They say that travel broadens the mind. And it does. But only if you allow yourself to be open to new experiences. If you travel in Thailand one of the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone is, travel with an open mind and an open heart. A few years ago I visited a homestay at a village in Mae Hong Son. My guide there, Khun Ball, had a saying which summed it up perfectly: “Arrive with an empty cup; let the community fill up your cup.“
Thailand beyond the selfies
The Thailand Village Academy is a concept aimed at encouraging younger visitors to seek local experiences on their travels around the kingdom. If you look at Instagram photos from Thailand there is a barrage of cliched selfies from travellers as they pose against famous landmarks. The Thailand Village Academy wants younger visitors to enjoy Thailand beyond the selfie. To connect with local people and sample life in small communities around Thailand. It is these communities which are the lifeblood of Thailand and they are key to preserving the old traditions and culture that help make Thailand so special.
Thailand Village Academy locations
This style of community based tourism has mutual benefits for the person travelling and the local communities who are welcoming discerning tourists. When visitors stay at these communities they are able to learn about the culture, local traditions and history of the village. The Village Academy project is supported by a number of groups including Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways, Thai Smile, and Local Alike. In total, there are 22 cultural tourism communities in the Thailand Village Academy project which are listed below:
- Ayutthaya: Sai Noi homestay ecotourism village
- Chainat: Sappaya Old Police Station market community
- Kanchanaburi: Tambon Nong Rong community
- Nakhon Nayok: Tai Puan community
- Phetchaburi: Tham Rong community
- Samut Songkhram: Ban Bang Phlap community
- Suphanburi: Ban Laem community
- Chiang Mai: Ban Nam Cham community
- Chiang Rai: Lor Yo community
- Lampang: Ban Ta Ma O community
- Sukhothai: Mueang Kao Sukhothai community
- Uttaradit: Lao Viang cultural tourism community
- Buriram: Ban Koke Mueang community
- Nakhon Phanom: Ban Na Thon Tai Guan cultural tourism community
- Mukdahan: Ban Phu cultural tourism community
- Ubon Ratchathani: Khemarat Nawaeng-Chiad community for cultural tourism
- Udon Thani: Ban Chiang cultural tourism community
- Krabi: Laem Sak tourism community
- Nakhon Si Thammarat: Promloke community tourism club
- Satun: Tung Wa tourism community
- Songkhla: Node Na Le traditional Thai farmer village
- Trang: Ban Lam Kanoon community
It begins with the people
It’s true that Thailand is a mainstream tourist destination, but there are still so many places to discover off the beaten track. These include the local communities where foreigners are still a novelty and where local traditions and pride in their own cultural identity remains strong. And it is these traditions and pride in local culture that the Thailand Village Academy wants to preserve. Each village has appointed ‘Local Heroes’ and ‘Cultural Gurus’ who pass on their knowledge to the young travellers who visit them. In return, the travellers retell their experiences via online platforms to encourage more people to visit these communities and experience the traditional Thai way of life.
Thailand really is special and it’s not just about the beaches and the tourist locations. It’s the Thai people that make the country so special. I often get asked why I like Thailand so much and it’s difficult to explain to somebody who has never been. I think it’s a destination you have to experience for yourself to really understand. The food may be fabulous, the weather relaxing and the pace of life enticing, but it’s the people that make Thailand truly amazing.
The Thailand Village Academy has kindly invited me to visit some of the local communities involved in the project. Although I may be older (much older!) than the younger travellers the Village Academy is seeking to attract, I fully support these community based tourism projects in Thailand. I’ll be writing some feature articles in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I’d like to introduce you to two young travellers, Irene and Madhurima, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently at one of the Village Academy locations in Udon Thani. They may not have realised it, but seeing their enthusiasm and the way they opened their minds and hearts to the local community at Ban Chiang has inspired me. If young people like Irene and Madhurima are the future, then the future is in safe hands.
Irene and Madhurima were finalists in a blogging competition arranged by Thailand Village Academy. You can read more about their experiences in Thailand in the links below.
If you are interested in arranging a visit to one of these local communities, details of itineraries, costs and how to book can be found on the Thailand Village Academy website.