Oct 18 2011
An Akha village just off the road between Tha Ton and Mae Chan, close to the turn off for Mae Salong in northwest Chiang Rai province, Ban Lorcha is also the site of a community-based tourism scheme run by the Population & Community Development Association (PDA). This pilot project aims to create a sustainable tourism strategy and alternative model of tourism development for hill-tribe villages. To quote the PDA:
” …tourism activities to hill-tribe villages have been characterized as short stops to a group of houses and stalls selling souvenirs that are not even made in that village. This kind of tourism activity is so contrived that tourists feel they are not learning anything about the people they are visiting. Often there is no contact between tourists and villagers. In this type of activity villagers selling trinkets and souvenirs often harass tourists, taking photos of hill-tribe women is often followed by upturned open palms asking for compensation for the pictures taken… “
..a bit generalised but fair enough. (Read more about the PDA here.)
There’s a nominal entry fee — 30 0r 40 baht if we remember correctly — which goes towards the community scheme as well as a fund to set up further schemes in other villages. And yes, there is a large souvenir shop at the entrance to the village, however all items sold come from Ban Lorcha itself and you are able to browse hassle-free. There’s usually traditional dancing on show and weaving displays that might seem slightly contrived (because they are), but as the PDA points out, you’d be unlikely to see these under normal circumstances without spending days in a village or fortuitously turning up during some ceremony or another.
Hill-tribe village visits can be problematic: some agents and guides are still very exploitative (see in particular the human-zoo type ‘long-neck’ villages), easily accessible villages such as Doi Pui can verge on the tacky and when in remoter, less-visited villages, unless you have a good guide or can speak the lingo, what do you do!?
There does need to be some exchange and the days of remote village inhabitants turning up to greet their ‘exotic’ visitors out of pure interest are long gone. Even the furthest-flung villages usually have some knick-knacks for sale and a school visit (and contribution) is always feasible, but perhaps doing it within a more ‘controlled’ framework is the most responsible way? You can still see plenty of irresponsible visits — probably more through ignorance than intention — and sticking great camera lenses into people’s houses or noses and doling out sweets to kids needs to be prevented.
All in all Ban Lorcha is a very worthwhile stop; you get far more information than you would elsewhere, a chance to see traditional crafts and culture up close, opportunities to photograph spectacularly dressed Akha women without any embarrassment either way and pick up some genuine and reasonably priced handicrafts. (They even have their own Facebook page with lots of great pics.)
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.