Mr. Thaworn

Mr. Thaworn, Tribal Museum representative | Chiang Mai, Thailand
Dec. 9, 2009

Mr. Thaworn is a representative at the Tribal Musuem in Chiang Mai and has advised various hill tribes on tourism development in their villages.

About Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s largest northern city and a base for tourists to explore the many nearby ethnic minorities or hill tribes who their own distinct cultures and languages.1 Hill tribe treks can be a 1-day tour or multi-day tour with overnights in the hill tribe villages to offer a glimpse into the lives of these tribes.

The debate on the ethical nature of hill tribe treks continue with proponents saying it offers an extra source of income for the villagers and cultural exchange for both hosts and visitors. Opponents argue the tours are akin to “human zoos” and the direct contact with visitors changes the tribes’ cultures.

LPT: In Chiang Mai, many tourists come to do hill tribe trekking. How do you feel about that?

Mr. Thaworn: I think it’s ok, it’s the nature of human beings.

LPT: Nature of human beings?

Mr. Thaworn: Yeah, they like to come see, know and learn about what’s in each country. People are going everywhere now because of globalization, it’s not a strange thing. It’s a normal situation in the world.

LPT: Do you think tourism is helping hill tribe people?

Mr. Thaworn: It’s not all, just some parts. In the beginning or in the past, maybe just some groups (hill tribes) benefited. At present, some villagers have learned to manage tourism by themselves. That is very beneficial to the people (villagers). Nowadays, they (the villagers) know how to manage tourism. Mostly they prefer to arrange cultural or eco-tours and present what they have for the tourists and what tourists should learn about the villagers.

Also, the villagers want to learn something about others (tourists) so that’s like an exchange. It’s good sharing knowledge and ideas.

LPT: Before the villagers were able to do cultural tourism or eco-tourism, what were some problems they had with tourism?

Hilltribe vendors in Chiang Mai

Mr. Thaworn: Some villagers didn’t know how to manage or operate the business of tourism. The villagers didn’t know so it was just local travel agencies, outside of the villages, taking tourists into and out of the villages – coming and going, again and again. The villagers didn’t realize they had good things in their villages and didn’t understand why people came to see them. They thought, “Why are tourists coming here? We’re just very poor, very bad conditions, there’s nothing here except for forest and trees”.

The villagers didn’t realize what they had.

LPT: Nowadays they understand?

Mr. Thaworn: Nowadays, the villagers understand they have good things in their villages to show people. So why not have the villagers themselves plan and develop the tours to show the tourists? Now they realize this but before they didn’t know because they didn’t understand why tourists came to see them.

LPT: And the agencies that run the hill tribe treks, do they work with the villagers to plan the tours?

Mr. Thaworn: In the past they didn’t work with the villages. But nowadays, every village has set up a village committee so everything is managed by the villagers. So even if something was ran by an outside travel group, that group would have to give something to the village to visit.

LPT: Ok, I see.

Mr. Thaworn: So it’s like sharing the benefits with each other.

Yeah, so I think the villagers now really have learned to manage tourism by themselves. They’ve even come here (Tribal Museum) many times to see what we have here at the museum and learn how to set one up and show what they have to tourists.

So I used to tell the villagers that if you’d like to set up a museum, you shouldn’t think about income or the building. You should just think about what you have, what you want to pass on to your children and people; that should come first.

So, I don’t like to ask them to set up a museum like this but just make some information in English, like a learning center or information center. You can include everything about the village, the history, local knowledge (any aspects) and have like a data base on your village, everything and every fields: food, medicine, way of life, culture, etc.

LPT: So the museum also helps these tribes? It helps them conduct business, in a way or help them manage tourism?

Quote from Lahu Jakorna Village on display at the Tribal Museum

Mr. Thaworn: No, we don’t train them on how to run a business but just give them suggestions on what they should do in their villages. Or if they want to show something good to the tourists, we give suggestions on how to do it. Because I told them (villagers), don’t think of the money or income as the priority because if you think of that than you’ve failed from the beginning. But if you make like a learning center for your people and for your village, you’ll have something good in your village and the tourists will come.

LPT: For these groups, is tourism the number one or two form of economy for them?

Mr. Thaworn: I don’t think tourism is the main source of income. I think it’s just like additional income because they are mostly farmers. When it’s the off farm season they like to do something else. The women, mostly, like to do embroideries and weaving and the men sometimes make baskets. They think tourists would want to buy these things so they make and sell them for additional income.

LPT: In general, with more contact with tourists is their culture changing a little because of the interactions?

Mr. Thaworn: Culture doesn’t change exactly with just tourism. Nowadays, I think, we cannot deny it’s (culture) changing, everywhere is changing, not only just with the hill tribes. Even local people here are changing due to communication.

LPT: Communication?

Mr. Thaworn: Yeah.

LPT: Like Internet?

Mr. Thaworn: Internet, newspaper, TV, everywhere. So they learn more things from mass media. This is not due to tourism. Tourism is just one factor and not the main thing. In fact, we cannot deny or object change in society.

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Further reading:
CPAmedia’s summary of hill tribes in Northern Thailand | http://www.cpamedia.com/research/hill_peoples/

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