Only an hour away from Chiang Mai city centre, the scenic mountain village of Baan Mae Kampong offers a refreshing break from city life. Mae Kampong is also a shining example of community based tourism in action. The villagers at Mae Kampong have established a co-operative with the revenue brought into the village from tourism used to help local projects and preserve the community. This is achieved via a number of ecotourism initiatives and an award-winning homestay program.
Ecotourism in Mae Kampong
The residents of Mae Kampong want to preserve their way of life and have been adaptable in their approach to ecotourism. During the 1980s the community began growing coffee under the Royal Project. A decade later the villagers also took part in the government’s One Tambon One Product (OTOP) scheme. This involved each sub-district (or tambon) of a province producing a specialised product or service based on local skills and resources. The villagers decided to take advantage of the natural surroundings and mountain location and Mae Kampong became an ecotourism village with a homestay program enabling tourists to enjoy the pleasures of life here.
Environmental experts from Chiang Mai University have worked alongside the villagers at Mae Kampong to help establish various ecotourism initiatives. These projects resulted in new sources of income to help safeguard the future of the village and protect the forests. The old traditions are still maintained with villagers continuing to forage in the forests for bamboo, herbs and medicinal plants, but the emphasis is now on sustainability.
Homestay at Mae Kampong
Staying overnight at Mae Kampong is a wonderful way to enjoy northern Thai hospitality and learn more about life in the village. The current cost of a homestay in Mae Kampong is 400 Baht per night excluding food. Meals cost 80 Baht per person. Part of the money goes to the home owner and part to the village community fund. This community fund helps other local projects in Mae Kampong and ensures everybody in the community benefits. There are more than 20 homestay properties in Mae Kampong with each household obliged to meet official standards set by Thailand’s Department of Tourism. The number of homestays are also limited to prevent over-tourism and disruption to the successful co-operative scheme.
Many of the villagers at Mae Kampong are part of specific community groups. These groups help to preserve the old traditions and also help enrich the visitor experience. A group of musicians play local Thai instruments and often form part of the welcoming committee. To help visitors unwind there is a traditional Thai massage group, and to showcase some of the village traditions there is a bamboo weaving group.
Tea and coffee at Mae Kampong
Located around 1,300 metres above sea level, the air at Mae Kampong is cooler and the forests and mountain slopes well-suited for the cultivation of tea and coffee. The early settlers in this area were farmers attracted by the conditions for growing tea, which in turn was used to make a local delicacy known as ‘mieng‘. In rural north Thailand, locals chew mieng after meals or as an energy boost when working. The traditional way of preparing mieng is to steam tea leaves and add a mix of fat, garlic, salt, oil, and dried fish. The mixture is then left to ferment for a few months to produce mieng. It’s tastier than it sounds so be sure to try this local delicacy if you visit Mae Kampong.
Mieng is still popular among the older generation, but less so with a younger demographic. To counter the fall in demand, villagers now make aromatherapy pillows from dried tea leaves. Lightweight and easy to pack, these tea pillows make an unusual souvenir. The villagers are also working to develop more aromatherapy products using local herbs and flowers found in Mae Kampong.
How to get to Mae Kampong
Mae Kampong is located in the Mae On district of Chiang Mai province. The village is approximately 30 miles east of Chiang Mai city. As an overseas tourist, the easiest way to get to Mae Kampong and enjoy an overnight homestay is to contact a tour agent when you are in Chiang Mai or book online via Local Alike or Take Me Tour. If you have your own transport, homestays can also be booked via the Mae Kampong website.
Although getting to and from Mae Kampong by public transport is possible, it’s not straightforward. The trip involves taking a songthaew from Chiang Mai to Sankampaeng and then chartering another songthaew for private hire to take you up the mountain road to Mae Kampong.
Good to know
All visitors are made welcome at Mae Kampong, but limited English is spoken by most of the villagers. If you are travelling in the cool season months, temperatures at night and in the morning can drop to single figures so be prepared with some warm clothing. Blankets are provided at the homestay. If you’re planning on going on a hike into the forests at Mae Kampong, book a local guide at the village to go with you and pack a suitable pair of shoes or trainers and some insect repellant.