Off the beaten track
Jo Moir heads to Thailand with responsible travel company Intrepid.
governments running countries in a way that Intrepid doesn’t agree with, but, ‘‘if you’re going to stop going to China because of human rights issues, you could argue you shouldn’t travel in Australia either because is it any better with Aborigines?’’ Drugs and prostitution are big tourist markets in some countries Intrepid travels to and there is a zero-tolerance policy for either.
‘‘We will kick travellers out of the tour if we find out about it.’’
Travelling through Thailand means having an understanding of the customs that make it such a special place to visit. Intrepid local leader Soon Hombuayai thoroughly explains to all her travellers a few key nogo areas that allow them to enjoy the country without offending anyone.
Always keep your feet low and never touch a Thai adult’s head or hair, says Soon.
‘‘The head is considered the centre of the soul – the only exception to this is children, who are fine to pat on the head.’’
Public displays of affection are frowned upon and the royal family in Thailand is very highly respected, ‘‘so never use your foot to stop a coin if you drop it on the ground, as that’s the equivalent of stomping on the king’s head’’. Feet shouldn’t be used to point to things either.
There are more than 34,000 temples in Thailand and covering up shoulders and legs is a must at all times.
Food is such a massive part of Thai culture that Intrepid has created a separate foodie tour package, which incorporates visits to a number of markets, many of which are free of the hustle and bustle found at most of the tourist-ridden floating markets.
The Mae Glong railway market near Bangkok is set up on railway tracks, which means vendors have to quickly move their produce when they hear a train approaching and then put it all back again once it’s been through.
This happens about six times a day and often there is very little warning.
The railway market is the only one of its kind in Thailand and vendors have been selling on the train tracks since 1984.
It started because there were too many vendors in the city, so they began to move out near the tracks.
Not far from there is a hidden gem, Tha Kha floating market, which for more than 100 years has been opening on particular days depending on the lunar cycle.
Here many locals walk along the canals to buy produce and there is also the option to board a boat and explore the waterways and witness local industry firsthand.
A popular stop is watching the coconut palm sugar process take place. It’s hot and heavy work, yet right in the middle doing the hard yards is 63-year-old Pa La, a second-generation palm sugar farmer who has been in the business since she was 15.
Further north on the outskirts of Chiang Mai is a town called Mae On and, in a small village of about 350 people, Bo san Kha, a quaint retreat called Aoi’s Homestay.
Here you can visit a local mushroom farm and the rice paddy fields where rural folk are found tending to the fields and feeding animals. In the heat of the day you’ll find Pee On scooping tadpoles for dinner.
At Aoi’s, travellers get the chance to experience the Thai family way of life, from sleeping on the floor on a small mattress to a traditional cooking class where Aoi explains where ingredients come from and all their different uses.
Inevitably it ends with far too much food, which is shared with the family while the children of the village perform local music and dance.
Fragrant feast: Someof traditional dishes travellers learn to create at Aoi’s Homestay.
At the ready: Mae Glong’s vendors must movetheir produce from the the railway line six times a day when a train comes through.