CHIANGRAI TIMES – Chiang Rai’s Bamboo Nest guesthouse in northern Thailand, travelers don’t just sleep in bungalows made of bamboo. Nearly everything on the premises is made of the notoriously strong but adaptable wood — the beds, the chairs, the garbage cans, the steps in the garden, the bathrooms and, as travelers quickly learn, even the cooking utensils.
After scanning the guesthouse’s dinner menu, which changes every other day according to seasonal produce, I order the grilled fish and sticky rice. Nok, my small-framed guesthouse hostess, leads me outside to the garden where I watch her hack down a bamboo trunk.
“This is going to be used to cook your sticky rice!”
She stuffs the grains inside the long hollow bamboo, seals the open end with fresh banana leaves and places it over an open fire to cook for 30 minutes.
When finished, Nok’s husband, Noi, sheers off the bamboo with a sharp machete to expose a perfectly cooked tube of rice — known in Thai as “khao lam” — fragrant with a light scent of bamboo.
“There are seven species of bamboo,” explains Nok. “We eat it, cook with it, and live in it, that’s why we named our place Bamboo Nest.”
The guesthouse is only 23 kilometers from Chiang Rai, perched above hilly terrain and terraced rice fields, surrounded by Lahu and Akha villages.
While from a distance the accommodation may look like the garden variety bamboo huts seen in nearby villages, these structures are actually comfortable, private bungalows.
They were built by local villagers over a two-week period — one week to collect the bamboo and another week to build.
Although they are basic, each of the four Bamboo Nest bungalows has a hammock, hot water, Western-style flush toilets and a porch with its own panoramic view of the valley and terraced rice paddies.
With a nod towards sustainable tourism the whole property is powered by solar panels, so leave that laptop in the bag. There aren’t many electric plugs on site and you can forget about TV and Wi-Fi.
Instead, guests wake to the sounds of birds chirping and spend the hours chatting with fellow travelers, reading in the hammock, star gazing and enjoying bamboo-fuelled fires late into the night.
Waterfalls, trekking and village life
It’s not all about lazing around. Guests with the willpower to tear themselves from that hammock can hike up to the beautiful waterfalls nearby. The walking trails run through thick bamboo forests and an Akha village, while the bridges and walkways over the waterfalls are all made of bamboo as well.
There are lush tea plantations and hot springs too, and further down the road is an elephant camp and rafting on the Mae Kok River, all within a short trek from guesthouse.
For guests reluctant to trek on their own, half-day walks to non-touristy villages and jungle treks lasting up to three days can be arranged as well.
Bamboo Nest also promotes hill tribe culture and traditions by organizing courses on basket and cotton weaving or crossbow making while spending a day experiencing village life.
Near the end of my three-day stay, Noi handed me a cup made of a stalk of bamboo that he’d just cut down.
“Take this as a gift, my friend” he said. “It will last a long time.”
As will my memories of his beautiful bamboo home.
How to get there
Bamboo Nest provides free pickup from anywhere inside Chiang Rai city limits with a minimum two-night stay. You can also take a boat from Chiang Rai or Thaton to the Huay Makliam Hot Springs and walk two kilometers to Bamboo Nest; by road it is a 23-kilometer, 45-minute drive from downtown Chiang Rai.
Low season rates (March-September) start from 500 baht per night. In the high season (October-February) from 600 baht per night. For booking info visit Bamboonest-Chiangrai.com.
By Derrick Chang is a Canadian photojournalist based in Hong Kong