Creative Tourism is emerging as a large and growing niche within the sphere of ecotourism broadly speaking, and more specifically within the constellation of cultural tourism, sustainable tourism, and especially experiential tourism. The common thread in all of these is immersion and authenticity.
Tourists nowadays are more sophisticated than before, and are now seeking the type of tourism that grants them access to local cultures, as well as structured opportunities to participate in the distinct activities and unique livelihoods of the selected villages. These activities entail hands-on involvement and derive from inherited cultural traditions, drawing on arts, crafts, agriculture, religion, and local customs.
Above all, a direct connection with the villagers is sought through genuine interaction and the transfer of skills in many cases, often through workshops in arts, crafts, cooking, and sometimes even working in rice fields or elephant-handling. The tourist gets a takeaway in the form of either a handmade souvenir or newly acquired skills that they can use after returning home.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently allowed Facebook users to choose the Top 20 Creative Villages in Thailand from among the scores of outstanding candidates. These 20 villages are excellent examples of the best of creative tourism, and we will describe a number of them below to illustrate the concept and pique your interest.
Not far from Sukhothai is the Ban Rim Klong Community Enterprise, Samut Songkhram. It is located on the banks of a canal and thus perfect for growing coconut trees in abundance. This is probably the most delicious creative tourism destination of them all, given that the primary activity of this community is making coconut palm sugar, a critical ingredient in a number of superb Thai desserts.
One can stay in the homestay here, while watching, learning, and participating in the entire process of coconut palm sugar production, all done very naturally by the locals. This is a sometimes difficult, multi-step process, as you work gathering the sap, boiling it down, and then dropping the rich sugar onto plates. The best part comes at the end, when you get to enjoy the delicious desserts that you’ve created all the way from the coconut to the final treat.
Our next fascinating creative tourism destination lies a short couple hours west of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi: Ban Nong Kratoom Community in Rai Khun Mon. This destination will be of particular interest to travelers studying traditional medicine, natural herbs, and Thai massage.
Here, creative tourists participate in the process of making herbal compressed balls, Luk Pra Kob in Thai. You may have seen these or even had them dabbed on you while receiving a Thai herbal massage.
The balls are made by using a collection of selected herbs and sesame oil, and wrapping them up nicely inside cloth compresses. This visit gives one great insight into traditional Thai medicine and ancient wisdom passed down through the generations.
Another homestay for the traveling artists is the somewhat more well-known Homestay at Bencharong Village, Samut Songkhram. Here one can learn, and in fact create, the famous Bencharong five-color porcelain cups, plates, vases, and bowls.
These objets d’art are so beautiful that one has a difficult time choosing whether to use them, or simply show them off. In any event, you’ll surely have something to return home with after learning how to make and paint some of these exquisite pieces.
Artists will also want to explore some of the creative villages in Isan, or northeastern Thailand, including making pottery in Ban Chiang near Udon Thani, Thai silk in Chaiyaphum, or fine bamboo items in Kalasin, to name just three.
Creative mountain tourists who are interested in traditional cultures and ways of life will particularly enjoy the creative villages in northern Thailand, where you can learn everything from hilltribe embroidery to tea-making to even being a mahout, or certified elephant trainer.
The options for creative tourism are limited only by one’s imagination, given the diversity of the numerous creative villages throughout Thailand. Many of these are very small artisanal villages, and do not yet have any fancy websites or marketing gurus. This means that in many ways it is up to you to explore Thailand in greater depth, through which you will discover many of these creative gems yourself.
In the meantime, the TAT is endeavoring to popularize some of these creative opportunities for you to give you a place or two to start on www.mycreativetourismthailand.com, where you will find 20 excellent villages in which to find your feet – as well as your hands, mind, spirit, and heart.
For more information, please visit TourismThailand.org