Community tourism is a growing market as new generations of travellers seek more meaningful experiences from their leisure time.
A resident of Ban Lum Sum makes bamboo products.
Community-based tourism enables tourists to discover local habitats and wildlife and celebrate and respect traditional cultures, rituals and wisdom, while residents earn more income as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees.
For the residents at Ban Lum Sum in Sai Yok district, Kanchanaburi province, it is an opportunity for extra income to supplement farming.
Ban Lum Sum is full of historic sites, antiquities and diverse local culture. It kicked off its community tourism initiative in 2019, drawing 4,000 visitors in the first year of operation and generating 200,000 baht a month from sales of food and handicrafts made from bamboo.
Ban Lum Sum has 150 families and a population of 568. Some 90 families have their own farm, while 60 live without farmland.
Ban Lum Sum is located in a dry area near Sai Yok National Park. Villagers could not live in the forest after the park was established in 1979.
"Community tourism was started to let villagers see that it can earn them income, and they no longer have to rely on the forest as in the past," said Lawan Machiakchon, the village headwoman.
People in the community collaborate to design community tourism routes that link to the main tourism spots in the province, aiming to lure visitors.
The first tourism spot is the Death Railway, built during World War II by Allied prisoners and Asian labourers, as the Japanese army wanted a strategic route through Burma, as Myanmar was then known.
Ban Lum Sum in Kanchanaburi province is rich in verdant scenery.
Tham Krasae Railway Station is a popular stop, located on the cliffs near the railway and formerly a shelter for prisoners of war during its construction.
The second spot is the Captive Cave Museum, which displays the belongings of prisoners of war.
The third tourism spot is an Indian gooseberry orchard and organic farm at Ban Ngam Pu Plu, while the fourth is the return journey of the Death Railway, allowing visitors to explore "pling", equipment made of steel used to fasten timber together for bridge flooring for car conveyors during WWII. Japanese soldiers used this route to cross to Burma.
Other tourism spots feature ram klong-yao (long drum dance), which is performed solely for fun and relaxation on all festive occasions such as weddings and ordination ceremonies. This route celebrates upbeat folk music and bamboo handicrafts at Ban Lum Sum.
"We are very glad that we welcomed 4,000 visitors to our community last year," Mrs Lawan said. "We hope more visit our community this year because many agencies such as Government Savings Bank help us to develop tourism routes and recreation areas and upgrade the scenery, as well as train local guides and the villagers on how to improve their services to visitors."
Ban Lum Sum recently submitted a request to Siam Cement Group (SCG) to support the community in building tourism spots near the reservoir as a new attraction. The development is expected to start this year if SCG agrees to provide financial support.
Mrs Lawan said the community is also promoting villagers to grow trees and community forest to improve the environment. She said the community initiated community tourism because villagers wanted to sell their bamboo products to outsiders to earn extra income.
Lawan Machiakchon (ninth from left), village headwoman of Ban Lum Sum.
Bamboo weaving is a lifeline industry for the community. The villagers weave bamboo strips into multi-purpose mats (fueak) that are sold and distributed nationwide.
In the past, fueak mats were the core business generating income for the community because the area is rich in bamboo. The community set up an enterprise in 2004 to make fueak and other products from bamboo waste.
The community has also undergone training from the Royal Forest Department and Kanchanaburi Rajabhat University to produce handicrafts from bamboo waste.
Previously the bamboo waste from fueak production was thrown away, totalling four tonnes a month. One tonne is now used to make valuable handicrafts, while three tonnes is burned.
The villagers also create unique eco-friendly products for souvenirs such as photo frames, wooden boxes, trays, chairs, tables and flower pots.
Community enterprises have 30 members who earn 3,000-4,000 baht a month. Most members are low-income earners, the elderly and women.
"We expect to see more visitors to our community this year who will buy more bamboo products," Mrs Lawan said.
Souvenirs for sale in the village.