The search for authenticity is central to postmodern traveling. Nobody, or almost nobody, wants to be the token tourist and be treated as a token tourist.
Many destinations around the globe are starting to figure that out. Instead of assuming that “rich Westerners” want to sleep at the Marriott and sample foreign culture only by sipping a “theme martini”, places like Thailand know that more and more travelers want to experience the authentic life average people of Thailand are living: feeding pigs, planting vegetables, harvesting fruits. Swapping places, if you will.
The Guardian has an interesting article about the “community tourism” phenomenon. The author spend time with the “mountain people” in Ja Bor in north west Thailand, a three-hour drive from Chang Mai “on a road of endless hairpin bends”.
Visitors apparently “stay in a local home mattresses on the floor with outside washing facilities or in a large dormitory-style building, and are fed lavish amounts of food from the villages ubiquitous rice fields, its fish farm, organic vegetable garden and from the nearby forest, nurtured by sparkling streams. Close to a waterfall is a delicate bamboo shrine to thank the spirits for carrying water to the rice fields. And then there is coffee production. Dried by the sun, roasted over an open fire and sifted on bamboo platters, this arabica coffee bears a Fairtrade label and gets sold to Starbucks.”
Aside from the Starbucks piece, it sounds blissful.