchen. Four of the mouthwatering Top Ten of Then and Now Northern Thai specialties, and more than enough for a Thai food feast.

Spiced Mushroom Tempura: a trio of mushroom varieties sourced from Royal Project Farms and fried in a spiced tempura batter from a traditional family recipe…

Pan Fried Tom Yum Goong J’Fa: A variation on the theme of Northern Thailand’s classic hot and spicy Tom Yum soup. This re-imagined dish of tiger prawns came seared and topped with chili paste, seasoned with fresh lemongrass and galangal, shallots and lime juice, and crushed cashews.

The flavors of Sawadee Jao: gin, sherry brandy, lemongrass and ginger, pineapple and lime juice along with perhaps my favorite dish of all, Ming Chaploo Tuna. DIY packets of chaploo leaves bursting with new combinations of flavor in every bite: tuna, sliced lemongrass, shallots, ginger, lime wedges, and Tamarind’s secret house sauce.

Live music carried us through the unhurried meal and at the end of the flavorful procession, palate cleansing fresh coconut ice cream marked grande finale to an unforgettable evening at Tamarind Village.

I’d highly recommend a visit to Tamarind Village – especially for guests who may be in the area before the Travelling Soul Exhibit closes on January 31, 2013.

Based on the 2010 and 2011 showings including Patterns, Passages and Prayers:
Traditional Culture of the Golden Triangle, Dreams Of The North:
Nuance & Nostalgia in Contemporary Thai Jewelry, and FlorESSENCE: Essence of Modern Flower Design, I can only imaging that future exhibits will continue to be just as lovely and engaging, and I applaud Tamarind Village for continuing to offer artful, educational features of Lanna heritage to the Chiang Mai community and to visitors from around the world.

Tamarind Village and Ruen Tamarind Restaurant
50/1 Rajdamnoen Road Sriphoom, Muang, Chiang Mai Thailand
+ 66 53 418896-9

The Travelling Soul: In Search Of Northern Thai Spirit
Photographer: Chamni Thipmanee Photography

Project Architect: Ong-Ard Satrabhandhu, whose efforts to revive Northern Thai architecture through traditional design, building materials, and construction techniques from the Lanna period earned Tamarind Village a commendation in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Many thanks to Ruen Tamarind Restaurant for hosting us during our time in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As always, all opinions, photos, and stories are our own.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Andrew Buck December 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

    All that food looks so good! And I love the DIY leaves! Similar dishes were among my favorite in Korea. :)

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