Based on the “Mae Fah Luang” project, under the royal patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and King Rama IX, ethnic communities in Chiang Rai province were provided with knowledge about growing coffee.
And thanks to this knowledge, the villagers have been able to change their lives and become more sustainable, while Chiang Rai’s coffee has earned a name for itself across the world.
This has also given rise to “coffee tourism”, which was initiated and operated by the Ban Pang Khon Tourism Group in order to extend the coffee lifestyle of the generation to be sustainable based on the idea of self-sufficiency.
Coffee is life
Intharit Wuyayaku, Ban Pang Khon village chief of Chiang Rai Muang district’s Huai Chomphu sub-district, said: “Coffee is our life because we use wood from coffee trees as firewood, our side dish is coffee, and when we are full, we rinse our mouth with coffee water. We then go to work to take care of the coffee tree and coffee-production process. So, if the price of coffee falls, our lives are over.”
He also talked about a push to launch coffee tourism to boost income.
“I noticed tourists coming to Ban Pang Khon to enjoy the cherry trees, and thought that if these trees bring people to the village in the winter, why not look for something new for them to do?
“So, I began hunting for information and attended many travel-related seminars, until I met Budsaba Sitthakarn, a full-time lecturer at Mae Fah Luang University. She advised me on tourism management and product development.”
The Pang Khon tourism group began a year ago and has been very active. Villagers have been improving their homes to offer homestays to tourists, while the elderly are being encouraged to use their skills to create trendy items for sale. As for youngsters, they too have been pulled in to make colourful pom-pom earrings and beautifully embroidered items. They are also being trained to keep the tourists safe.
“Tourism will help the younger generation return to focus on agriculture. After studying in the city, they do not seem to be that interested in farming, so I realised that encouraging them to travel will encourage youngsters to return to their inheritance.
“I used to work in Taiwan, and upon returning home, I created the famous Akha Noi brand by opening two cafes for children. I believe that I have done this for my family. I want to develop coffee on Doi Pang Khon to become more famous and am also pushing for coffee tourism in the cold season from the end of December to January, when the village is full of cherry trees,” he said.
As part of the coffee tourism programme, visitors will get to enjoy the beauty of the northern region, as well as experience the life of coffee planters and witness the process of making coffee, from drying and roasting until it is brewed and poured into a cup. The aroma of Doi Pang Khon coffee is distinctive with a caramel flavour and a slight blend of cinnamon that grows along with the coffee on top of the mountain.
“If the price of coffee falls, life will end because our village only grows coffee and cold-season fruit,” the village chief added.
The Pang Khon coffee shop on the foot of the Doi Pang Khon mountain was built with simple natural materials and is surrounded by trees, giving visitors a beautifully peaceful ambience to enjoy their cup of coffee.
The coffee is served by the local barista, an Akha girl with expertise in grinding, brewing and even creating beautiful latte art.
The cafe also offers souvenirs.
Emotions and experience
How does one create a different product when there is so much competition? Chiang Rai alone has 35 villages where coffee is grown. Budsaba, the person responsible for the Tea and Coffee Tourism Management Project, said everyone should value emotions – feelings that build one’s identity.
For instance, Baan Doi Ngam’s identity is living in harmony with forests and fields. There the spirit of agriculture is strong.
Ban Pang Khon, meanwhile, is charming with its cherry blossoms lining the roads leading to coffee terraces.
“The distinct point of Ban Pang Khon is that it is located in Muang district, and its strength is that the villagers are like friends who have grown up together,” she said.
The tourism season on Doi Pang Khon has started, and though the cherry blossoms have yet to bloom, the coffee plantations offer a great getaway.
The Nation (Thailand)/Asia News Network