These are the mountains in the Saiyok National Park. They are on the Thai side of the Thai/Burmese border. This wild place is home to many Karen refugees living in Thailand.
Our friend Somchai came to Thailand many years ago as a refugee. Now he works as a builder around the area, and looks after his large family, in a small bamboo house he built himself.
In this wilderness region of natural beauty, it’s only possible to get permission to build houses out of bamboo. Karen people have a tradition of making their own houses and they cost virtually nothing to build in bamboo. Because Thailand has a tropical climate it makes living in bamboo houses not only possible but enjoyable.
As Somchai lives in a rural area, there’s no electricity, no running water, no phone signal so no Internet. There’s a peace here that’s hard to describe, as one that lives in one of the busiest, noisiest cities in the world.
Around these parts are wild elephants. You can see their footprints. There’s so much for these wild elephants to eat in these parts - but sometimes, during the night, they like to invade the bamboo houses along the way, looking for other types of food, such as rice, or sweet things.
Somchai sent us a message.
During the previous night, a wild elephant attacked his house, ripped off the walls in the front and the side of the house as his family lay in their beds, terrified.
Somchai has several broken ribs due to a recent accident when he slipped feeding his pigs, and his wife got injured in the elephant attack, so they were unable to repair their house themselves as they usually would have.
So, we looked around for a team of builders and set to work repairing the house for him and his family and we learned so much about how these bamboo houses are built, along the way.
Somchai’s wife was now very ill and needed to go to hospital in Saiyok. Because this place is so remote, it’s very hard to visit a doctor and although the ambulance may look like just an old beat up truck, the driver, not only knows all the remote mud roads where people live, but can get get down to them in all weathers.
The ambulance drivers are the unsung heroes of this part of the world.
Somchai described to us what happened when the elephant attacked his house in the dead of night. It must have been terrifying.
Emilie brought her paints and a canvas with her so she could try and capture what had happened in a picture.
Somchai’s grandchildren hadn’t ever drawn or painted before, so, for them it was an opportunity to have some fun.
In many parts of Thailand, bamboo plantations are strictly monitored and permission must be obtained from the National Parks, to cut bamboo for home-building or repairs.
We visited the National Park authorities and explained the situation with Somchai’s house, and we were given permission to cut 40 bamboo trees, which was enough to rebuild the whole house. Bamboo is extremely strong and can be used not only for the house frame, but the walls, too. When the bamboo trees are cut open and flattened, the weight of the bamboo trees broke our motorbike’s side car, but, we got lucky and a tractor driver came by and offered to deliver all the bamboo trees we needed to repair the house.
I learned how to chop the bamboo to make the wall sections and Emilie got her first ride on a tractor …
Each section of the outside wall is made from one bamboo tree cut just enough to make strips that hold together, but not cut anymore, so as the strips would come apart.
So there’s an art to getting it just right. When bamboo is freshly cut, it’s green. It changes colour to yellow with about a week’s sunshine.
We didn’t have a ladder, which would have been very useful, but some skilful acrobatics saved the day.
Part of the front of the house was also ripped off by the wild elephant.
All the structure had been broken so we used tree branches that were fairly straight, to rebuild the frame.
As you saw, Somchai’s house is made of bamboo trees — it cost him virtually nothing to build.
His whole family, each generation, lives together and cares for each other, happily under one roof.
Somchai’s family have little in the way of material things, but to some, are rich in many other ways.
Somchai’s wife recovered and is back home again.
Thanks for watching! Stay safe.