by Zhao Sihan

Sihan is a student at Dalton Academy in Beijing, China, and was a participant in Skillseed's first Land and Life course based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

WE SPENT ONLY SEVEN DAYS IN CHIANG MAI, but within this short week, we already felt a strong connection with Thailand: The beautiful scenery, kind-hearted people, unique food, traditions, rich history, people’s respect towards nature and even the friendly dogs - all of this left a deep impression on our minds and taught us things that cannot be learnt from text books.

During the trip, we visited three different communities, each with their own unique characteristic and soul:

Baan Rai Kong Khing is a community built on a concept called Community-Based Tourism (CBT),which focuses on developing tourism sustainably by preserving local culture and enhancing communication between the tourists and the locals.

The village used to be a place that was left behind, as young adults headed for work in the city, leaving their parents and young children at home. With the lack of jobs in the local community they headed far from home and eventually became labourers with low wages. This often means they do not have the chance to see their families often, and some even contract illnesses or diseases due to the harsh living conditions at work. 

There's a parallel here to the situation in my home country, China, as Baan Rai Kong Khing's past mirrors that of many rural villages in China. The lack of industrial development and education cause a deficiency in job opportunities and income resources, forcing people to leave their hometowns to become cheap labourers elsewhere.

Fortunately, these villagers came up with a solution by developing CBT: CBT involves generating income opportunities while preserving the traditions and culture of the community. This made me think about how it could be practical to apply this in China, to solve the problems people face in the countryside. This can be done when two main factors are achieved: Firstly, making the locals realize the importance of preserving their natural environment and culture; and secondly, creating access to these beautiful villages through the help of the government.

Mae Kampong has a wonderful forest. The community wraps orange ropes around many trees in the forest, so that these trees are “granted” a sacred status, prohibiting anyone from harming or logging them. The local guide told us that logging would generate lots of profits, but that it would mean losing the forest that they so dearly love. Nature is their most precious treasure - every week they bring their children to the forest to develop emotional bonds with nature, and the forest is even a medicinal resource, providing the community with useful plants that are used to stop bleeding and to ward off bugs.

Hua Tung, the third community we visited, has developed an economy that sustains the community through the export of well-crafted bamboo goods. By moving from the direct export of bamboo to crafting their own products. the community has been able to sell high-quality products with a low production cost, thus increasing their income exponentially. Perhaps this could work in China's rural villages too: by starting their own production lines to export goods, locals wouldn't have to travel out of their communities to earn an income. Families wouldn't have to be separated, and links to the land could be nurtured, sustained and grown.

Chiang Mai has its own unique traditional culture too! Many of the local performances are imitations of animals that encapsulate their characteristics vividly. The local music has strong beats and a monotone redolent of the music that accompanied people on hunts people during ancient times. Another aspect of culture in Chiang Mai is the art -graffiti is legal in Chiang Mai, and you can see it almost everywhere you go, whenever and wherever you walk along the streets. Each graffiti is a passionate expression from the artist. Although they know that their art will one day vanish or fade away, they still endeavour to share their messages with the world, and this form of art is undoubtedly moving.

The people in Chiang Mai are friendly and sincere, and this might be attributed to their way of living in a beautiful and natural environment. Green is a recurring colour in this city and we different varieties of plants grow almost everywhere. People here are born into an environment where nature thrives in a strong connection with themselves, closely and harmoniously. With the help of local teachers and villagers, we managed to complete several traditional handicrafts including herbal bars, leaf roses and tea pillows. All the raw materials came directly from the environment around us and it reflected the intimate relationship between the land and life here.

When one coexists with nature, the distractions of the urban environment fade away and create a simpler life. In this one-week trip, we truly gained a lot, not only in knowledge, but also in learning to respect nature with a pure and simple heart that would otherwise have been lost in the hustle and bustle of the city