Fair Tourism partnered with Changemaker to set up a project in Kayan villages in Mae Hong Son. We travelled to two of the three villages to assess the current tourism situation and analyse the possibilities for community-based tourism.
A great part of the Kayan hilltribe (subgroup of the Karen people) from Myanmar, fled to Thailand in the eighties and nineties, to escape violence and forced labour by the military junta in their home country. Together with other hilltribes from Myanmar, they were settled in refugee camps along the border. After that, they were given three options: stay in the refugee camp (with no freedom of movement), resettlement to foreign countries (like Australia, Finland and The Netherlands) or move to villages open to tourism. This last option gave them the freedom to travel within Mae Hong Son province. If they want to travel outside of the province, they need to write a letter to the Thai government to be able to get permission. But Kayan that are born in Thailand are eligible for Thai citizenship. Hill tribe villages (where different ethnic minorities invite tourists to visit them) can be very crowded with tourists. Often tourists only come to see the hill tribes, make pictures and leave again. But there is an alternative: community-based tourism (CBT). If there are meaningful encounters between hosts and guests, this can lead to mutual understanding and respect.
We are really thankful and happy that the face of tourism is changing in the Kayan villages, in a way that is mutually empowering for both Kayan and tourists!
A lot has happened since our field trip. With the funds acquired during the opening nights of our photo exhibition, the Kayan people in Huay Pu Keng received training to make other things than scarves, like table cloths, wallets & other clothing items/accessories. To view pictures of the weaving centre & for other information regarding this project, you can visit our Facebook page.
Huay Pu Keng is now the first and only Kayan village that made the transition towards community-based tourism. Since 2016 they offer workshops and tours to learn more about Kayan culture, like brass jewelry making, weaving, cooking and many more. We welcome you to visit the village and choose one or more of these inspiring workshops. You can also visit their Facebook page for more information. Other organisations involved are Akamae and the KNWO (Karenni National Women’s Organization).
We are very thankful that Floortje Dessing, a Dutch award-winning TV-show host, visited the Kayan villages for her programme “Floortje naar het einde van de wereld”. You can watch the episode here.
Together with Floortje Dessing we organized a meeting for tour operators, to create awareness about the transformation the Kayan village of Huay Pu Keng is making towards community-based tourism. The ANVR View wrote an article about this meeting.
Great news! At this moment, Footprint Travel and Better Places are the first Dutch tour operators that offer workshops in Huay Pu Keng, to their clients. Starting from January 2020, Fox Travel, who allready visits the village for many years, will also offer a workshop on their Emerald Tour. Furthermore, Destination Asia (an inbound tour operator) offers it to the 1000+ overseas tour operators they work with. We hope that other Kayan and other hill tribe villages want to follow in their footsteps and also make the transition towards community-based tourism.
During our field trip, we spoke to all stakeholders involved, like the Kayan people, tour operators, tourists and numerous NGOs working in the region. Although most Kayan people were happy with tourists coming by every day, others spoke about the lack of freedom and the disrespect from many tourists not asking permission to make photos of them. Currently, most tourists stay one hour, visit the souvenir stalls, take pictures and then rush out. The idea of people staying longer to spend the night, enjoying the authentic Kayan food, try their hand at traditional Kayan activities, like weaving, woodcarving and making music, is embraced by Kayan and tourists alike.
Tourism numbers in the Kayan villages in Mae Hong Son are dwindling, mostly due to fierce competition from touristic Kayan villages in easier-to-reach Chiang Mai province. The importance of diversifying the tourism product in these villages to stimulate the local economy, is therefore very much needed.