Rice Growing and the Rice Cycle in Thailand

Join us in the rice paddies at Gecko Villa

Rice has always been the staple food of the Thai people, and it plays a crucial role as the essence of Thai life. Farmers transfer the knowledge of rice cultivation from one generation to the next. They enjoy a rich culture with centuries-old traditions linked with rice farming. Our own rice paddies encircle the villa and you are welcome to join in as we plant rice seedlings or harvest the ripe crop.

The Rice Cycle in Thailand

The rice-planting season in Thailand usually starts in May. Around this time, showers signal the approaching end of the dry season, and farmers once more prepare for rice planting as one annual cycle ends and another begins. Since most Thai farmers have to wait for seasonal rain to plant their annual rice crop, they are at times faced with difficulties from drought, so there might not be enough rainfall for crop growing. Farmers solve this problem by digging canals to channel water into their rice fields. At the same time, they perform some rain-making rites and other ceremonies to pray for fertility of the land. The rocket festivals around Gecko Villa towards the Thai New Year are typical of such rites.

The rice field mud walls are designed to keep the water in the paddies. By breaking holes in these mud walls, water may be moved down from higher fields to irrigate lower ones.  Once the seedlings are planted, they are later transplanted at a greater distance one from the next, almost always through a uniquely backbreaking operation that is often accompanied by generous shots of rice whisky (lao khao) or its local, sweeter moonshine variety, lao sathaw. The rice then enjoys the rainfall during the green season through to around September. The rice turns from emerald, to a darker green and finally to dry gold under the strong sun.  By late November, it is ready to be harvested. Each morning, farmers go into the fields with sickles to harvest their crop. The cut rice is spread on the fields to dry for several days before being bundled into sheaves and taken to the family compound where it is threshed, and may then be milled.

Sticky rice built a kingdom

It is believed that Thailand's staple food in the past was glutinous or sticky rice, as evidenced by the fact that fat-shaped rice grains in the glutinous rice family have been found in several archaeological sites. In the 12th century, tapering-shaped rice grains were found in the Chao Phraya River basin in the central region. This discovery indicates that the new strain of rice that most Thais eat today had been introduced from outside. It is also believed that this new strain must have been popular among the nobility and later spread to other levels of society and of other regions. However, northern and north eastern residents have continued to eat glutinous rice as their staple food.

The annual cycle rice cultivation and cycle still forms the main pillar of Thai life and culture today.