Darkest Isan (where decent thais fear to tread), Part Nine
For the Americans reading is this blog, Ho Chi Minh is that damn pinko “grrr!” who as TV and Hollywood have proven on celluloid really didn’t kick the arse of the US army after all. For people in the rest of the world he was leader who fought to free his country from French, Japanese and US oppression. For we Londoners he’s a local boy done good. It’s not often a snow sweeper from Ealing goes on to found a country. This man lead a remarkable life , between 1923 and 1933 living in Hong Kong, Milan, Switzerland, Boston, New York, London, France, Russia and China, working as a cook’s assistant, waiter, pastry chef, co-founding the French Communist Party and writing for French magazines.
Ban Na Jok or the Thai Vietnam Friendship Village lies west of Meung Nakhon Phanong along the Sakhon Nakhon highway and was the residence of Ho Chi Mihn, or as the locals call him, Uncle Ho. Located a 30 minute bicycle ride from town centre, it’s an unmissable attraction, Uncle Ho himself walked from there to Sakhon Nakhon and then onto Udon Thani, so the so no excuses for not doing the short bike ride.
The Vietnamese and now Thai speaking as well village is a beautiful throwback into times of old, a devolved mixture of farmhouses, small freeholds and old wooden villas in their own grounds sprawling across erratic paddy fields, so different in style to Thai farmland you get a real sense of being in another country. Founded over 110 years ago with most of the resident’s still today being Vietnamese, it was an obvious place for Vietnamese migrants to settle in and Uncle Ho did for a time as he was building his movement to free Vietnam from colonialism back in ………. Well, there’s the first stumbling block. Exactly when Ho Chi Mihn lived in there is problematic, the high quality glossy brochure I got from the Ho Chi Mihn Museum tells us that Uncle Ho arrived at the house in 1923 and stayed for 7 years. However all biographies of Ho Chi Mihn I found say he only lived in the village between 1928 and 1929.
Whatever the real timing the house where Ho Chi Minh lived during the twenties gathering support for his campaign to free Vietnam is owned today by Mr Tiew and his energetic daughter Miss Kornkanok who speaks four languages and does her upmost to make you feel welcome, she lives in the house next to Uncle Ho’s and if your lucky may invite you in to chat to for ages.
While living in the house, Lung Ho(Thai) or Jin (Vietnamese) learnt Thai and supported himself by teaching fishing to the locals, he also had a hand at forming the land around the village being a prolific gardener planting several coconut and areca tress that are still there today
The house has been changed little from when Uncle Ho lived there. I’ve seen a lot of old houses in Thailand preserved but they have been mansions and a lot of old peasant wooden houses not preserved, this is the first peasant house I’ve seen kept as it was in the early 20thcentury and apart from a collection of photos and memorabilia decorating the walls it gives a better experience at what a peasant’s life may have been like back then than anywhere else I have been in Thailand and is worth a visit for this alone. Also at the heart of the village is a new modern museum built with Vietnamese money celebrating the life of their former president. In the Communist spirit both Uncle Ho’s house and the museum are free to enter, donations appreciated.