Friday, February 1, 2013

Baan Tong Luang

A visit to Baan Tong Luang was both unexpected as it was not on our original list to do, but has also quickly become a highlight of our trip - for both of us. That said, this ecotourism spot seems to cop a lot of discussion on the Internet. Both positive and negative. For me, it is one of those places that you must experience for yourself, then act upon how you respond to it. If it is good, recommend it to like minded friends, if it is not your thing, then don't. Your call.
So, what is it? Baan Tong Luan is a centre less than half an hour from where we are staying. It is a working village established by the Thai government, inhabited by seven different tribes of hill people's from Myanmar, across the Thai border. The aim is to provide safe accommodation for a limited number of refugees, in an environment close to their traditional way of living. This allows continued access to traditional ways of life for the inhabitants, but also allows visitors to gain some insight into specific customs, handicrafts, authentic dress etc. For me the thing that swings the village into being a positive thing is what these people face if not allowed to cross into Thailand, between the political situation and impact of the drug market, they have little chance of being able to live with dignity. Some people comment that living this way, where tourists pay a fee to visit, observe and photograph people is akin to living in a zoo. I disagree. At 500 Thai bhat it is one of the more expensive places to visit, butbthe entrance fee allows free access into the village, enables you to take photographs, and enables visitors to buy as they want to, not under duress. we were not hassled once during our visit. It was evident which people were happy to be photographed, and which chose not to. Many in fact "presented" themselves to the camera, when a more natural shot would have been preferred. I soon became adept at taking the posed photos to make them happy as this is what they think people expect, then take others once they are engaged elsewhere. Either way, these people seemed genuinely happy. There were a number of children and new babies happily shown to me when I stopped to chat with their Mums.
We laughed with one elderly gentleman and his wife when Frank insisted on buying (and wearing) a traditional palm frond hat, and giggled endlessly with one girl and her friend when it became evident that I had sat on the swing the wrong way - to their delight! More about the individual tribes and other points of interest soon. 31.1.2013

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