Koh Hee or island home is a traditional Karen structure built in the 1960s by Saw Aung Thong. Today it is being run as a boutique homestay by his youngest son Saw John and daughter-in-law Naw Doris. Tucked away in the tranquil village of Webi, Mayabunder, Middle Andaman, John and Doris have opened their home to visitors who are looking for a more intimate experience of the Andaman Islands, their natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Koh Hee lies on a 5 acre property where organic rice cultivation methods have been practiced for generations. Saw John, his wife Naw Doris and their two sons continue the tradition of cultivating paddy during the monsoon season and have transformed part of their home into the first homestay in Middle Andaman. Saw John is also the base manager and programs coordinator for the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team (ANET) located in North Wandoor, South Andaman, and has been working for island conservation for over 22 years. He is knowledgeable about the islands terrestrial and marine ecosystems and is an expert on Karen history and culture.
Webi is the first village established by Karen settlers that came from Burma in the 1920s and its name actually means hidden city in the Karen language. The Koh Hee property is surrounded by farmlands of neighboring families and houses are fairly distant from each other. There is a seasonal freshwater stream that runs behind the home, flowing in from the evergreen wet forests of the nearby hills and draining into Webi creek. Visitors can access the nearby stream and forests as well as go on guided walks of Taun-ji, a prominent hill towards the western extremity of the village or head east towards the coastal Karen village called Karmatang. Livestock of villagers such as cattle, chicken and ducks are commonly seen in the village. And on Sunday, the day of Sabbath, most villagers do not work but attend to church related activities. The villagers are simple and peaceful, skilled in various rural, forest, marine works and crafts.
To learn more about the Karen community of India’s Andaman Islands please read this article published in the Andaman Chronicle.