Maejo Baandin: The Maejo Earth House

 | Tue 30 Jun 2015 04:17 ICT

With your back to the city, driving off towards Mae Tang along Chiang Mai-Fang road, eventually you’ll come to Maejo village, about 60 kilometres from Chiang Mai. Here, in this tiny town of about 400 people, time moves slowly, as well as the people, who fully embrace the “slow life.”


Maejo is home to a special piece of property that has offered itself as a resource to visitors from all over Thailand and all over the world. A small cluster of earthen houses built by Thongbai Leknamnarong serves as a homestay where anyone can come to learn about natural building, farming, cooking and other organic skills. Thongbai founded Maejo Baandin, Baandin meaning earth house in Thai, after studying natural building with her friend and teacher P’Jo Jandai at the Pun Pun Centre for Self Reliance in Chiang Mai. Today, she has built five buildings in Maejo Baandin to house people for homestays, a local school house, a generator building for the village, a house for a local monk, and a meditation centre in Myanmar, all from her natural building techniques.

At Maejo Baandin, all are welcome to come and stay in the adobe structures where they can join in permaculture workshops and learn about natural building.


“People here live simply,” explains Thongbai while walking through the garden on the grounds. “They don’t have to work against time, follow trends, or spend much money on their daily living. There are local vegetables, eggs, and rice all available in the area, so people hardly spend any money on things to eat. Guests of the homestay can come here to learn how to live self-sufficiently. They will eat local Thai food, manage the kitchen, learn about organic agriculture and practice handicrafts with the villagers.”

Thongbai also intends on Maejo Baandin to help other villagers create more income, but believes there is a balance that must be maintained. Too many visitors will mean not enough food, and she doesn’t want to have to leave to buy any supplies.

Thongbai believes that people can make money even in a small village far from the city, and wants the younger generation to continue this practice and be leaders for the community. Many young people decide to look for jobs with big companies after graduation, and this pulls them away from the village. This creates a problem, because all educated people seem to leave the village, leaving people with good intentions, but not as many skills as those with more education. This trend leads to a general low quality of life in many villages, and Thongbai wants to break this trend.


“Many people leave Maejo leaving only a few living in the village full time. It is very unbalanced. When working in the city, people also change their whole way of life. They have to follow the trends and spend more money because the cost of living is so high. Some people forget about their parents, they don’t even know how old they are. They settle down in the city. But I believe that there is no place like home. I spent 24 years in Bangkok, and I don’t think it was very positive. Everything I did was motivated by my needs and my family’s needs, and I never thought about others. I returned home, and after 15 years, I developed a way to help people. I built the earth structures for monks and patients, I build a clinic for school and a hydroelectric generator in the village. After coming back home and contributing to the community, I am very happy. I became a giver.”

Thongbai believes firmly in taking pride in where you are from and working to make it a better place. Although she is not making as much money as she did in Bangkok, she sees it as more than worth it to live in Maejo, to give back to the community, and to be a part of living in a sustainable environment.


“Many new generations are not very proud of the land that they grew up on and that their parents worked on. They know that farming can be exhausting from watching their parents, and they don’t want to work like that. So, they end up selling the land, but money doesn’t last forever. The land can sustain us for our entire lives.”

Thongbai is now working with a new younger generation to create locally made products and provide more income for villagers. The project goal is simple: to use the land around them to produce things that can sustain their way of life.

Maejo Baandin is a shining example of how to develop a sustainable community, and Thongbai serves as a leader and role model for those that take pride in their home land. She urges younger generations, as they leave home and educate themselves, to not forget about where they come from. Every place needs a strong leader with broad perspectives, enthusiasm and the ability to push villages forward, and Thongbai hopes that living by example may inspire future generations to take greater pride in the land they were born in, and the land of their families.

For more information about Maejo Baandin, check out