Stay in an Isan Village, Thailand
It’s far too easy to visit Thailand and come away feeling that you never really got to see what life for Thais is like outside of the tourist centres. If you’re curious, then a visit to the tranquil rice-growing village of Ko Pet in the northeastern Isan region may be just what you’re looking for.
Ko Pet is a village like many others in the region, with the difference that it has built a lodge so that small-scale tourism can supplement incomes from rice and vegetable cultivation. Guests (a maximum of six at a time) stay in the locally built three-bedroom Lamai guesthouse at one end of Ko Pet, surrounded by a garden of palms and mango trees, and are always accompanied by two of the villagers on visits into the village – who are there to provide translation and keep tours unobtrusive.
The activities on offer – joining elders foraging for edible insects or mushrooms, learning how to weave baskets from raffia, seeing silk being produced – are not staged, since they comprise what the villagers would be doing anyway. Guides ensure these are rotated between the twenty or so participating families, so there is little disruption of routine and income is spread evenly. Ko Pet may be in one of the more remote areas of Thailand but the scheme here is showing the way forward for rural tourism in Asia.
For directions and details of tours and packages see http://www.thailandhomestay.com.
Visit a Khmu Village, Laos
But for the Mekong River on whose banks it stands, the village of Yoi Hai is cut off from the world, with no road cut through the dense jungle that surrounds it. Living here, surrounded by the cloud-covered heights of the hills, are the Khmu – an animist tribe who worship spirits in the trees and rocks that surround them. Until recently the population was even more isolated, but in 2000 the government decreed that they, and all the other hill tribes, had to form new towns on lower ground, partly in a bid to stamp out the opium trade and partly to improve access to healthcare and education. However, many tribal peoples have struggled to adapt to these more urban communities, with alcoholism and drug abuse on the increase.
Thanks to their relationship with the nearby Kamu Lodge, however, the future doesn’t look quite so bleak for the Khmu. The lodge – comprising twenty comfortable two-person safari tents and a thatched pagoda restaurant topped with solar panels – employs staff from local communities, is responsible for building a school and also pays a monthly community fund. You’ll get the chance to meet the people whom the lodge is helping – they will show you round the village, teach you how to cast a net into the river or how to pan in its waters for gold.
For further details, including rates and booking, see http://www.kamulodge.com.