Agro-tourism projects give visitors the opportunity to gain an insight into rural life while giving something back to the country’s rural communities. Take your pick of these agro-tourism projects to check out on your next visit to Thailand...
Coffee has taken Thailand by storm, and many of Bangkok’s hippest cafés now source their beans from Chiang Rai, where the Akha hill tribe has been producing the nation’s current favourite caffeine fix for several decades. The plants were first introduced as part of the Thai Royal Projects scheme, which helps support farmers in remote areas. In 2010 several hill tribe families decided to join forces, processing and marketing the coffee themselves, and today it’s possible to visit their agro-tourism project – the Ban Mae Chan Tai Agro-Tourism Centre. We recommend the three-day coffee journey, which teaches visitors about the Akha way of life and about the coffee grown here.
Founded in 1984 by social activist Sulak Sivaraksa, Wongsanit Ashram is an eco-village two hours north-east of Bangkok. Sustainability is key here – visit for the opportunity to learn about sustainable living techniques, whether it’s how to build adobe houses or how to grow organic food. The founders of the ashram, which has 10 permanent residents and promotes an alternative lifestyle grounded in Buddhism’s Dharma, welcome guests, work exchange visitors and volunteers.
The village of Ban Mae Klang Luang near Doi Inthanon National Park, is famous for its beautiful, staggered rice terraces. It’s also home to the Paganyaw people. Their knowledge of the landscape and rice-farming techniques allows them to live simply, using only natural resources. Visitors can take part in daily activities and try their hand at rice farming, too. The best time to stop by is growing season, between September and October, and harvest time, between November and January. One of our favourite spots is the fishery, where visitors can learn how rainbow trout and red claw crayfish are caught, closely followed by the weaving and coffee production centres.
Visitors flock to Sampran Riverside, an hour’s drive from Bangkok, to pet animals on the working farm (the water buffalo is our favourite), pick up fresh produce at the organic farmers’ market and learn how to master a wide range of traditional Thai crafts, from banana leaf weaving to vegetable carving. There’s also a huge organic farm which can be explored on tours. It’s even possible to stay the night – either at the on-site hotel or the traditional Thai houses dotted around the lake. The houses were all brought here from rural Thai villages and reassembled on site. There are exciting things in store for 2019 too, including the opening of Sampran’s Patom Organic Village, which will have a new farmers’ market and an open factory.
Ban Khiri Wong is a small village nestled in the hills outside Nakhon Si Thammarat. Residents of this tight knit community were always known for their love of traditional rural ways, and they decided to set up an eco-tourism project to allow visitors to gain an insight into their daily lives. There are a range of activities on offer, including guided hikes through the surrounding hills. Visitors can also learn about villagers’ ancient farming techniques with visits to the Suan Som-rom (plantations), where fruits such as durian, mangosteen and rambutan are grown.
Perched on the fertile banks of the Noi River, Bang Chao Cha’s main exports were always plums and dragon fruit. The downside? They grow just once a year, which is why villagers decided to make the most of another skill – bamboo weaving. It’s always been an important part of life for those living in rural Thailand, allowing villagers to supplement farming income by making and selling items like baskets, mats and kitchen utensils. The weavers in Bang Chao Cha are regarded as the best in the business, and are famous for their intricate designs, including elegant woven vases. Growing numbers are heading here to learn about the weavers’ work, and to explore other aspects of life in Bang Chao Cha. Many base themselves at one of the home stays before signing up for guided tours of the plum orchards and learning how to make traditional dragon fruit desserts.
The 30 or so families who live in Ja Boo See village belong to the Lahu ethnic group, and they’re known for their rustic way of life. Today, they’re keen to show the outside world how they live, and visitors are able to gain a fascinating insight into their lives during visits to the village, whether it’s with meetings with local craftspeople, the chance to don their traditional dress or the opportunity to trek through the forests, collecting the herbs locals use for medicinal purposes. This is truly a project which allows guests to feel as though they’re giving something back. Visitors are encouraged to help with daily chores – collecting firewood, pounding rice with a foot mill and helping to feed the village’s pigs and chickens.