Our project is located in the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, on the northern side of a small mountain belonging to the Rattan Vine Mountain Nature Reserve (ขสป.คลองเครือหวาย), in Pong Nam Ron, Chanthaburi province (also called “The Durian Province”). We live on land that formerly belonged to the indigenous Chong people, a hunter-gatherer culture belonging to the Pearic language group. Behind our garden the jungle stretches until well into Cambodia, which is about 40 km away. We’re on the northern side of a 640m-high mountain – with about 300m ASL the highest settlement around – with an amazing view.
James C. Scott (author of The Art of Not Being Governed – An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia) has called the mountain range that stretches from eastern India, through Burma, Laos, and Thailand, down into Cambodia “Zomia” (meaning “highlander” in several Tibet-Burman languages; Zo = ‘remote’, ‘living in the hills’, Mi = ‘people’. Mi-zo and Zo-mi are terms used throughout Southeast Asia to designate remote hill people and the geographical niche they inhabit). We like this term, since it does not reaffirm and validate the existence of (mostly imaginary) nation-state and it describes a geographical feature, not a territory gained through conquest, genocide and war within borders that cut through ethnicities and places (as happened to the Chong).
Today, the indigenous Chong people are fully culturally assimilated into Thai society. Their lands were appropriated by agriculturalists ever since the first larger civilizations arose, notably during the Khmer Empire and, later, during the Ayutthaya period, by Tai and Thai colonizers. They were first mentioned in texts dating back to the 3rd century CE, but have probably inhabited this area for millennia.
The Chong were forced to settle down (or, if they resisted, were enslaved) first during the Kingdom of Phamniet (a small colony of ethnic Khmer in the 7th century CE), and later, after the city of Phamniet was abandoned after severe flooding in the 14th century, by Phraya Vajiraprakarn (later King Taksin the Great), who took Chanthaburi in 1767. The latter wanted to regroup his army (to liberate Siam from the Burmese), and many Chong escaped conscription by withdrawing deeper into the densely forested mountains of what is now Pong Nam Ron district – our home.
The Southeast of Thailand has everything one can desire: thick jungle, beautiful waterfalls, and majestic mountains, making it a great place to live. The climate is at least warm (if not hot) all year long (although the nights can get quite cold in January), and there is a long monsoon season, which means more rainfall than f.e. in the northeast of the country – you can grow vegetables all year long.
While officially categorized as “tropical savanna climate” or “tropical wet and dry climate” (“Aw” and “As” in the Köppen climate classification categories) because of the pronounced dry season, we are actually somewhere in the middle between Aw/As and Af (tropical rainforest climate), since all fruit that can be grown in Af climate zones can also be grown here – best example is Durian.
Our district – Pong Nam Ron – is special in this regard, because the valley acts as a channel for rain clouds, and the mountains tend to catch most lower rain clouds, so that we get a good amount of rain here and it’s never too dry.
Right in the neighboring district Soi Dao (without mountains) the climate is extremely different. There you’ll find deciduous forests that loose all leaves in dry season, allowing intense Longan and Mango cultivation, while the climate is too dry for Durian.