Gecko Villa provides simple luxury and a carbon-light vacation by using the best of northeastern Thai traditions. This 3-bedroom, 3-bath villa, founded in 2000, is nestled among organic gardens and rice paddies 25 minutes southeast of Udon Thani in the Isan region. The buildings are made from pradoo, a local and sustainable tree, and built in the traditional raised Thai style to maximize ventilation. The villa uses long-life fluorescent bulbs, low-flush toilets, rainwater collection and natural filtration/sterilization methods. The pool is treated with local salt, instead of chlorine, to minimize chemical usage. The villa plans on installing solar panels when Thai taxes are lifted on solar equipment and helps offset its current energy usage by reforesting an 8-acre adjoining property.
Charles Coleman, founder of the project, is most proud of the way the villa has been able to impact the local community, located in the poorest region of Thailand.
One of Gecko Villa's main achievements has been preventing the typical separation of families and the migration of parents to Bangkok or further afield in seeking unskilled employment far from home," Coleman says. "Traditionally, young children are left with aging grandparents, as parents seek temporary work in the capital, returning only for the rice harvests. Gecko Villa has enabled several families to stay together, promoting stability and a secure, local and individually empowering source of employment."
This model of local employment and local reinvestment (through reforestation and donations to local schools) has proved successful. Gecko Villa was able to open a second property, Green Gecko, to continue bringing sustainable tourism to the region.
The villa has also been encouraging the community to handle waste in a eco-friendly way, including re-adopting traditional practices (such as using banana leafs as wrappers instead of plastic bags.) Owners Bongkot and Euang Podaeng encourage guests to glean eco-wisdom from the locals, whether it be through taking Thai kickboxing (muay Thai) lessons with a local champ, learning how to create traditional Thai dishes from the villa's own organic produce gardens, or participating in the rice growing cycle.
Coleman's favorite way to enjoy Gecko Villa is alternating between relaxing by the swimming pool and visiting the rural villages that most tourists never discover. He suggests guests should make time to help in the rice fields or visit a local school, then relax with a traditional Thai massage ($10/hour). If you journey to Gecko Villa between December and February, he recommends visiting nearby Nong Han Lake to see the pink lotus flowers in bloom.
All-inclusive Gecko Villa rates (all meals included): $183/night for 1-2 people; $230/night for 3-4 people; $283/night for the entire property (sleeps 5-6 people). This last rate is an incredible deal: $47 per person for lodging and authentic Thai meals prepared for you all day long!
Splurge option: Stay in the brand-new Green Gecko, all meals included, for $230 per night for 1-2 guests or $280 for 3-4 guests.
Address: 126 Moo 13, Baan Um Jaan, A. Prajak Sinlapakom, 41000 Udon Thani, Thailand
See visitor reviews of Gecko Villa.
To get ready for your trip, Coleman suggests checking out Monsoon Country by Pira Sudham. "[It's] the novel for which Pira Sudham was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature," Coleman explains. "Much like Pira's own life, it follows a poor farmer's son from the North-East to Bangkok and as an overseas student in England. In this novel you will get an insider's view of Esarn. Starting in 1954 and ending in 1980 it covers a period of of immense change in Thailand, the clash of Western and Thai values, the student movement and the military repression of the 1970's.â
He also encourages future guests to check out mor lam, which he describes as "the lilting, lively, traditional Northeastern music, evocative of the location and its irrepressibly fun-loving people in the face of the historical poverty and hardships of the area." Try the two-volume compilation album, Molam: Thai Country Groove from Isan, to start, then also check out the cooperative project a group of singers from southern Laos did with a Brit electronica artist, Jah Wobble: Molam Dub