The Bangkajao Youth Guides and Jak
Bangkajao is a district a little out of the Bangkok city center, with several canal waterways leading to the mouth of the Chao Phraya River and also fairly near Samut Prakan. The community here is small and much of the area has been designated as a green lung for the city. There is a community of students and teachers here that manage a project called the Bangkajao Youth Guides. The student guides range from the age of 11 to 13 years old. The purpose of these youth guides are to firstly familiarize the students to their environment while building an awareness for conservation. Anyone can participate in their mini tours of Bangkajao for a small donation fee which goes towards the contribution for bicycle rentals, lunch and some of the activities. It is a great way to know more about this quaint little district and some of the interesting activities that one can participate in which is out of the normal tourist traps.
Held over weekends, the activities include discovering the nearby weekend Bangnamphueng Floating Market and on this particular trip, a discovery of the fascinating palm tree called “Jak” or also sometimes known as the Nypah palm. Bicycles were provided for the 15 minute ride out to the village from the Wat Bangnamphuengnai School while the teachers in attendance are part of the Teach For Thailand Organization. These activities foster closer ties between the students, teachers whilst learning and teaching outsiders about the Bangkajao community.
The route to the village house that prepares the Kanom jak or Jak dessert entails a short walk through the elevated walkways along the canal where you can see several village houses along the way. This particular household specializes in making the Jak dessert which is a local delicacy. Among one of the activities here besides making the dessert, is to learn about the Jak fruit and the Nypah tree which bears these fruits.
A short tutorial is given on how to plant the Nypah palm, which grows relatively fast in about 3 years to start bearing fruit. These palms are mostly found along the estuaries or brackish water and grow relatively fast in these water conditions. The tree also produces a sticky sap that is used to make a form of sugar. Everyone gets a chance to try planting these palms from seedlings into potting bags.
The Nypah palm is one of the most fully utilized trees. The palm leaves are used to make a little envelop to later hold the dessert for grilling over hot coals. The hard rib of the leaves are matched to form two halves of sleeve. These are prepared in advance ready for the mixture to be placed on the insides.
The grated palm fruit is mixed with tapioca and sticky rice flour, then mixed with some water to form a sticky dough. This dough is then placed into the palm leaf sleeves and sealed with bamboo picks and slowly grilled over a charcoal fire. When it is cooked, the dough becomes a firm paste that smells aromatic and sweet. This is known as the Kanom Jak and is a popular dessert.
The palm fruit grows in clusters on the palm tree much like a cluster of nuts. Each nut is about the size of your palm and consist of a hard shell with a soft translucent meat kernel on the inside. Besides making the Kanom Jak out of the palm fruit, the soft kernel on the inside is also harvested and made into a refreshing sweet palm fruit drink. You can sometimes see them selling this palm fruit in packets with about 10 pieces of translucent kernels in a bag.
Each of these palm fruits look much like a large pine nut dark colored on the fat end and tapering to a nice orange color near the stem ends. You would have to split the thick shell to get at the soft kernel inside which has a pale translucent flesh pulp and a singular seed in the middle.
Growing and gathering these palm fruits have become a way of life and providing a steady income for many of the inhabitants of Bangkajao. The palm fruit products are sold not only in the area but also in the big city. The diversity of this fruit and the importance it plays in the sustainability of the community and the natural resources of the Bangkajao area has made it one of the most valuable and versatile plants in Thailand.
So if you want a unique travel experience in Thailand and are interested in community tourism in a place not too far out of the city, keep a watch out in the activities offered by th Bangkajao Youth Guides and take part in their weekend community tourism trips which are fun and educational, and you also get an insight into the rural life as well as to be able to be a part of the real Thai life.