Travelers can pan for Siamese rubies by using an ancient Chong technique. // © 2015 Caitlin Martin
Feature image (above): Trat, Thailand// © 2015 Caitlin Martin
Thailand has seen an influx of tourists so far this year. Visitor arrivals from January through May 2015 totaled 12.4 million visitors, which is an increase of 25 percent from last year over the same period. The country is on track to see 28 million visitors by the end of this year.
This year, Thailand launched “Discover Thainess,” a culture-rich tourism campaign, aimed to draw more tourists to experience off-the-beaten-path provinces through community-based tourism. This form of tourism accounts for environmental, social and cultural sustainability. For example, these communities take only a limited number of travelers in order to protect their natural surroundings.
With a small group organized by tour company Local Alike, I embarked to witness community-based tourism in Thailand’s eastern province, Trat, known to locals as Trad. While many of your clients may have been to Thailand before, they likely haven’t been here. This province is a hidden gem that will enrich any trip you plan for the client traveling to Thailand or Cambodia, whether they spend all of their time in Trat or just a few days.
Here are three unique communities that will leave a lasting impression.
Ban Nam Chiao Ecotourism Community
Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims live peacefully together in Ban Nam Chiao. It’s fascinating that, in addition to putting aside their differences to live near each other, they created a highly respected ecotourism community together.
Locals gave us a hands-on cooking demonstration where we made “khao kriab yana” (Thai rice pancake with shrimp topping) and “tangme krop” (crispy caramel), a traditional dessert. After lunch, we tried making “ngop” (woven hats made of palm leaves).
While boating through canals, we released small sea crabs for good luck and planted a baby tree in a mangrove forest. Some of us even got in the water to catch shellfish with our toes.
Your clients will come away with a deep connection to the people of this village and their peaceful way of life.
Chong Changtune Live Ecomuseum
This will be a highlight of your client’s trip to Trat. We witnessed one of the most unique local spa experiences — a Thai herbal steam using a chicken coop. Spa de Chong amazed us at how resourceful they were with an existing resource. The chicken coop covers the entire body, except for the head, making it easy to breathe.
The village children play a role in community-based tourism, too. They are taught the importance of having a job and earning money to one day provide for their own family. What a treat it was to interact with them during our white-mud spa treatment in the river. We sat on rocks while the children pasted white mud on our arms and back. The mixture included a plant used to exfoliate the skin.
While at the river, we panned for Siamese rubies by learning an ancient Chong technique to sift through the mud. The locals also gave us a ride on a salenger, a motorbike with a sidecar, and we learned how to build a river check dam, using palm leaves to reduce the water speed and soil erosion.
Huai Raeng Ecotourism Group
During this visit, your clients will take a close look at nature by boating through canals and the orchard at Huai Raeng. Guests will learn about Thai fruits such as rambutan, long gong and coconut. They will see a demonstration of how to make soap using mangosteen juice and a bamboo mould.
Lunch involves the villagers teaching travelers how to make their own small purse-pack of rice with various veggies. For dessert, travelers made khanom chak, a traditional simple, yet tasty, Thai dessert made of flour, coconut and sugar that is wrapped in a palm leaf before heated on the grill.
“Travelers can make a positive impact on the places they stay,” said Nalinee Pananon, Tourism Authority of Thailand’s assistant executive director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. “Way of life offerings give visitors a unique taste of Thai life that few people get to experience.”
This experience is for the client who isn’t afraid to trek off the beaten path and actively participate in the Thai way of life. It’s for those who would trade in staying at a five-star hotel for the chance to return each night with a full heart and deep appreciation for the local culture.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Toscana Trad
Hotel Toscana Trad is a family-owned accommodation with a Tuscany feel. Rooms have patios/balconies, which can face the pool, free Wi-Fi access, air-conditioning and cable television.
The Spa Koh Chang Resort
This Koh Chang health retreat offers relaxing herbal steam baths, a sea-salt treated swimming pool, yoga and healthy food and fruit juices.