Saturday Ban Talae Nok, one of the local villages, had a community tourism group meeting. After working individually with many of the local tourism stakeholders, I joined the meeting to observe the community more holistically.
Six people from Andaman Discoveries attended the Saturday evening community meeting. We shared a van for the 40 minute drive north from Kuraburi. Ban Tale Nok is a seaside fishing village in Ranong Province. The village is small, home to just over 200 Muslim Thais. Most of the villagers are related, as they are a somewhat isolated community. To reach Ban Talae Nok one must drive 8 kilometers west from the main highway. The road winds through palm oil and rubber plantations, and over a small mountain. The village is tucked into the base of the hills with several hundred feet of flat earth separating homes from the beach and mangroves.
The 2004 tsunami devastated Ban Talae Nok, which originally sat closer to the ocean. Andaman Discoveries was initially the North Andaman Tsunami Relief Organization (NATR). After two years of relief work, NATR became Andaman Discoveries so they could facilitate community-based tourism. Supplementary tourism income is used to fund community development and conservation projects. NATR bringing fresh vegetables into Ban Talae Nok after the disaster created the friendly working relationship between Andaman Discoveries and the village.
Throughout my interviews, people expressed frustration with how as a community-based tourism group they needed to be inclusive. However, certain homestay hosts were not maintaining the same high level of hygiene standards as the other hosts. Low standards in some homes reflected badly upon the entire village. The meeting showed how communal action could better redress individual frustrations.
Guest feedback was a major meeting topic. The main village coordinators stressed how they wished for all the guides and homestay hosts to meet high standards. There was a lot of nervous laughter as scores for individual houses were read aloud, and applause when one host received tens on all measures. To help bring the lagging homestays up to par the group decided to conduct a tour of all the homestays. This morning all the hosts went as a group to the other homes, and using the homestay guidelines from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) evaluated the other houses. This way no one felt individually singled out, and hosts received constructive advice from an impartial source (the TAT recommendations).
15 local men and women attended the meeting. Everyone contributed to the two hour meeting at some point. No one tried to speak over others. Even potentially contentious topics, like the “creative accounting” and “mystery money” of one group member, were discussed without rancor.
Kathy and I spent Saturday night at a village homestay, then returned to Kuraburi the next morning. The other four from Andaman Discoveries stuck around for another two days for guide training. After breakfast we got a ride out to the main road from one of the community coordinators’ son. I knew he was young, but responsible. I’d been told he was a good driver, but as I entered the truck I still had to ask “ajut tow rai? How old are you?” His response of “song sip, twelve,” only made me laugh. He drove us — very safely — the 8 kilometers to the main highway where we were to flag down a bus back to Kuraburi.
The two blonde farang spent 20 minutes waiting on the roadside. Every passing car needed to roll down their windows for a better look. We received a lot of horn honks, thumbs up, and “hello farang, hello!” A few minutes before the bus was due to arrive a car screeched to a halt 10 meters down the road from us. Like the start of a horror movie, the car then sped backward until it was directly in front of Kathy and me. Puzzled, we watched the tinted windows. The driver allowed a dramatic pause before rolling a window down and asking “where you go?”
“Ok, I go Phuket. I can give ride.”
Kathy and I shared a quick silent debate before shrugging and entering the car. There were two of us after all. Our driver was a very nice man from Phuket. He was a little bored on the long drive from Ranong to Phuket, so he picked us up for a little English practice.