Mae Kampong is a small village of around 500 people located in the hills about 55 kilometres to the east of Chiang Mai. It is surrounded by dense forest and enjoys a cooler climate than the Chiang Mai Valley, but in the past it saw few tourists, either domestic or international. In the last 20 years, however, the introduction of community-based tourism (CBT) has transformed this sleepy village into a popular tourist destination, with a choice of homestays, cute coffee shops and local attractions such as tea and coffee plantations, waterfalls and scenic views.
One of the great attractions of Mae Kampong is the traditional architecture. Virtually all the houses are made of wood, which helps them blend into the natural surroundings. For visitors walking along the steep and twisting road that passes through the village, it feels as if they have been transported back into Thailand’s past.
Community-based tourism emphasizes the development of local communities and allows local residents to have control over its development and management to ensure that most benefits go to local people. In Mae Kampong, this has led to several local residents opening their homes as homestays, where visitors can not only sleep but also eat with their hosts and learn first-hand about life in a rural community. This might include a visit to a tea or coffee plantation or learning how to prepare a tasty Northern Thai dish.
When Mae Kampong was an agricultural village, its best-known product was ‘miang’, a kind of fermented tea that is still popular today. Tea leaves also find an innovative use as a stuffing for pillows that are sold locally, and which supposedly help to cure insomnia and extend the lifespan. Other distinctive souvenirs that the village offers to visitors are natural honey, ornamental plants and basketwork. The regular arrival of tourists also means that some of the villagers can now make a living as tour guides, showing visitors along nature trails in the forest, or as masseurs, craftsmen or coffee-shop owners.
The key to successful community-based tourism is good management, and in this sense Mae Kampong has proved a resounding success. All the local inhabitants are involved in decisions about tourism in the village, and everyone appears to be benefitting financially. Not all tourists spend a night in Mae Kampong, but even those who make a day trip there from Chiang Mai are likely to stop for a coffee and buy a souvenir, boosting the local economy.
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