Robert and Caroline are retired and looking for a nice small town to call home. I just happen to know a great town less than 2 hours from Baan Tham Lod and after a short discussion we’re off to Mae Hong Son.
I know I can go a little crazy with my love for all things Mae Hong Son so I tried my hardest, fairly unsuccessfully, to not go overboard. Over two days we visited the necessities like Alawaa Cafe, the local market, the lakeside and mountaintop temples, the Living History Museum, and the alawaa shop and in-between I sent them off to explore more without my constant commentary. While off on one of these wanders they came across an interesting opportunity for our last day in town.
Mae Hong Son Province is home to several Kayan villages (where women wear neck rings) and generally visitors come, take a few photos, maybe buy some weaving, and then leave. One village, Kayan Thayar, near Mae Hong Son is working to create a guesthouse so travelers can learn more about the Kayan culture and traditions through a village stay program. The village leaders in Kayan Thayar wanted to bring together villagers and travelers to talk about hospitality expectations and realities for their unique location.
Through a tri-lingual afternoon long workshop run by the village and By Ways of Change we worked together to identify elements that make a guesthouse stand out and talked through what the village could realistically provide with the infrastructure they have. I thought the workshop, though it ran a wee bit long, was well thought out, well attended, well run and overall a very positive step towards the villages larger goal of steering their tourism industry away from the “human zoo” model.
I have never wanted to visit a Kayan village before because the reason the villages exist in the first place troubles me and I am also not interested in visiting a village for a short time just to gawk. I am glad I was able to visit in a respectful and useful manner. I hope the momentum continues and Kayan Thayar is able to open their first guesthouse soon.
This event came with added bonus- our driver for the afternoon, La. I sat up front with La on the drive out to the village and it was soon apparent that driving was not his main occupation. We talked about what crops are grown in the area, the kingfisher I spotted over the river, and when he casually tossed out the scientific name of a tree I knew I was in good company. At the time I did not know what his connection to the event was so I just enjoyed the ride and the conversation. On the ride back my curiosity got the best of me and I asked La what else he does. Turns out he runs his own trekking company, the company whose glossy bird covered banners I have stopped at every time I am in town. He then went on to describe a 6 day trek he is leading soon that starts near Pai and ends in Mae Hong Son. It includes trekking between villages, harvesting bamboo to build a raft and rafting a section of the Pai river, climbing Doi Pui the highest peak in the province, and birding and botanizing the whole while. Sounds like a dream trip!
And with that our week was over and we were on our way back to Chiang Mai. Thanks again for the company, adventures, and photos, Caroline and Robert.