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Northern Thai

In Chiangmai and the "North" many Thais are building houses that are quite different from the traditional Thai-style houses. Some disigns that are "modern", progressive, the owner might find the first floor uncomfortably warm, and the second floor like a furnace during the hot season. The traditional Thai house is quite different in design to the western-style houses now being built in Thailand. The design of the traditional Thai-style house is compatible with the climate and available resources of the country. The traditional northern Thai house was a beautifully constructed work in which a rural nature was built into the shape the design, into each room and doorway.

The main part of the house is composed of two adjacent rectangular units or twin houses on a raised platform with a common floor, forming a single large room entered by two doors. Outside the main room is a covered verandah (toen) and a walk-way or terrace which leads to the kitchen and adjacent functional balcony.
The old houses of northern Thailand were built on sturdy log posts above the ground. These posts were so significant that even today with new houses built some people have teak logs posted into the ground even though the new house itself is not of teak. Under each ridgepole inside the roofs of the twin houses there are two wooden beams (khua yaan, the "bridge of fear") While their placement is to make the roof easy to repair, there are there are those who feel they may have a symbolic significance as well. The house and the thirty-six octagonal pillars upon which it stands are of solid hewn teak (Tectona grandis) while unglazed burnt clay tiles have been used for the roof. No nails, glass or natural stone have been employed. The joints are fashioned from wood and held in place with a peg-like arrangement.

The side of the house slant outward from the elevated floor to the lower edge of the peaked roof. The roof beams at the front and the rear of the house extend beyond the ridgepole to from a V-shaped design called a Galae, "glancing crows," by the Thai Yuan people of Lanna, now Northern Thailand, and gaelae, "glancing pigeons," by the Thai Yuan of Rajchaburi. Although the real meaning of this design has not been fully ascertained, it is thought that it represents a pair of buffalo horns rather than birds.

Moreover, the lintels, haam yon, above the doorways to the inner room of Northern Thai houses symbolize the genitals of the buffalo. The doorway is important in homes throughout Asia, but in the traditional northern Thai home the lintel is perhaps the most auspicious part of the entire house. It houses the spirits that protect the home and it wards off danger and evil that is potentially damaging to the family residing within. This was such a powerful belief in the past that a family moving into a house once occupied by another family would beat the lintel incessantly to drive out any spirits that might not be friendly to the new family. The lintel is the carved design that is placed over doorways in northern Thai houses. It is most often carved in teak but other woods are possible.

An important part of this structure is the Toen. The Toen is a large porch or veranda which was traditionally used as a living area and a sleeping area for male members of the family. In the hot season some of the other family members also slept on the Toen because it was cooler than inside the house. The Toen was also where the women of the family did their weaving and embroidery, and where all spent a lot of time and where visitors also spent their time. This verandah is constructed on the same level as the inner room and at a slightly higher elevation than the adjoining terrace or walk way. Meals are taken and guests are entertained. anyone sleeping on the verandah automatically has his head at a higher level than the feet of an individual walking about on the terrace. While the unmarried daughters sleep in the inner room with their parents, the sons sleep on the verandah so they can be free to come and go. Male guests sleep on the verandah as well.

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