The tremendous growth in the tourism sector, especially ecotourism centred on visitation and enjoyment of Mae Hong Son’s distinct and precious cultural and natural heritage has presented the province with a number of challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, tourism is generating significant foreign exchange earnings and fuelling local investment in tourism related services and infrastructure and creating jobs. On the other hand, partly because of the uneven capacity to plan for and manage tourism’s negative environmental and socio-cultural impacts, the resources underpinning the national tourism industry are in danger of being irrevocably damaged.
Ecotourism and community-based tourism have been identified as a sustainable alternative to mainstream tourism for the province. The project aims at strengthening these sectors in a holistic manner. It is implemented by the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute in close collaboration with UNDP and FAO.
In collaboration with the Provincial Office for Tourism and Sports, an ecotourism taskforce has been created. Composed of government, private sector and civil society stakeholders, it is developing criteria for a Mae Hong Son green map. These criteria will identify eco-friendly and culturally-sensitive suppliers of tourism goods and services – attractions, activities, local markets, communities, hotel, restaurants, transport, souvenirs shops, spas, projects.
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The project also builds up community-based tourism in 2 target communities: Muang Pon in Khun Yuam district and Muang Paem in Pang Ma Pa district. Through participatory consultations and cultural mapping, it provides helps communities identify their assets, which of these assets they would like to share with tourists and how. It also provide trainings to villagers and guides so that the tourism experience is maximized while possible negative impacts are controlled.
Muang Pon‘s people continue to lead a simple, Tai Yai way of life, celebrating traditional festivals, and maintaining their practice of Tai Yai ceremonies and performing arts. The vast majority of local people continue to practice Buddhism devoutly. They maintain a full 12 month calendar of important Buddhist ceremonies and festivals throughout the year. Muang Pon is also recognised for having preserved Tai Yai architecture to an exceptional level. Visitors can admire many beautiful, wooden houses, thatched traditionally, using large, flat ‘Tong Tung‟ leaves, collected from the forest. People use the gardens around their homes to plant edible fruits and herbs and to raise animals.
Muang Paem, Moo 5 of Tum Lod sub-district, is an ethnic Karen village, located inside the Pai Watershed Wildlife Sanctuary. With 140 households, it is a thriving, impressive village. Muang Paem is an attractive place, with many traditional Karen houses, with distinctive wooden planked walls, woven bamboo floors and thatched roves. The area is well known for world-class caves.