The village generates electricity from water, uses herbs as medicine and creates tourist activities from natural resources to entertain visitors staying overnight at villagers' homes.
Children enjoy a typical homestay activity at the village
The tasks are part of the homestay service that members of Mae Kampong village have run for 13 years, and their hard work is now paying off.
The homestay service has not only raised incomes for the 134 households of the community but also brought global recognition to the village located 1,300 metres above sea level and 50 kilometres from the centre of Chiang Mai city.
In 2010, Mae Kampong village won the Pacific Asia Travel Association's Gold Award in the culture category. Last month it received an award from the Tourism and Sports Ministry as the best role model for Thailand homestays.In addition, many scenes from the Chinese box-office smash Lost in Thailand were shot here.
"Now we can consider Mae Kampong a happy village after we've successfully turned it into an agricultural and ecotourism-based destination," said former village headman Teeramate Kajonpattanapirom, who supervises the homestay service.
The service generates a minimum of 2 million baht a year, plus more than 30,000 baht for each household taking part in the project.
Some 360 villagers live in Mae Kampong, located in Chiang Mai's Mae On district.
Community-based tourism here began in 1999 to deal with a decline in demand for fermented tea, providing an alternative source of income for local villagers who otherwise earn a living growing coffee and doing other manual labour.
The onset of tourism coincided with the state's plan for local communities to present an outstanding item under the One Tambon One Product scheme.
"We did not have a product for the competition, I told government officials," recalled Mr Teeramate, who is 67.
Officials suggested he propose the village as an eco-tourism spot rich in natural resources and culture with a tranquil atmosphere.
The advice inspired him to study tourism-related activities that would suit the village.
Better known locally as Pho Luang Prommin Phuangmala, Mr Teeramate, who finished only high school for his formal education, said he read many homestay articles in magazines and found the Kiriwong homestay in Nakhon Si Thammarat province quite interesting.
It became the model for Mae Kampong, which was brought into the One Tambon One Product scheme.
After joining the programme, villagers pooled their resources to build the necessary trappings such as a welcome arch and a wooden winding stairs with directions to the beautiful waterfall nearby.
In the beginning, seven households were available for homestay, and today 24 families are able to support the business, said Mr Teeramate.
The number of homestay providers remains small due to strict quality standards that ensure customers of clean and convenient accommodation as well as a friendly reception from homeowners.
The village is able to receive 4,000 travellers a year for homestay service excluding several visitors who drop in year-round. During their stay, guests can experience nature sports such as trekking, hill climbing and cycling while learning about the Lanna culture of the community. Other activities include learning how to pick and ferment tea leaves and enjoying locally grown coffee and traditional dishes.
Some 60% of visitors are Thai, and the average length of stay is two days. The accommodation fee is 100 baht per night per person plus 180 baht for three meals and additional service charges by the homeowner.
Service charges are outlined in advance and include 200 baht per group for furnishing a local guide. Visitors can also pay for a cultural performance and Bai Si Sukwan welcoming ceremony (1,500 baht) or a traditional music show (1,000).
On average, a homeowner receives income of 380 baht a night and the village about the same. Proceeds from homestay service go to supporting local activities.
The proportion breaks down to 30% for hydropower, 20% for village development, 25% for marketing and promotion, 15% for community welfare and 10% for village committee expenses.
Mr Teeramate said Mae Kampong promotes itself with frequent roadshows and trade shows held jointly with other villages.
Guests, especially foreigners, have posted good reviews on travel websites such as TripAdvisor.com, leading to various awards.
"Despite our achievement, we never stop developing our village to improve the lives of villagers," said Mr Teeramate.
"I hold meetings constantly to discuss issues such as how to dispose of waste and garbage properly.
"We want to be a role model for other villages, not only for homestays but also to show how to give back to society. As we generate revenue from natural resources, we also have to protect and look after them."
while local staff keep the operation running smoothly
About the author
- Writer: Chadamas Chinmaneevong