Buffalo Educational Travel in Thailand takes you to the mist shrouded mountains of Om Goi District in the northern province of Chiang Mai.
Om Goi, one of the most impoverished districts in Thailand, is located 180km south of Chiang Mai. It takes around 4 hours’ drive through rural countryside and mountain roads to reach the communities who live there. The population of around 62,000 is spread into 6 sub-districts and 95 villages. 95% of the local population belongs to ethnic Karen and the remaining 5% are from other ethnic tribes including Hmong, Lahu & Thai. The majority of villages are difficult to access.
The people of Om Goi have survived for centuries through migration, slash and burn agricultural techniques and subsistence from the thick forests of the remote highlands. Tighter conservation of Thailand’s rapidly depleted forests, however, has placed the minority cultures at a crossroads between their traditions and development. Educational travel groups have a role to assist villagers in creating alternative livelihoods and support for environmental conservation and cultural preservation.
BET is creating cooperative, community based tourism initiatives tasked with fighting poverty through development and supplemental income-generation. Initiated in 2013 in partnership with the villages and Om Goi District Authority we are using responsible tourism to allow local residents to earn supplemental income through providing services and products to visiting groups. They are eager to have guests discover their local traditions & cultures in unique and exciting ways – in short ‘to see the world through the eyes of another’.
An ongoing and frustrating aspect of village development is the promotion of clean water, sanitation and toilets. Om Goi Hospital has been working on this, yet progress in remote villages is slow. Most of the villagers know the benefits but do not change traditional habits, such as allowing pigs to roam free and defecate throughout the village area. Likewise, the lack of toilets means the majority of the growing population continues open-defecation. The Om Goi Hospital Director states it is extremely frustrating to cure children of intestinal problems, only to have them return home to unhygienic conditions. Changing habits is a slow and difficult process, particularly in remote villages, yet there is a strong need for better livestock handling, toilets and clean water supply.
BET has been working alongside the local communities and hospital on accessibility to healthcare through the international nursing placement programs. The major construction projects have focused on improving sanitation and access to clean water in the higher mountain homes and villages.
Om Goi is both culturally rich and stunningly beautiful, with cultural performance and trekking being a major part of any program.