The Internationale Tourismus Borse (ITB), held each year in Berlin, Germany, is the world’s biggest tourism trade fair, so it is a huge honour to be granted an award at the annual show. In 2018, one of the awards in the ‘Best of Cities, Communities and Culture’ category went to Tung Dap Village on the island of Koh Phra Thong in Phang Nga Bay. The award is granted to communities that show global leadership in protecting local culture and tradition, social fabric and sense of place, while avoiding exploitation, human rights violations and disruptive mass tourism.
The 200 or so inhabitants of Tung Dap are a mix of Thai and Moken people. The Moken are often referred to as ‘sea gypsies’, and they once lived an itinerant life during the dry season on their ‘kabang’, or houseboats, but now they live in more permanent communities. In the devastating tsunami of 2004, their village was entirely destroyed, and the villagers spent months in temporary shelters until they were able to restore their lives and their village in a manner that was respectful of the natural environment. Now the tour operator Andaman Discoveries offers a ‘Moken Immersion Tour’, which allows visitors to stay in homestays and learn about the lifestyle of the Moken people. Located at the southern end of Koh Phra Thong, the village is accessible only by boat and has no cars or convenience stores.
Given the Moken people’s close relationship with the sea, much of their culture revolves around marine activities, and visitors are likely to find themselves helping out in the making of squid traps or searching for edible oysters along the coast. Other activities include a visit to an orchid farm, watching spectacular Andaman sunsets, learning how to weave palm fronds into animal shapes and making a delicious local dessert with fresh coconuts. For the local people, this opportunity means fair employment opportunities and a secondary source of income.
Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, Governor of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, was delighted by the news of Tung Dap’s award. “It’s wonderful to see tourism initiatives like the Tung Dap village programme being recognised on the world stage for their commitment to the community and the environment. Even more so when you consider this type of experience is precisely what TAT’s ‘Open to the new shades’ marketing concept is about – discovering Amazing Thailand from new and different perspectives.”