Every province in Thailand has a story to tell but uniquely for Ratchaburi it would be the remarkable artisan works of ancient potters who formed the first humble water jars on a potter’s wheel decades ago and is now a famous trademark of the province. Ratchaburi, which is situated approximately 100kms out of Bangkok to the west is legendarily known as the “City of Water Jars”. Most famous of the designs and also the most sought after, are the water jars containing designs of the mythical “Naga” or dragon.
A good place to start learning about Thai culture that is not too far out of central Bangkok would be Ratchaburi. The symbolic water jars are just one of the aspects of Thai culture that one can find along the way. Other notable attractions include the rich history of the Thai Yuan ethnic group and off course the rich agricultural diversity of the province.
However, let me first tell you the remarkable stories of these water jars in Ratchaburi. There are two notable traditional water jar villages in Ratchaburi. One is the Pottery Legend, Ratchaburi and the other is Rattanakosin Water Jar Factory. While they both produce water jars, each is unique in design as well as the methods employed to make these water jars. They are both family run businesses inherited over the generations and keeping true to the traditions and culture of how they were made over time.
In the olden days, these earthen jars had multiple uses, not just for keeping water but also as a way to preserve food during fermentation as there were no modern electrical fridge or freezers, so these earthen jars were used to hold foods such as vegetables and meats which were preserved in brine and fermented over time. They were also used for making the famous fish sauce which is very popular in Thai cooking and fermented bean paste.
The technique of making these water jars were brought to Thailand from ancient China when the first trade settlers visited Thailand and the Chinese community settled in the country. There are many Thai Chinese now residing in Thailand which have brought a rich heritage along with them and assimilating it into Thai society over the generations.
These water jars come in many sizes, the largest being able to hold an entire person within it. Though these jars are no longer used to hold water as it was necessary in those days, people still buy them for decorations to hold flowers such as water lilies or, off course some are still used for the purpose as water jars!
This story is about the Pottery Legend Factory in Ratchaburi. Just a short drive out of the city, it is a good place to spend a weekend getaway to explore the outer provinces of Thailand. This particular water jar maker is more visitor orientated with more facilities for visitors to spend about half a day there. It houses a museum about the history of the water jars with some interesting displays of old style jars, most of which are no longer in production. It also has a visitor’s center with a mini theater to educate about the different types of jars, a workshop area where you can try your hand at making these jars, a demonstration area, a nice restaurant and a well landscaped area.
It takes great artistic skill to first start out as a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel. The highly skilled potter is able to turn about a hundred or more pieces of jars a day and it requires much stamina and dexterity to be able to mold the clay into a large vessel. The wet clay form is then smoothed out and allowed to dry so that it is slightly firm and detailing work can be done to the surface.
Embellishing of designs on the surface of these earthen jars are done by master craftsmen or women who are able to adorn beautiful designs of flowers and mythical dragons with lifelike scales and petals onto the surfaces of these jars. Each jar is painstakingly handmade, a testimony to the quality and value of these beautiful Dragon Jars in Ratchaburi.
Once the design work is finished, the painters will bring the motifs to life with a wonderful palette of rich colors and this could involve many steps in the coloring process which is a blend of colors and glazes. The final product is eventually sent to a large kiln and fired at very high temperatures to set the earthen wares and glazes together before it is cooled down and packaged for delivery. Ratchaburi produces a large quantity of these earthen jars for the domestic and export markets, making it one of the most sought after provinces in Thailand for producing these water jars.
One can learn about the history of the various types of water jars made over the decades at the Pottery Legend Factory which is really well laid out for a family outing or day trip. There is a very special Dragon Jar which was made in commemoration of the late HM King Rama IX which has 9 beautiful intertwined dragons embellishing the surface of the jar. This is a one-of-its-kind jars that can only be viewed at this factory and made by a very special master craftsman.
The water jars are a traditional way of life for most Thai people and it is a great way to understand how other cultures have influenced the Thai way of life.