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.
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”.
“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.