An interesting community tourism scheme
Published/Last edited or updated: 8th March, 2019
Ban Lorcha is a small Akha village beside Highway 1089 between Tha Ton and Mae Chan and close to the turn off for Mae Salong and is the site of a community-based tourism scheme run by the Population & Community Development Association (PDA) that aims to create a “sustainable tourism strategy and alternative model of tourism development” for hill-tribe villages.
To quote the PDA, tourism to hill-tribe villages in Thailand has tended to focus on “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...” It is of course a bit generalised, but fair enough.
There’s a nominal entry fee of 50 baht which goes towards the community scheme as well as a fund to set up further schemes in other villages. And yes, there is a 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; easily accessible villages can verge on the tacky and when in remoter, less-visited villages, unless you have a good guide or can speak the lingo; what exactly do you do?
There does need to be some form of exchange as 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, so perhaps doing it within a more “controlled” framework is the most responsible way?
The tour itself includes stopping at the village gate, an Akha swing, the blacksmiths, weaving and a traditional house. You can either have one of the residents with a smattering of English as a guide or just wander on your own. The village trail is around a kilometre in all.
All in all, while lacking the full immersion and interaction of nearby Hyolo’s Akha Mudhouse experience, we reckon Ban Lorcha is a very worthwhile stop. You get far more information than you would in most other places, a chance to see traditional crafts and culture up close, an opportunity to photograph spectacularly dressed Akha women without any embarrassment either way and the chance to pick up some genuine and reasonably priced handicrafts.
Ban Lorcha’s small carpark, shop and ticket desk lie on the south side of Highway 1089 slightly to the west of Kiew Sathai—the junction with the 1234 up to Mae Salong.
Address: Highway 1089, Mae Salong
T: (053) 740 088;
Coordinates (for GPS): 99º36'9.62" E, 20º6'10.06" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 50 baht
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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