Across the world, it’s been a tough few years for anybody working in the tourism industry. And in Thailand, a country where tourism plays such an important role in the economy, it’s been especially hard. But Thailand is now open and welcoming visitors. And in this article, travel blogger and former Phuket resident, Jenny Littlewood, visits a local community in Phuket to highlight a side of the island that many tourists may not be aware of.
There’s more to Phuket than lazing around on fabulous beaches all day. Five communities across the island are bouncing back after two years devoid of tourism and are inviting us to join them to Live Like Locals. Each community offers a different immersive program. You will be welcomed to homes and livelihoods to learn about their culture, traditions and working lifestyles. The Thai people will have a beaming smile to see you and tasty local food will be a memorable part of your day. So if you are looking for a way to be generous with your holiday Baht and would like to support local families, then consider spending a few hours of your time in Phuket enjoying community-based tourism.
Meet and greet
Khun Sontaya, aka Tiki, cuts a striking figure as he arrives at my hotel driving his red 150cc tricycle and wearing a stylish waistcoat and broad-brimmed hat. He offers freshly picked coconuts to drink while we chat about the day ahead. Tiki, the head of the Bang Tao-Cherngtalay Community, tells us that his community is comprised mostly of Muslim and Hakka Chinese residents. Farming and fishing have always played a significant part in the livelihoods of locals and today’s visit will introduce us to their traditional ways of living.
Visiting the Bang Tao-Cherngtalay Community
What if I’d been born into a fishing family in Bang Tao? It’s hard not to compare lives fleetingly met. The fishing boats arrive at the village with a dawn chorus of chatter. After an eight hour shift on the Andaman Sea they haul their catch, caught with hook and nets, up the beach.
A lady effortlessly squats sorting fish. Even trying to manoeuvre into that squat hover position just above the slippery skating rink of glistening fish is a trick I’ll never master. The Thai lady holds up a long eel-like fish, but I don’t know my barracuda from my butterfish. I raise my eyebrows; I don’t know what type of fish it is, but I’m impressed. We are witnesses to a slick operation. Amidst a flurry of fish quickly chosen, weighed and sold to the waiting restaurant buyers, this is a life far removed from mine.
Laem Sing viewpoint
Our first stop is a hilltop overlooking the sparkling turquoise Andaman Sea. Tiki points out Laem Sing Beach below and how to access it. This is the kind of off the beaten track places that most tourists will never find by themselves and I’m struck by the beauty and what an amazing part of the world this is to live.
Bang Tao fishing village
Travelling further up the hill and past the popular Surin Beach, we find a quiet laneway into the fishing village. It is picture postcard perfect with calm waters and colourful longtail boats. A motley collection of fishing boats and their paraphernalia of anchors and fishing nets lie strewn across the soft sands. I’m glad we had help choosing and buying our catch of the day earlier as I wouldn’t know where to start. Tiki has this covered for us and we drop the fish at a nearby restaurant ready to be cooked for our lunch when we return later.
Muslim village organic farm
I love the drive through the backstreets into an area I have never ventured. Behind the mosque is a maze of tiny streets. Next stop is an organic farm where we find ducks and turkeys in a pen with a random taxi sign above. A few scrawny chickens seem to be living the good life with deluxe accommodation of baskets suspended amongst the cool bushes to lay their eggs.
We travel onwards to the rubber plantation to meet Khun Lab and learn about the rubber industry in Phuket. Born in Bang Tao, the 81-year-old started learning his trade when he was only 11. Khun Lab caresses the gnarled grooved tree trunks and as he does so, he proudly tells us this way of work has paid for his three children to go to university.
Bang Hod goat farm
Grandma Hod is in charge at the award winning Bang Hod Goat Farm. When we visit, she invites her grandson to demonstrate goat handling. The 10-year-old quietly handles the lively goats with great composure. I’m keeping my distance as one cheeky chappy kid has already had a good chomp out of the bottom of my rattan beach bag. The goat quietens, soothed by being milked by a young pro. Apparently, the hard part is teaching the tourists. Have you ever tried milking goats? Me neither, so here’s your chance.
Banquet beachfront lunch
We end our day back at Bang Tao beach for a banquet meal cooked at See Sea Restaurant. Mamma Bat comes out to share in our delight at our delish fish meal. Her absolute beachfront restaurant is newly reopened after almost two years of closure and she is happy to see the tourists back.
Join a Live Like Local experience in Phuket
What a fantastic program this is. I do urge everyone visiting Phuket to spend a day exploring life beyond the beach and take this opportunity to Live Like Locals. The program offers a window into a life not easily found by overseas tourists. The Bang Tao-Cherng Talay community opens their doors and allows visitors unique access to learn and experience a local way of life. Tiki has a number of local businesses who are signed up to offer a Live Like Locals experience. Each business is remunerated for a visit and tours can be varied according to availability and interests of those attending.
In addition to the community at Bang Tao-Cherngtalay, trips can be arranged to experience the local way of life at other locations in Phuket including Ban Tha Chat Chai, Ko Lone, and Phuket Old Town. Prices vary depending on the activities and location.
My tour of Baan Bangtao-Cherngtalay was 850 Baht per person. There is also an option for a boat tour and snorkelling at Ko Wae (shown in the video at the top of this page) for an additional 2,000 Baht. I booked my experience via my hotel, MIDA Grande Phuket, but you can also contact Khun Tiki directly:
Baan Bangtao-Cherngtalay community-based tourism
Tel: +66 (0) 62 228 7896
Jenny visited Baan Bangtao-Cherngtalay in April 2022 when Thai authorities still required travellers to wear face masks, but that requirement was dropped in June 2022.
Photos by Jenny Littlewood
Video courtesy of Khun Flora at Phuket Inzspire
You may also enjoy
Little Wandering Wren
Jenny is the Chief Explorer and award-winning content creator at Little Wandering Wren. Both an Aussie and a Brit, she has lived in several countries in Asia with her nest in Thailand since 2017.
”One of my greatest joys as a writer is to give an English-speaking voice to those whose stories deserve to be shared.” – Jenny Littlewood