To be frank, I had almost no prior knowledge of Thai culture nor an ability to speak Thai. Due to this, I never considered Thailand as a travel destination in the past. For the same reason, I expected eight days of ASEAN CBT program to be challenging. But does this means I were unqualified participants for this program? I think it is the quite opposite. Because I was a complete stranger to Thailand’s culture, food, and rural life (even the eleven hours of flight too), my experiences in Ban Mae Kampong homestay would be beneficial for them to find strengths and weaknesses that were in the blind spot of local’s perspective.
One of the most impressive thing about Mae Kampong was its self-sufficiency. The villagers are already supplying themselves, from electricity to coffee beans. And it seemed to be that the number of visitors to their village is not their top priority. Undoubtedly, CBT in Mae Kampong will be sustainable both culturally and economically because of this solidness in their society. On the contrary, if all villagers have to sorely devoted to tourism, everything that makes Mae Kampong unique would have been gone. The case of Mae Kampong made me think that the coexistence of tourism and the local economy is also a prerequisite for making CBT in ASEAN region sustainable.
Like many other tourist attractions in this world, however, there is still room for the improvement. In Mae Kampong, the difficulty of communication seemed to be the most noticeable obstacle that retraining tourists from actively participating in CBT, like many people pointed out during the final presentation. Fortunately, I was teamed with people who were fluent in Thai and had a deep understanding of Thai culture. However, this will not be the case for most people. Even with the help of teammates and tour guide, communicating with host families or other villagers were quite hard. Aside from inconveniences during the stay, the bigger problem is that this can cause a decrease in attractiveness and overall satisfaction of CBT. When the interaction with locals is excluded, tourists will decide their satisfaction only based on the physical attractiveness of destination itself, which is no different than other types of tourism. For community based tourism to differentiate itself, it is important to make tourists to realize their impact on local community.
As a tourism student, I was always feeling regretful that I never traveled South East Asia even though it is not that far from South Korea. This program made me get out my comfort zone and challenged me to further explore the new world. Also, it was a rare chance to actually experience subjects from textbooks. This is the reason why The ASEAN CBT program can be appraised as one of the best opportunity in my life. Moreover, this program provided a chance to exchange ideas with students from different countries and majors. After several conversations and discussions with them, I was amazed to know how different, yet so similar our thoughts are. This stimulated me to study more deeply about my field of expertise since they were able to come up with ideas that I could not think of, even without an academical background in tourism. All these things I experienced during ASEAN CBT program will become an invaluable archive of knowledge that can be greatly beneficial in the future. To conclude, I can confidently say that my first travel to Thailand was certainly worthwhile and for sure, it won’t be the last.
By Seonjin Lee, CBT Program participant from Korea