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A heritage of hospitality
Publication Date : 12-06-2012
It may not be surrounded by stunning mountains or facing a beautiful beach but a small, rural village in Sukhothai's Si Satchanalai district in north Thailand is making its name with home-stay tourists.
"We have many group bookings," says Sa-ngiam Sawanglarp, 59, as she flicks through the reservations for Ban Na Ton Chan's home-stay services, "We offer both culture and a way of life to our visitors"
On Thursday, she's expecting a group from Tambon Nakhon Sawan Administrative Organisation. On Friday, she'll be welcoming another group from an educational institute while on June 22, the village will be the temporary home to some Australian students. An impressive list indeed.
"When they come as a group, we arrange the bai si (blessing) ritual and a musical performance for them too," says Sa-ngiam, who founded the Ban Na Ton Chan Home-Stay Group and is the current chair.
One of the best examples of the practical implementation of creative tourism, sufficiency economy, the conservation of local wisdom and community values and public participation, this year, Ban Na Ton Chan Community won a PATA Gold Award in the Heritage and Culture category.
"But before doing anything, we have to consult people in the village. Without the community's consent, no initiative will last long," she says.
In 2004, the Regional Industrial Promotion Office 2 recognised the mud-fermented fabric of the Ban Na Ton Chan Women's Group with an award. As part of the prize, Sa-ngiam travelled to Japan on a 10-day educational trip and witnessed the thriving home-stay services there.
"I came home so confident that Ban Na Ton Chan would be able to do the same thing only to find that locals didn't agree," she recalls.
Even though Sa-ngiam had been instrumental in bringing success to Ban Na Ton Chan previously - the decision to highlight the mud-fermented fabric as a local product came from her - the villagers remained opposed to the home-stay notion for a full two years.
"Many were worried that tourists might commit crimes when living under their roofs," she says. "Others simply believed my idea would not work. They kept telling me without the sea or the mountains, Ban Na Ton Chan would not attract tourists."
Sa-ngiam refused to give up. She used her powers of gentle persuasion and finally Tambon Ban Na Ton Chan Administrative Organisation said she should give it a go.
"I started with my house and then my relatives' houses," she says.
Her first tourists were a group of students from Phitsanulok College and their visit was related to the famous mud-fermented fabric developed by the community.
"The local women used to produce cotton fabric to generate supplementary income. But we soon later realised that the opportunities were limited. Cotton fabric was available everywhere," Sa-ngiam says.
She suggested the women apply local wisdom to their craft.
"Our grandparents worked in paddy fields. Their mud-stained clothes become softer after the mud was washed," Sa-ngiam says, "So, we applied this local wisdom to our fabrics."
It worked wonders. The mud-fermented fabric became famous and not only won many awards for Ban Na Ton Chan but also launched the home-stay scheme.
"During a fair to promote our fabric, a lecturer told me he was interested in putting his students in home-stay services. They were our first tourists."
The group taught Sa-ngiam a great deal about what visitors required as part of their home stay.
"Their period of stay was supposed to be 10 days. But by the third day, the students said they were getting bored," Sa-ngiam says, "That's when I realised we needed to design some activities for them."
She started by taking the youngsters to visit the older villagers from whom they could learn and also taught them how to weave and dye fabric.
Since then, tourists - Thai and foreign - have flocked to Ban Na Ton Chan to experience the local way of life.
"We charge just 350 baht (US$11) per night including food," Sa-ngiam says, adding that the host families provide not just shelter but also breakfast for their visitors.
"Thank you for all the food you have cooked for us," Emily Goodfellow wrote in a thank-you note to her host family in Ban Na Ton Chan.
"It was great to experience the life inside a Thai home."
Sa-ngiam says the host receives 200 baht ($6) per night while the rest goes towards management fees, which includes coordination costs and money spent on dinner and activities.
"Fifty baht ($1.5) per night is earmarked for ensuring cleanliness and safety in the village," she explains.
Ban Na Ton Chan has more than 700 residents. All of them, old or young, can earn extra money by joining services relating to the home stay.
"Youths can serve as local tour guides, waiting staff and members of the musical band. They can each earn 100 baht ($3) a day," Sa-ngiam says.
The elderly residents are also given money when they participate in the Bai Si ritual.
With the home-stay services, local produce and other products have been selling better than before too.
"Our pep rice noodle and mud-fermented products have become more popular," she says.
The pep rice noodle was created in Ban Na Ton Chan and has become famous across the country. Even locally grown vegetables and fruits can sell well because of tourist activities.
"I've already got my life rewards," Sa-ngiam beams. "Ban Na Ton Chan is now a famous destination for home-stay service."
Ban Na Ton Chan is also willing to share its management know-how and concept with other interested villagers.
"I want others to enjoy this livelihood too. I have given them the concept and told them they should not focus on profits. Just charge enough for the services to stay viable," she says.
The Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta) and Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology of Thammasat University have recognised Ban Na Ton Chan as an exemplary model.
"It allows tourists to directly experience the local culture," says Dasta's director Nalik-atipak Saengsanit. "It's all about the values of the community."
Stay a little longer
In the North, the Designated Area for Sustainable Tourism covers the Sukhothai Historical Park, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet.
Sukhothai boasts historical sites and renowned Celadon Sangkalok Ware; Si Satchanalai offers mud-fermented fabric, and khao pep, the rice-noodle speciality in Ban Na Ton Chan. Kamphang Phet's Nakhon Chum district offers the art of amulet making.