What the slum has to share

THE TOURISM AU­THOR­ITY IS PRODDING PEO­PLE TO VISIT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS AND BE SUR­PRISED BY KLONG TOEI

The Nation - - FRONT PAGE - PATTARAWADEE SAENGMANEE

IF YOU’VE never been to the Klong Toei district of Bangkok – most but not all of which con­sti­tutes Thai­land’s big­gest slum – your chance has ar­rived to see it as a tourist.

It is not at all what you might have been led to ex­pect.

Klong Toei is among the sev­eral dozen com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try where tourism is be­ing pro­moted so that peo­ple can see dif­fer­ent ways of life and dif­fer­ent as­pects of cul­ture in this di­verse land.

The Tourism Au­thor­ity of Thai­land and travel agen­cies Lo­cal Alike, KTC World, AirAsia Jour­ney D and Take Me Tour have mapped out 25 “eco-cul­tural” tours for a cam­paign called “Once as a Tourist”, part of the “Amaz­ing Thai­land Unseal Lo­cal” project.

In all, there are 42 com­mu­ni­ties in 15 prov­inces await­ing vis­i­tors for quick hops or three-day home­s­tays, each place of­fer­ing its own unique kind of fun and chances to learn.

Baan Laem in Nakhon Si Tham­marat has “Once as a Mud Man” that in­volves a pleas­ant cruise to Ao Thong Kham (Golden Bay) for a mud bath, cook­ing class and a hike through a man­grove for­est.

Baan Nong San and Na Chueng in Sakon Nakhon have “Once as a De­signer” with work­shops on indigo dying tech­niques and tra­di­tional silk weav­ing.

For “Once as a Hill Tribe”, Baan To Phae in Mae Hong Son dresses guests in Tai Yai ap­parel, the bet­ter to ex­plore the lo­cal his­tory and have fun mak­ing hand­i­crafts.

Tourism Au­thor­ity Gover­nor Yuthasak Su­pa­sorn says the aim is to pro­mote sus­tain­able tourism in lesser­known com­mu­ni­ties and help their res­i­dents earn ex­tra in­come.

“To­day’s younger trav­ellers want to find new ex­pe­ri­ences, not just stay in a ho­tel,” he says, “and the ‘Once as a Tourist’ cam­paign will meet that de­mand.

“It will be a chan­nel that con­nects trav­ellers with com­mu­ni­ties and give vil­lagers a chance to pro­mote their lo­cal wis­dom and way of life, while trav­ellers will have the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple new things and get closer to na­ture.”

Bangkok’s Klong Toei – for so long avoided by tourists be­cause of its no­to­ri­ety over drug abuse and other crimes – has a rosier as­pect these days. Its “Once as a Hero” pro­gramme en­tails a 90-minute walk­ing tour of three com­mu­ni­ties within the district, with the cu­ri­ous names 70 Rai, Lock1-2-3 and Lock 4-5-6.

Klong Toei’s jum­ble of ram­shackle hous­ing sprawls across 400 rai be­long­ing to the Port Au­thor­ity of Thai­land and is home to about 3,800 fam­i­lies.

San­chai Yum­san, head of a chil­drenand-youth project for the Duang Pra­teep Foun­da­tion, lives there and serves as a guide and is quick to dis­miss the idea that this is Bangkok’s un­holy un­der­belly.

“It’s no longer the dark side of the cap­i­tal,” he says. “Peo­ple think we’re still all rude, dan­ger­ous trou­ble­mak­ers, but ev­ery­thing has changed. There’s no drug traf­fick­ing here anymore. We want to in­vite tourists into our homes so they can learn about the ways of our com­mu­nity. We guar­an­tee their safety!”

The district’s 20,000 in­hab­i­tants mostly work as labour­ers and rent their homes on a yearly ba­sis for Bt1,500 to Bt2,000.

With the help of Lo­cal Alike, the Klong Toei tours be­gan in 2015 and have proved pop­u­lar with govern­ment of­fi­cials and univer­sity stu­dents, both lo­cal and for­eign, who are in­volved in or study­ing com­mu­nity devel­op­ment.

An­other guide, Nattha­nun Sae Lee, 54, says res­i­dents have been ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Port Au­thor­ity for a decade about en­croach­ment is­sues. The au­thor­ity wants ev­ery­one moved out by 2021, so they have to find a new place to set­tle. “We hope they’ll al­lo­cate new space or pro­vide some other so­lu­tion,” he says.

Forty sois criss-cross 70 Rai, with gro­ceries, beauty sa­lons and eater­ies seem­ingly on ev­ery cor­ner. Right at the heart of the com­mu­nity is the Chao Po Phra Pradaeng Shrine, built in 1985, where res­i­dents beg favours of the spir­its.

A short walk from there is the head­quar­ters of the Sukkha Asia Foun­da­tion, which wel­comes vis­i­tors to its Mi­raibrary on the ground floor. It’s a cre­ative space for young­sters and has thou­sands of ed­u­ca­tional books in English, Burmese, Cam­bo­dian and Thai. Vol­un­teers lead free classes in sto­ry­telling class.

At Duang Pra­teep Kin­der­garten, the lit­tle ones are learn­ing to med­i­tate. More than 200 young­sters spread through seven mixed-age class­rooms are be­ing given a Montes­sori ed­u­ca­tion, which em­pha­sises self-di­rected ac­tiv­i­ties, hands-on learn­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive play.

In the com­mu­nity des­ig­nated as Lock 4-5-6, stu­dents crowd into a bar­ber­shop for Bt10 hair­cuts. A health cen­tre doles out free treat­ments ev­ery Mon­day.

A stroll along a dis­used rail­way track takes us to the home of Prachum Prasert, 74, who ev­ery­one calls Grandma. Cheer­ful and friendly, she shows us how to make bands of coloured rib­bon to wrap around flower gar­lands. She’s been mak­ing them to order for five years, earn­ing Bt60 for ev­ery clutch of 100 rib­bons.

The tour ends in Lock 1-2-3, pro­ceed­ing along nar­row al­leys that of­fer up­close glimpses of the res­i­dents’ daily lives and end­ing at a gro­cery store ready with re­fresh­ing drinks.

The pack­age tours across Thai­land range in price from Bt1,500 to Bt4,000 and can be booked at Lo­cal Alike, KTC World, AirAsia Jour­ney D, Take Me Tour, Thai Tick­et­ma­jor and Si­amRise Travel.

Find out more at www.Touris­mThai­land.org/UnsealLo­cal.

Res­i­dents of Bangkok’s densely pop­u­lated Klong Toei district fre­quent the Chao Po Phra Pradaeng Shrine when in need of a lit­tle spir­i­tual help.

Kids can find the an­swers they seek in the books at the Mi­raibrary, which also hosts fun ac­tiv­i­ties.

Apart from free treat­ments ev­ery Mon­day, the health cen­tre in the Lock 4-5-6 com­mu­nity fea­tures a play­ground for kids.

Vis­i­tors stroll along a rail­way line that once trans­ported freight in and out of the port.

The lo­cal bar­ber is usu­ally busy thanks to hair­cuts priced at an un­beat­able Bt10.

“Grandma” Prachum Prasert makes a liv­ing craft­ing rib­bon strips for flower gar­lands.

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