By Suksawat Sabaijai
Until recently Shan home design predominated among the many
styles of residential architecture found in Pai. Given the local abundance of
teak and other hardwood forests, the Shan made timber their the first choice of
building material, and we are lucky to see many surviving examples of Shan
wooden homes in Pai and the surrounding district. Pai is one of the best
showcases in northern Thailand for Shan building designs and techniques, and in
fact there are still a few chaan (artisans) around who know how to build in this
style. Although few new Shan-style homes have been constructed over the last 20
years or so (one exception is the Shan home built two years ago behind Pai Phu
Internet cafe), the master carpenters are kept relatively busy repairing and
restoring those that have survived the arrival of cement blocks as Thailand's
number-one building material.
One venerable survivor known as Ban Yai Nang (Grandmother Nang's House) or Ban
Rawy Pee (100-Year House) stands near the centre of town near Wat Luang. No one
knows for sure who built the house or in what year it was built, but the current
owners claim it dates to the first decade of the 20th century. The current
resident, 83-year-old Yai Lao, a Shan originally from Mae Hong Son, says she
remembers seeing the house when she was a very young girl.
Yai Nang, the current owner, says the house had been in her late husband's
family for three generations, and she inherited the property when her husband
died some years ago. Around 10 years ago she moved to Mae Malai to be with her
children, and invited Yai Lao and her husband to live there instead. Yai Lao's
husband later passed on, and she now lives in the house alone, although her
children and grandchildren visit her regularly.
. Ban Yai Nang bears many of the hallmarks of northern Thai architecture in
general, beginning with the fact that it is raised two meters off the ground on
thick wooden pillars. Such a design first and foremost protect the house and its
inhabitants from flooding during the monsoon season. Raising the house high
above the ground also protect the inhabitants from roaming wild animals. Thirdly
it creates a well-shaded, relatively cool space below the house for working,
storing tools and keeping animals. Finally it allows breezes to circulate both
around and below the house, thus keeping the home's interior a bit cooler.
The original builders enhanced this cooling effect by orienting the house so
that its main length runs parallel to the sun's path rather than across it, thus
exposing the greatest measure of window space to the least amount of sun.
In addition to the shaded area beneath the house, raised verandas (chaan in
northern Thai) offer places to sit and catch cool morning or evening breezes.
Smaller interior verandas (toen) beneath overhanging roofs offer shaded spaces
for taking meals or relaxing in on warm afternoons when the rooms inside may be
Among the most striking Shan features are ventilated wooden wall systems that
can be slid open so that the ventilating slats are fully open, partially open or
closed, depending on weather conditions.
Knowing that such traditional homes are becoming increasingly rare in northern
Thailand, Yai Lao says she loves living in historic Ban Yai Nang. She hopes the
house will remain unmodified, although currently the owners plan to remove the
front stairs and veranda of the home-roughly 10% of the structure-in order to
make space for a newer house. The Pai Post hopes that, whatever architectural
style is chosen for the new home, it harmonizes with beautiful Ban Yai Nang.