One of my favorite ways to experience a country is hanging out with locals in their own setting; after finding a farmstay in Vietnam, I grew very close with the family and am even still in touch with them to this day. Since then, I have yearned for more experiences similar to that, and recently, I was given the opportunity to work briefly with Duara Travels and do just that.
I went into the experience with an open heart and mind. I did not expect to have any western comforts beyond my room and an air conditioner. To my surprise, there were more western comforts than I expected. There was an abundance of filtered drinking water available and a toilet that I could actually sit down on. Most importantly, there was beer and whiskey for sale down the road. Other than that, I was without Wi-Fi – though I did have data.
Tung Lakorn, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand: An Introduction
About an hour north of Chiang Mai sits a small village amid elephant sanctuaries and farmland called Tung Lakorn, a farming village. This was where I would begin my homestay in Chiang Mai, Thailand. According to my local guide, Duang, half of its 200 inhabitants are farmers. As a foodie and advocate for sustainable eating, I was intrigued to stay in a place that sustained itself through agriculture.
While I was in this area of the Chiang Mai Province, I gained insight into the life of the lifestyle of a Thai family in a very small village. I helped prepare meals, went to the village’s temple to chat with the monk, walked to the chicken coop and watched Pe Jai, my host, feed the chickens and cut down bamboo that we would later use for sticky rice. I observed as she and a neighbor picked greens in the middle of the forest that would be served as a side dish with that afternoon’s lunch.
On the Wednesday morning that I was there, I rode with Pe Jai to the morning market. The market sold produce, spices, clothing, and household items. Later, we visited a temple to give food as an offering. In the evening, I walked with another Duara host and we, quite literally, brought the cows home before sunset.
Sustainable Eating During My Homestay in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Pretty much everything we ate and prepared was either sourced locally from a neighbor or from neighboring villages. The village is very community-driven. Everyone is somehow connected to one another. From what I gathered, there’s no such thing as property disputes when the forest is your garden. Of course, you can’t go rummaging through someone else’s chicken coop and steal their eggs, but if there’s something you don’t have, you can buy it pretty close by. Wednesday seemed to be the day to pick up extra household items, goods, and spices at the weekly farmers’ market.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Thai food while being in this village, it’s that Thai people really love their rice. Do you know how some people have a “separate stomach” for dessert? Thai people seem to have a separate stomach for rice. For breakfast, a standard dish is a rice soup; it could pretty much have anything in it, from seafood to pork, but it always includes rice. For lunch, you’ll have curry and rice or sticky rice. A standard dinner is lots of meats like pork and chicken, grilled or fried, some vegetables, and a whole lot of rice. Dessert? You guessed it, mango sticky rice. It’s always funny to see a local’s reaction at how little rice I eat during my meals. Personally, I just like to fill up on the more exciting stuff!
A Valuable Experience
Over the course of a few days, I learned more about Thai culture than I could have anticipated. I was able to build connections, during my homestay in Chiang Mai and share smiles with people whose language I did not speak. Besides this, they were able to be unapologetically themselves in my presence. Spending time with those who are different than you in their own environment is an irreplaceable experience. I look forward to experiencing more of these moments throughout my travels.