I’d been to Chiang Mai countless times in the past, but when it came to thinking of an activity to share with my 60-year-old mother, my mind drew a blank. Packing a tent and going where the wind blows might be fine with friends, but for once, I needed a real plan. It was time to explore Ban Mae Kampong.
One of my friends mentioned Ban Mae Kampong as suitable for mature guests yet adventurous enough to keep the more youthful from nodding off. It’s a model community, awarded for their homestays, sustainable energy, and culture preservation, they told me.
I have to admit, I was initially a bit wary of visiting any villages – I’ve visited “authentic” villages in the past that seemed to exist for the very purpose of catering to tourists, which raised big picture cultural, economic and moral questions that I’m personally not comfortable with.
I scoured the internet for a tour company, and came across TravelThailandToday. We wanted arrangements for a private tour which would allow for some leeway in tweaking the itinerary depending on how the actual day unfolded.
TourChoice assured us that the tour guide can customize the tour to better suit my mother’s needs. I was also assured by the tour guide’s code of conduct and policy on responsible travel and support of cultural and environmental commitment.
To make a long story short, the trip was brilliant. The community nature of the village, where a portion of tourism proceeds go towards a central fund to support local activities, was a refreshing change from the dog-eat-dog viciousness of big city life.
The village is surrounded by lovely nature 1,300 meters above sea level and situated just an hour or so from Chiang Mai. The hillside setting was serene, as was the non-touristy nature of village life. What I took from the the trip to Ban Mae Kampong was a reminder of the gentler side of society and the tranquility of un-developed mother nature.
We arrived 30 minutes earlier than our set appointment with the local guide, so the driver and our guide decided we should stop off at Mae Kampong Waterfall. It was February, so the mountain air was moist, crisp and chilly (not much over 10°C, I reckon, compared to over 20°C in Chiang Mai city). An energizing start to the day which had just barely begun.
Wat Khan Ta Pruksa (a.k.a. the Mae Kampong Temple), where we were to meet our local guide. The temple was built in 1933, and the roof of the main hall (right), is turn to green with moss during rainy season.
Lin, one of the community’s association of local guides who was assigned to us for the day. She remembers a time when the village had no electricity; it wasn’t until a visit from H.M. The King of Thailand over 30 years ago that the village was able to enjoy water-powered energy.
This area near the temple is where pillows are stuffed with tea leaves (called “bai miang” in the local dialect).
The picturesque ordination hall, surrounded by water and shaded by trees, located just downstream from the cascade.
Stone vaults to keep tea leaves for six to 12 months to make into “yam miang” (a chew, taken with salt). This is one of three uses of single tea bushes, which are harvested four to five times a year; tips are for brewing tea, middle leaves for the chew, and mature leaves at the bottom for stuffing pillows.
The trek around the village was pleasant and relatively easy. Assam tea and Arabica coffee plants grow between various other trees on the slopes.
Clockwise from right: Thai plum tree; “bai saliam dong”, a plant whose leaves are used in “yam miang” and roots boiled to alleviate appetite loss; “dok kampong”, a native flower found on the banks of the waterfall stream (from where the village gets its name) which can be used as an herbal bath remedy for skin allergies.
Clockwise from top-right: Coffee plant seed, which must be washed to remove a slimy mucus then soaked in water for two nights before drying process; Arabica tree, harvested once a year in two separate batches between November and December; coffee beans kept in the sun for six or seven days.
One of the 25 homestay options in the village with a terrace view looking out over the village and surrounding mountains. A full board option is THB580 per guest per night, while THB520 gets you two meals a day. A portion of proceeds go towards supporting community activities.
A village coffee shop where you can sample the locally-grown tea and coffee and enjoy the panoramic views across the village from the wooden terrace.
Quiet quaint streets of the village, flanked with traditional wooden houses. There are over 130 homes in Baan Mae Kampong with a permanent population of just shy of 400.
An association of tea pillow makers produces tea leaf-stuffed pillows, cushions, and air neutralizers (pictured) in a variety of colors.
Clockwise from top-left: Bamboo strips soaking in the waterfall; bamboo strips alongside dried broom grass; a village painstakingly splitting bamboo into thin sheets; a complete sticky rice bamboo basket, one of which takes a full day to weave.
A filling lunch at a homestay: vegetable soup, omelette, chicken in oyster sauce, sweet gourd, plenty of rice, and two types of fruit.
Ban Mae Kampong is part of a 2D/1N trip offered by TravelThailandToday.com
For more info & booking, check out the tour here!