Off the beaten track

Jo Moir heads to Thai­land with re­spon­si­ble travel company In­trepid.

The Press - Escape - - THAILAND -

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.

Pho­tos: IN­TREPID TRAVEL

At the ready: Mae Glong’s ven­dors must movetheir pro­duce from the the rail­way line six times a day when a train comes through.

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