Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter 23: Tourism



Eco Tourism and Trekking


Hard Apple and Long Weeds here.


How the Akha played in the tourism picture and how it effected them.


Eco Tourism

Tourism to poor people is exploitive, as they are the monkeys.  No matter how people like Lonely Planet would jusify it, much of tourism is degrading and gawking.  In the current situation the hilltribe are often the destination and they are already oppressed, so under these terms they are at a distinct disadvantage to the tourist.

Tourists want to go and look at what has become of people even if it isn't nice.  They like to think that they go to find out about new and interesting people who are on tough times, but that is not the reality of the exchange.

The destination Akha, is often made up of people who are incredibly poor, far below the poverty line and have had their food security, such as it was, stripped by high government decisions.

The white people who come to visit them won't soon go without a rich meal in their diet, and will know little of the disadvantage of the people they visit, and find interesting enough to photograph.  They generally have no feeling of compassion to these people.  Those who do feel ashamed by the prearranged visit and often will not even get out of the van.  But these people are rare, and if they go home and keep their silence it does little good.


The thai exploitation of Akha for tourism

The thais get lots of money for tourism but deny these people many rights, on the otherhand they also tolerate them a lot but they have been in the mountains a long time and Thais have always made money off people crossing their borders


Collection of akha gate people of wood

Thais and others collect them and get around 5,000 baht for them.  The guy from chiang mai says he knows a fellow that has over a 100 sets in bangkok.  They are a kind of art but should be left where they belong, at the village.


The Akha Zoo

the tours to akha villages



To answer your questions, the Akha get little out of tourism to the villages.

There are a few locations where they have set up tables to sell but this is nothing compared to the hefty fees that people pay the Thais and others to be transported there where they are then told basically that they must be patient with these pushy animals.  I have watched the event repeatedly, an Akha woman with baby, a posh air condition van in the village with a load of soft overfed tourists pointing cameras.  The Akha see the blatant disperity in wealth, some cameras in the $4,000 US range, and they know they will get nothing other than maybe the token bottle of Mekhong whiskey for the headman and they push to sell a bracelet made of cloth and beads for 10 baht which now is about 20 cents american.  Then the zoo tourists, all from supposedly highly educated countries where someone should have sufficient intellect to recognize grinding poverty, become gruff and rude at the insistance of these woman that they should buy something, maybe even trying to tie a bracelet on their wrist.  So they go into the authoritive mode on “how to fend off hawkers in a foreign country” since after all it is the principle of the thing!

They themselves are taking part in a cultural genocide.  We could point to some of the local reasons why this is allowed but it is still unexcusable that the foreigners without shame take part.  And for some reason the tourists treat these poor people like they were just staying at the Hilton that morning but are of such low character and breading that they chose to dress up in dirty clothes and come down to the village to entertain tourists on the gag.  Now try to figure where the onus belongs on this one.



A tourist says:

I was deeply impressed with your letter on the ELL concerning the so called studies about the Akha. I can completely understand your feelings. I am just to begin a study with a community of Amazonian indigenous people in order to help them to build up a bilingual program for their children. Most of the “a cademic” in this field has been done by the Summer Institute of Linguistics, always going together with missionary activity. I feel that I can not ignore their work, but I want to work independently. In my case the community itsel f asked me to work with them and they will be the leader of the project all the time. It is interesting to notice that the SIL is only interested in bil ingual education, if the communities try to teach their children Spanish, bu t they loose interest, when the community starts to rescue their own languag e and culture. I wrote e-mails to some of the SIL people who worked in that area to ask them a couple of questions. There all kinds of reaction from ver y friendly to “I’m too busy to dicuss that with you” and to no response at all.

I’m going this week to stay for 3 weeks with the Ashaninka community in the Amazonian jungle. It is only a short time, but I will be going again in Summer.

Interesting was, that the community tried to get cooperation from Peruvian universities. The professors agreed, but told them that the elders have to come to the capital, then they would study them in their office. Can you tell me what kind of “field work” is that?

 I was in Thailand last year as a tourist. We booked a tour to the Goldenb Tr iangle and we were taken to visit an Akha village. I never felt so bad in my life. Because it was like being taken to a zoo. I felt really ashamed, but t here was nothing I could do in that moment. The guide told me that the villa ge gets money, if the agency brings tourists to visit them. Is that true? Now, I doubt it. What is your opion about tourism? What are your ideas to impr ove the quality of life for indigenous people. Do you have any suggestions h ow to provide sources of income?

                These are questions which my Ashanika friends  are facing right now.

 Again, I admire your work and I’d be very glad to hear from you.

 Sabine Koppe

 Dr. Sabine Koppe

 Sanyo Gakuen University

 Dept. of International Studies

 1-14-1 Hirai

 Okayama 703, Japan

 Tel:+81-86-272-6254, Ext.2262

 Fax: +81-86-273-3226


T.I.M. Team

Information from Anita at Tim Team here.


Tours to the Akha

                Welcome to the Akha monkey show, you get pictures, been there and done that, the Akha get nothing.


PDA and PTT Akha Eco Tour Village

Swing village


Tourism Concern


Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akha@akha.org
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel