Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lilypad Grove?

We are a writer and a photographer building this house, and clearly until now the photographer has kept up his end of the house blogging better than the writer. Here, I'll explain more about our beloved little cabin in the jungle, but let's start from the very beginning, again.

We stumbled upon this lush green area during a bike ride to the Gulf of Thailand. The village we first found in the Phrapradaeng Peninsula was Bang Nam Phung, which caught our interest not only because it's an oasis but because my Thai nickname is Nam Phung -- which means Honey.

Some definitions here: Bang Nam Phung means Honey Village, though "Bang" actually means a district on a waterway. Furthermore, locals say the old name for the Phrapradaeng Peninsula is Koh Krapoh Moo, which means the Pig Stomach Island -- lovely. When you cross the one bridge on the southwestern tip of the peninsula over a narrow rivulet, it certainly feels more like an island. Pig Stomach Island -- which is surrounded by Bangkok metropolitan area -- is also known as the "lungs of Bangkok" because it is mostly green plantations and jungle. Other than that one bridge, the island is only accessible by boat or ferry... or a brave swim in the Chao Phraya River.

We fell in love with this area and kept biking back, getting to know locals and we connected eventually with the residents of one neighborhood, not in Honey Village, but next door in Bang Ko Bua, or roughly, Lily Cluster Village. (If you can think of a more poetic translation, let me know.)

Our slice of heaven is only accessible by foot or bicycle/motorbike. The nearest road is about 200 meters away, our idea of a peaceful, fume-free home. We are a 10-minute walk from the Bang Nam Phung Floating Market, which is packed with Thai tourists on weekends. We're about a 15-minute drive from Bangkok's central business district, across the bridge and up toward the north of the island, and about a 30-minute bike and ferry ride from, say, the Emporium shopping mall, where the neato TCDC library is located.

We have a small klong (canal) on the southern side, and a fish pond in the middle of our yard. Before the building of a protective dam around the island to control flood waters, our klong used to be an inlet for boats to come and go, and next door to us was a boat parking lot.

We designed the house ourselves, opting to make it as small as possible, yet comfortable, airy and livable. Knowing that we would spend most of our time home indoors, away from mosquitoes and other jungle critters, we decided that 40 square meters would be spacious enough -- 10 meters long, 4 meters wide.

We drew, debated and leafed through lots of books and web pages, and then the artist half of this couple made a balsa wood model, so we could consider what it looked like and where we would want windows and spaces with respect to the tropical winds and sun. Our friends at Site Specific, who design and build environmentally friendly homes and shipping container homes in Thailand, helped enormously with the technical drawings and tips on building in the tropics.

We then shopped around -- a lot -- for reclaimed wood. Many Thais are taking down their old wooden homes, built of strong hardwoods, to replace them with modern cement homes. We wanted wood because it is cooler, aesthethically gentler, and it blends in with our neighbors' homes. Reclaimed wood means we won't chop down another forest, and the wood has already stood the test of time, shrinking, expanding with decades of tropical weather.

Our neighborhood does have electricity (mainly for playing good ol' Thai country "luuk thung" music), phone lines and water, though our neighbors have for decades collected rainwater for drinking -- tastes immaculately soft and pure. We plan to do the same, though the enormous old urns that Thais use are much harder to find these days. After extensive research, we designed a dry composting toilet -- a standard toilet seat on a brick throne in our bathroom that lets into one of two or three sawdust filled bins, which we'll rotate as they fill and let sit to compost fully before use in our garden.

Yes, we'll have wi-fi internet. No, we don't and won't have a TV. Yes, we will still host movie nights -- projections on our silver screen in the garden.

That gives background on our project, and the pictures speak for themselves. I'll write more details -- things like our classic Thai design tiles, and the window shutters we bought from the trash dudes -- later.

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