Category Archives: Pun Pun Chiang Mai

Brick by brick

Coming from the southern part of Germany we were taught one thing: “Work hard, work hard, build your own little house.” However, this wisdom seems to be twisted in northern Thailand – or have we misunderstood something? The wisdom in Germany should be terminologically correct: Work hard, work very hard and maybe work even a little bit harder to have enough money to be creditworthy to pay off the loan for the next 30 years that you need for the construction company that will build your dream of your home.

What is lost in the process? Time, you – and of course the fun.

We were looking for a more pragmatic approach and found what we were looking for. Our trip takes us to Mae Tang near the Mae Ngat Dam, about 2 hours north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Jon Jandai (Phi Joe) founded the Eco Community Pun Pun about 20 years ago and is the pioneer in clay house construction in Thailand.

According to Phi (the Thai name for big brother) Joe, building a mud house is the easiest way to build a house, anyone can do it. Adults can do it, children can do it – you can do it! All you need is your body…and if we build a house in less than a year and for less than 10,000 USD, we have saved almost 29 years. How one wants to offset 29 years of life in Dollars is quite a difficult and philosophical question.

So let´s get started before we lose more time and build a new clay house for Nate and Phi Yao.

The place Nate and Phi Yao have chosen for their mud house is picturesque. Surrounded by rice fields and the southernmost foothills of the Himalayas, every sunrise and sunset are an experience. The natural swimming lake/water reservoir, which was built last year, create an indescribable ambience. Young and inquisitive people from over 20 countries have come to learn and help them build their new home.

At the beginning we stand in a huge mud hole (former rice field), whose contents are to be transformed into a single-family house. How can you do that? Very simple: mix clay, dried rice husks, sand and water and tread until it becomes soft. The creamy earth mass is then poured into moulds, set up for drying and needs to be observed. If there are large cracks when the bricks are sun-drying, there is too much clay in the material. If they burst into thousands of individual parts during the crushing test on the ground, the proportion of sand must be worked on. Local soil conditions are different all over the world and trial and error is the only way to success. That being said, at the end of our time we made more than 6,000 clay bricks and quickly got a good feeling for the perfect mixture.

Then, brick by brick, the walls are gradually build. A mortar made of clay, sand and a rice husk mix is used as a binding agent. The 5-meter-wide and 3-meter-high arches were also very interesting to build. First a wooden construction was made, which holds the clay bricks until they support and strengthen themselves by their own weight. A string and a nail for centering the arc and a few stones for adjusting the angle of the clay bricks are enough to build such a masterpiece. Of course, we are particularly proud of the last stone.

After almost two weeks, we managed to finish half of the house and learned how to mix plaster and clay paint from the above components. For practical reasons, not all elements of the house were built from natural and local materials. Experience has shown that termites in Thailand make it impossible to lay a loamy soil and foundation, or a durable roof construction made of wood. That is why we have used concrete for the foundation and metal for the roof construction. We at virblatt are thrilled to have learned this old way of building houses. It was an indescribable event to stand in our self-built natural walls, which continuously absorb and release water (humidity) and heat to have a pleasant room climate all year round. We are impressed by the possibility that everyone can build their own four walls from natural resources. And we are grateful to have met all the loving and interesting people during this workshop. It is indescribable what a close relationship you build with people and materials in a short time when you work together on such a valuable project: We built a house!

Life is easy!

think about it.


virblatt builds water filters

We are in 2017 AD, the whole world is occupied by capitalists … The whole world? No! A village in the North of Thailand inhabited by invincible people does not cease to resist the invader.

This is where our next journey takes us. It is not about capitalism, but about something much more fundamental. Colorless, odorless, tasteless and without any nutritional value; yet essential to life – clean drinking water.

It all happens in the PunPun Center for Self Reliance. An organic farm in Mae Tang for the preservation of local seed, sustainable life and learning. In principle, the founders resort to a more independent lifestyle by producing organic food themselves, building their own natural homes from clay and experimenting with all kinds of low-tech resources. In doing so, the principles of today’s experts/know-it-all are fundamentally contradicted. It is not about knowledge but about experimenting with knowledge and opening new doors. Errors are not errors in the actual sense, but simply additional learning opportunities. Experts and students learn together on a level playing field; everyone learns from the other. Joint experimentation and joint learning through direct practical applications are the focus here.

The aim of our trip is a workshop for the construction of a water filter system based on biochar. Up to 300 L (with a small system) or up to 2000 L (with a large system) of clean drinking water can be produced per day. The filter system was developed in cooperation with Aqueous Solutions and all building instructions are accessible to everyone. (

Just keep in mind that: the broth from a Thai pond which stands all day in the blazing sun or the polluted water from rivers, which is as a result of so-called SOC (Synthetic Organic Compounds such as Agrochemicals, pharmaceutical residues or contamination from fossil fuels) can be converted into drinking water by an inexpensive water filter for under $ 100. We are thrilled!

In order to get water for our experimental set-up, we had to drill a 9-meter deep well by hand due to lack of rivers nearby. The equipment included only a small diesel generator, a tripod, a garden hose and our workforce.

The next thing after such a day in the sun would simply be to fall into bed. A bell dragged us out of the trance and calls for joint dinner. Through two high clay columns, we stepped into a wide room without windows. This doesn’t mean it is dark. The windows are not installed. A somewhat knee-high table stretches through the entire length of the room and at the edges of which straw mats are spread. The climate in the room was pleasantly cool and light windbreaks caressed the hairs. Faces of people from more than 20 countries look at you, smiling and exhausted. The food of Mae (the Thai word for mother), Dang is certainly the best we have eaten in Thailand. A successful conclusion of the evening was achieved with a philosophical seminar about Jon Jandai on the subject: “Why life is easy. If life is not easy it’s wrong “: D. Simple, authentic, refreshing and recommended. (

The next day we started the construction of the filter system. It consisted of 4 tanks filled with different materials for filtering the water. The first is filled with gravel for filtering out coarse impurities. The sand in the second filter removes finer impurities. Upon using the water filter, a so-called biofilm or dirt layer forms on the sand layer and filters out the first biological substances and serves as a pre-filter for the biochar. In the third tank there is the biochar and the fourth tank is designed as a reservoir for the drinking water.

We produced the biochar at night. Technically speaking, biochar is produced by pyrolysis (gasification at approx. 900 ° C) of crushed cellulosic material such as wood, bamboo or maize. It is an incomplete combustion with hardly any CO2 produced. The result is biochar. The heat causes tars and resins from the surface of the material to dissolve and then evaporate. This has two advantages: on the one hand, biological contamination is absorbed in the resulting compartment. On the other hand, the total surface area of ​​the material is increased to 400 m² per gram of biochar (thus 8 million m² or 800 hectares for 20 kg). As a result, the water filters can be operated at full performance for 2-3 years without having to change the biochar.

We smashed the biochar into pieces with a diameter of 15 mm; for almost 2 days

Apart from the ingenious water filter system, PunPun was a unique experience. We cannot describe the atmosphere in words. Everyone should experience it themselves!

Environmental engineer Nate Reents is one of the developers of the biochar based water filters and he was the one who guided us throughout the two weeks showing his passion and sharing his knowledge for low-tech water technologies. He has accomplished many projects in Latin America and Myanmar, where the filters are needed the most. The Pun Pun projects do not just aim at integrating the systems at the Thai Myanmar border but also to teach them how to build them themselves – creating low cost systems based on local materials.

Together with you, we want to support this project. You can round up for donation in our online Shop for harem pants and alternative clothes.

virblatt – think about it.