The nice lady in the photo above is selling brooms in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The photographer, Flickr user LadyExpat, explains that most broom sellers ride bikes, but this lady seemed to prefer to walk. Here in Istanbul, all manner of products are sold on the street, from carts and off the backs of men hawking fruit, corn, and brooms as well. I’ve yet to buy a broom on the street and wonder who would, but I love having the option. While international megastores are becoming more ubiquitous, it’s nice to see an old-fashioned sales method on the street.
Want a rubdown on your next visit to Thailand? Of course you do – a massage is often a vital part of any vacation.
For 150 bhat, or $6, you’ll enjoy an hour-long treatment at Lila Thai Massage in Chiang Mai. What makes this special? Your therapist is a former inmate from the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison. This budget spa employs former inmates as part of a work rehabilitation program.
All therapists have had 180 hours of training while in prison, about half of what is required in the United States to become a licensed therapist (300 to 1,000 contact hours are usually required for U.S. therapists). Still, services, performed in a spa environment, are more upscale for the price, which is comparable to what you’d typically pay for a street massage. The spa also offers oil treatments, foot therapy and facials, as well as a variety of package options.
[Flickr via Hanumann]
Even animals like to keep clean. It’s something that this elephant, captured by Flickr user Gus NYC, has clearly taken to heart. Gus caught this wonderful candid moment in Chiang Mai, Thailand just as this pachyderm was enjoying a good soak along with its keeper. The splash of water caught mid-stream and the elephant’s relaxed pose are both humorous and eye-catching.
You know what they say…”take only pictures, leave only memories.” But what if you want to take it home with you? That searing pad ka prow that leaves a film of sweat on your brow, a fragrant bouillabaisse, schnitzel so thin and crisp it practically floats?
What you need is a cooking class, from one of the many resorts, hotels, or cruises offering full or half-day demonstration and hands-on programs that let you recreate regional specialties. Depending upon the class, you might find yourself shopping at the local market for ingredients, visiting wineries, or truffle hunting.
In the Southwest, Inn on the Alameda joins up with the Santa Fe School of Cooking for “Muy Sabrosa,” a package demo class/lunch, and two nights stay, including breakfast, daily wine and cheese reception, and $40 gift certificate to Mucho Gusto cafe. Rates start $376 for two and dates are available throughout the year.
In Jamaica, Jake’s Island Outpost offers private lunch classes utilizing local ingredients, and featuring traditional dishes like “run down,” for just $20 a pop. Farmers often visit Jake’s to sell their produce, while fisherman pull up onto the beach each day, so guests can cook with with freshly-caught seafood. Crystal Cruises has hands-on classes on all Wine & Food sailings, which feature guest celebrity and award-winning chefs, winemakers, and mixologists. Each trip has a theme, such as sushi or Latin American food.
In Europe, Park Hyatt Hamburg has classes focused on seasonal ingredients such as spring asparagus, or cooking a Christmas goose. An October 16 class features quinces, apples, and pears from the “Old Land,” Europe’s largest fruit orchard, just outside of the city. Students will use the fruit to make braised venison with porcini. At Hotel Crillon le Brave, a charming boutique property in the Provence countryside, class participants this fall can immerse themselves in five, half-day intensives, including excursions to local markets, and the aforementioned truffle hunting. In Switzerland, La Réserve Genève’s chef lets guests in on his professional secrets during his Chef Workshops, each based on a different dish or theme, such as fresh pasta, or chocolate.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand, are famed for their cooking schools and classes. Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa lets students choose from one of four set menus in their half-day program, which includes a guided tour/shopping expedition of the Chiang Saen food market. Over in Abu Dhabi, Desert Islands Resort & Spa, on verdant Sir Bani Yas Island, offers the unusual experience of Arabic cooking classes, where students learn to prepare dishes like moutabel, and prawns haram.
Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Southeast Asia is modernizing rapidly. These days, malls line the streets of Thailand and WiFi signals and cell phones blanket the cafes of Vietnam. But that doesn’t mean the ways of the “Asia of old” have vanished – in fact, in the mountainous northern regions of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, a patchwork of hill tribe minorities survive by largely traditional means, subsisting on farming in remote villages. Southeast Asian visitors have a unique chance to learn and help these people through numerous activities, ranging from multi-day hikes to volunteering their time or simply acquiring locally-produced one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Whether you’re trekking through the pastoral landscapes of Myanmar, helping school kids with their daily English lesson in Laos or shopping for handmade textiles in Thailand, getting in touch with Southeast Asia’s ethnic minority tribes has never been easier or more enjoyable. And though the exploitation of indigenous groups remains a problem, there are increasing signs that tourism offers a great way to help these groups survive and prosper in the years ahead.
Ever wanted to sleep in a traditional village under a blanket of shooting stars? Help a child learn to read English? Drink moonshine with a tribal chief? Keep reading below for our South by Southeast guide to the hill tribes of Southeast Asia.
What is a “Hill Tribe?”
Southeast Asia is home to numerous ethnic minority groups, including tribes like the Hmong, Pa-O, Akha and Montagnards among many others. Though each of these groups encompasses a unique set of customs, beliefs and habits, typically the groups inhabit high-altitude mountain regions too difficult for traditional agriculture. The history of relations between the governments of Southeast Asia and these tribes has not always been pleasant, ranging from outright conflict to racism and deportation. There is, however, a silver lining, as a thriving tourism industry has provided these groups with a new means of economic improvement and sustainability.
- Trekking – the range and quality of trekking opportunities in Southeast Asia is exploding. Typically a “trek” will provide visitors with a multi-day hike through wilderness, a stop at a traditional village and sometimes a homestay. Though there are hundreds of trekking hotspots across the region, some of our favorites are Kalaw in Myanmar, Luang Nam Tha in Laos and Sapa in Vietnam.
- Volunteering – offering your time and talents in a hill tribe village can be a particularly rewarding experience and a great way to move beyond “just visiting.” Check out organizations like Big Brother Mouse in Laos and Starfish Ventures in Thailand.
- Night Markets – another great way to explore the hill tribe cultures of Southeast Asia is by buying their affordable handmade products. From wildly colorful textiles to elaborate carvings, hill tribe crafts are unparalleled in their quality and detail. Check out the night markets in cities like Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang, where sellers offer all manner of fantastic finds.
Doing It Right
Everywhere you look in Southeast Asia, someone is trying to offer you a tour to visit authentic local cultures. But not all visits are created equal. In some cases, the tours are organized without the tribes’ permission. Even worse, in more popular areas literally hundreds of visitors pass through a village in a given day. The tours feel less like an authentic cultural experience and more like an opportunity to stare at “those strange tribe people.” It’s important if you’re going to experience a hill tribe you do so in a sustainable way and with an organization that ensures the tribes benefit from your visit. Check out companies like Green Discovery in Laos and Akha Hill House in Thailand for good examples.
Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.