The drive to the Baan Tong village is winding and the scenery is eye-catching, even while sitting in the back of a red tourist truck. The brochure I was given to look at didn’t give a lot of information in English. It basically showed photos of various different hill tribe women in their tradition dress. I was curious. However, that curiosity started to subside when I arrived.

After climbing out of the truck, I made my way to the gate. I was more than Midly surprised to find out that admission, yes, ADMISSION- to Baan Tong Luang was 500 Baht ($16). I should have refused, climbed back into the truck and demanded to leave. I didn’t. I was hot and tired and my arse was numb. In other words, I was weak!

I reluctantly paid the fee and walked inside. Before my eyes were huts made of wood with dried grass roofs, long bright green grass, green hills in the background, children running around and wait, are those shops? As I walked closer I found out that yes, each and every hut was a shop. I just rode in the back of a truck, and paid 500B to wander through shops. To say I was disappointed is a slight understatement.

Baan Tong Luang Village

As I wandered through the small villages I couldn’t help but think that these women and families were being exploited. Some were quite pleasant to interact with, but it’s an encounter with one woman that still disturbs me.

As I slowly meandered through the village I stopped at several porches to view what they were selling. On this particular porch was a woman in tradition dress (they all were), along with her infant (about 9 mths old) and I assume her husband. I smiled as I looked and she was very friendly. However, as I walked away without buying something she started getting angry with the baby and saying things I couldn’t understand. I told myself that perhaps the child had done something wrong and kept walking. On my way back through (I had to walk past the same hut to get to the exit) I passed the same hut. As I came into view the woman was once again pleasant and nice, however as I kept walking she became angry and started to scold the baby again. Why? The baby had done nothing wrong.

I’ve discussed this incident with a few travelers here in Chiang Mai. I can’t help but wonder why these villages are open to the public. Why is there an admission fee? Why is every hut a shop? Why did I see people eating, but nobody cooking? Are they free, or are they refugees forced to do what they’re doing?

Thailand is a wonderful country. I love it. However, there are areas that exploit people or animals for the sake of the almighty tourist dollar, and like lemmings, we give it to them without a fight. A thai tour guide invites us to visit a village so we can see locals and we think “OOooo, that would be so fun!” But there’s an admission fee. What local village charges an admission fee?

On the same day that I was suckered into visiting Baan Tong Luang, a tour guide tried to get me to go to Bo Sanng.

“You want, I take you to Bo Sang. Handicap village, make very good umbrella”.

“No thank-you.”

“You go see the handicap.”

Seriously? Going to a handicap village to buy an umbrella is a tourist attraction? When in the hell did this happen? No, I do not want to pay to see handicap people and look at umbrellas. I want to beat to death the person in charge of exploiting these poor people!

I felt much the same way when I visited the Tiger Kingdom. I was surprised by the price (550 Baht to see a small tiger for 10 mins!), and how docile the tigers were. Sure, it was hot and midday, but lazy ass tigers wasn’t sitting well with me. When I asked the handler he said it was because they were sleepy. Um, yea, sleepy. After my 10 mins, I was leaving the cage as the same handler joked that it was lunch time, and the tigers were very hungry. Oh yea, they sure looked hungry passed out in the corner of the cage!

 

I know there is a lot of controversy about the Tiger Kingdom and how the tigers have been drugged. I didn’t see them drug the animals, but I did observe them being extremely docile. As I walked around I came to a roped off part of the path. When I looked beyond the ropes I saw small cages with very active tigers inside. Now, why are they active, but the ones in the really large cages that interact with tourists are docile? I leave you to answer that question for yourself.

If you’re looking for local experiences while you’re in Thailand, without paying an admission fee- why don’t you check out projects like the Free Bird Cafe in Chiang Mai or other charity projects. There are tons of things to see and do in Thailand that don’t involve money and or exploiting people and animals.

I’m not going to be the person who tells you to not go somewhere and make you think you’re an evil person if you do. I’m just sharing my personal opinion and views from my own experiences. Sometimes it’s best to ignore the advice of others and discover the truth for yourself. I totally get that. You need to do what is right for you. Just remember to go with open eyes.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

Related Posts

7 Responses

  1. GotPassport

    Excellent points Pam. And yes, come to Free Bird Cafe while in Chiang Mai. A legit organization.. we’ve already checked it out and volunteer there. We welcome more, volunteers and donations that is! 🙂

    Hope you have a great trip back to BKK, and the rest of your journey until we see you again in November. Sorry we didn’t have a proper “see ya later” Sunday evening.

    We look forward to your return.

    Reply
  2. Tweets that mention Visiting Baan Tong Luang Village | Spunkygirl Monologues -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ArtofBackpacking, Nightlife Vibe and Pamela MacNaughtan, Pamela MacNaughtan. Pamela MacNaughtan said: Visiting Bann Tong Luang Village & other exploits in Thailand… #travel #rtw […]

    Reply
  3. ayngelina

    It’s tough, sometimes you don’t know somewhere is a scam until you go there. But thanks for passing on your experiences, even the negative ones as they help the rest of us.

    Reply
    • Pamela

      I really don’t like the word “scam” as this would imply that everyone (with the exception of the tourist) is on the ‘take’, which is not the case with Baan Tong Luang Village. It’s basically exploitation of refugees who have no other choice. They either participate or get sent back to their home country.

      Reply
  4. Ciara

    We visited the tiger Kingom first thing in the morning as recommended and the cubs were really playful and happy, they were all up jumping around, wrestling each other and were interested in us, I guess it just depends on when you go!

    Reply
  5. JT

    Although everyone is entitled to their own opinion, there are some important points to note…they charge an admission to the village to help these people live! Aside from their crafts that they sell, they are not allowed to get other “Thai” jobs. They live incredibly poor and most are refugees from Myanmar. It is a privilege to be able to get a glimpse of how these people live whether it appears to be staged or not.

    My experience at Tiger Kingdom was great with the big cats romping in their pool and occasionally lounging about in the hot midday.

    Furthermore, your guide was offering to take you to the HANDICRAFT village! Not handiCap!! It is an area outside of Chiang Mai where there are factories and you can see how they make umbrellas, silk products, etc…

    A little local research before you blog can be enlightening!

    Reply
    • Pamela MacNaughtan

      Agreed! This post was from way back in 2010, many things have changed since then, including my understanding of Thai culture, tourism etc. Thanks for your comment. I have been meaning to update posts, and clearly this one needs to be moved higher on the list. I would not, however, encourage anyone to visit Tiger Kindom, ever. It looks cool. I’ve done it, but I wish I had not.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: