Huay Pu Keng
Huay Pu Keng, a rural Kayan village at the border with Myanmar, has something special waiting for you. Something that you might not expect.
In the imagination of most responsible travellers, the long-neck women are immediately associated with the stigma of tourism exploitation, and therefore thought of as something that we, as ethical visitors, must stay away from.
Although this image still represents the current reality in many villages, Huay Pu Keng is different because of the ground-breaking and successful experiment its inhabitants began a few years ago, which we hope can be replicated in villages in Thailand’s other provinces too.
The community has taken control of their destiny, and they now design, manage and coordinate all aspects of the tourism experience. The workshops, the excursions in the surrounding natural environment, the homestay – all are owned and managed directly by the community, with the help of trusted external partners.
This Community-Based Tourism (CBT) project offers a genuine glimpse into the life of this group of Karenni people and their traditions.
It can only be a glimpse, of course, even if you spend a few days with them, but at least you can be assured that the experience is authentic.
There are no staged performances here, no tourist-pleasing activities, no static group pictures.
Because they used to have that, and they opted out of it. The exploitative kind of tourism of quick voyeuristic visits – the human zoo type – where the locals in the photographs sit, serious and still, next to some tourists, overexcited by having just ticked another box on their bucket list; this kind of tourism does not exist here anymore.
Those sad memories have thankfully been replaced by a form of tourism that allows authentic encounters of curious minds, human connections and warm smiles.
There are several hands-on workshops, for both adults and children, led proudly by the village’s masters.
You can learn how to make a cup out of a bamboo stick or carve a small little doll on a piece of wood.
Workshops are like little journeys: the joy is to be found in the process, rather than only in the final result.
It is in the laughter at our lack of manual skills, or at the imperfect steps we stumble through while trying to carefully repeat the movements shown to us. But above all, in the manual workshops we get closer to our hosts: physically, because we do things together, but also mentally, because we start to understand, in practice, some part of their daily life.
Nevertheless, the result in this case is also very important, because it becomes part of a new set of memories we are creating together.
Making your own souvenir here – a shiny brass bracelet, made of the same material as the long-coiled ring that the women wear around their neck, or a colourful hair-band made of the same fabric and pattern of their skirts – is almost a symbolic act. We become united in solidarity through tourism.
A true transformational tourism experience is built through connections, and real experiences like this can help us to reach beyond our expectations and to meet other cultures in the shape of another human being.
More about CBT?
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