There’s nothing special about the small village Lonely Planet claims is home to the tireless pillow makers of the Yasothon province, but once again my encounter with the people who live there made my trip worthwhile.
I rode into Ban Si Than in the late afternoon with food on my mind. It was a long motorbike journey (about 50 miles), it was sticky hot, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I drove down nearly every cement road in the village, and not once did I see a food cart or roadside restaurant – a very unusual thing in a culture so obsessed with eating. The town was empty less a few elderly women sewing pillows and a few more selling them.
When I found the temple, however, I realized where the town had gathered for the afternoon. I parked and walked into a courtyard of stares before I was showered with free food, water and attention.
Even after six months in Northeastern Thailand, I’m still dumbfounded at the kindness of Thai locals and their sheer enthusiasm for a lone foreigner interested in learning about their country. They certainly know how to welcome a person.
On my way out, I stopped to buy a neck pillow for myself and a floor cushion for Pussadee. It seems pillow making in Ban Si Than is a trade learned young and a family endeavor: Women stuff and sew, children package (by using a hot iron to ’shrink wrap” individual pillows) and pile, and men load bundles onto the truck for delivery.
I didn’t see any of the sewing machines Lonely Planet speaks of, but I’m sure they exist. There’s no way the women can keep up with demand by hand sewing alone, and it would be difficult to believe the ongoing stacks of colorful pillows I saw at several home front shops were produced at such a careful pace.
The famous guidebook was right about one thing though – the secluded village is probably the cheapest place in Thailand to buy such souvenirs.