Cultural exchanges and bamboo workshops in Pai

Hello 🙂 Last week we were invited to attend a workshop with the people from Cross cultural Co-creation and the people from the little village of Huay Pu Keng.

Some History

The people from Huay Pu Keng village are mainly Kayan and Kayaw. They are indigenous to the Thailand-Burma border region in Southeast Asia and are some of the many ethnic groups from Burma.

Due to the conflict, thousands of Kayan and Kayaw refugees crossed the border to Thailand for safety and live in one of twelve refugee camps. The refugee camps appear as extremely large villages of bamboo and thatch buildings along the Thai-Burma border.

The Thai government granted some of these people land outside of the refugee camps to set up villages. They have an allocated amount of land so it is difficult for them to farm which is something most Kayan relied on for thousands of years. As a result of land limitations the people from Huay Pu Keng now rely on tourism as a means of income.

The workshop

The people from Huay Pu Keng approached the Cross cultural co-creation team as they wanted to increase the amount of tourists that come into their village so that they can create more jobs within the village. They explained that once they used to get around 600 tourists in their village per day and now there is only usually one or two tourists a day.


The workshop circle

There has been a fascination with the Kayan people because some of the women elongate their necks with brass rings. This has always been a beguilement for tourists and a huge tourist attraction in Thailand. Many of the villages set up for the Karen people have become tourist spectacles. Some people have refereed to these villages as ‘human zoos’ and a lot of travelling blogs had explained that it was a very strange experience. We did not want to visit a village like the ones we had read about so when we were invited to join the workshop we were incredibly excited.


Moo Kluk a woman from Huay Pu Keng in traditional dress

Many things were discussed during the workshop. The workshop was led by Christina and Hester. They came up with the Cross cultural co-creation about a year ago and wanted to create a space where discussions and workshops could be created to come up with new creative ideas regarding tourism with people from villages like Huay Pu Keng. They also wanted to create a space that allowed for interaction, conversation and cultural exchange.

The workshop started in a circle where we all introduced ourselves and explained to everyone our own experiences with tourism and the tourism industry. We had to give a reason why we loved tourism as well as a reason why we didn’t like tourism. It was a wonderful mix of ideas and different opinions.

This lead into a discussion about ideas the people from Huay Pu Keng had come up with to attract more tourists in a fair, sustainable way. There were three ideas put forward.

1.) A bamboo workshop, where the people from the village could share their knowledge on Bamboo building with foreigners.


Steps they would take to do the bamboo building workshop

2.) They also told us of their hosting idea where they would train young people from the village to become village hosts who would take foreigners through the village. This would mean that you would get real information concerning their culture and people. Emong (a young man from Huay Pu Keng village) explained that a lot of the Thai tour guides told tourists untrue facts about their village and people. Some Thai guides told tourists that the Karen women wore the brass rings to protect their necks from a Tigers bite which is not true.

3.) Another idea was to set up conversation starters and different activities in some of the houses in the village. This means that a tourist could go into a house in the village and be prompted to start a conversation with the people that live in the house. These activities could include learning to cook, conversation cards, weaving lessons and learning about medicinal plants. This means that their will be an interaction between the tourists and the people of the village and that both parties will learn and feel more of a connection to each other.

It was incredible to be a part of these discussions and the passion for change was so inspiring. As a group and within smaller groups we discussed how we could make these ideas work and better them. We also discussed how these things could benefit the villagers as well as the tourists visiting.

I’ve always found it incredibly strange to walk into a village as a mere spectator and love the idea of coming into a village to learn a skill and interact with the people of the village. It is not often the case in Thailand where these villages are used as tourist attractions. Tourists go visit these villages for max half an hour, take pictures of the people and then go home and say they had a ‘real’ ‘hill tribe’ village experience. This creates a disconnection and lacks soul which doesn’t sit right with both of us.

During these conversations we found out that many of the people from Huay Pu Keng cannot own Thai ID’s as they are not considered citizens of Thailand. There are check points all along the road from Huay Pu Keng to Pai where police check people’s ID’s to make sure they can travel. This means that a lot of the people from Huay Pu Keng are confined to their village and cannot leave to find work else where or even study. It was even difficult for them to come and attend the workshop in Pai and took a couple of weeks to get permission from the police so they could travel here. This is why tourism is so important but it needs to be done in a different way and needs to benefit the village rather than the big Thai tourist companies and guides.

They were also holding  a practice Bamboo building workshop run by Kyaw La, an older man from Huay Pu Keng village. They wanted to improve the workshop  as well as see if it would work. The plan was to build a bamboo shed using nothing but bamboo and natural materials. I was unfortunately not able to attend but Patrick did. He told me all about it and I want to share some of his experiences with you.


Bamboo building workshop

What did you build?

We built a 2 meter high garden shed with a door.

What was the goal of the workshop?

The goal was to improve the Bamboo building workshop model that the people from Huay Pu Keng had created. We did this by combining the workshop with regular discussions to create ideas of improvement. As a team we also created a vocabulary list of useful building words in English, Kayan, Burmese and Thai, which would help in future bamboo workshops.  The cool thing was that the workshop allowed us to better understand each others perspective. For example the Kayan people got a better idea of what tourists expected from a workshop like this one. This means the next time they hold a bamboo workshop they have an idea of expectations as well as how they can work with tourists.



Who was the main teacher and what was he like?

Our main teacher was Kyaw La, he is a grandfather in the village and cannot speak any English. He is a very hard working, patient man.  He absolutely loves bamboo and building and is a master at it. He left an impression on all of us. Other then building with bamboo he taught me patience and persistence.


Kyaw La the teacher

What was the most interesting thing about the bamboo workshop?

I was fascinated by the many ways you can use bamboo. Not only did we use it as the main structure, it also formed the floors and the walls.



What did you find difficult?

The biggest challenge for me personally was the language barrier. It can be quite hard to connect and understand concepts through constant translation. This was the aim of building a vocabulary list together and I have no doubt this will make it easier for the next bamboo workshop.


Do you think you could build something out of bamboo after doing the workshop?

Yes, I do and I am going to try when I have an opportunity too. It is amazing how easy and fast you can build using bamboo and it is such an accessible, sustainable building material.


What did you take away from this bamboo building workshop?

The workshop was a rich cultural exchange. I felt like I had a lot to offer as well as a lot to gain. It was also incredibly interesting to get to know the people from Huay Pu Keng. It was a 3 day workshop so we really got to know each other well. And obviously its amazing that I can now build using Bamboo.



What was your favourite moment during this workshop?

My favourite moment was putting the last wall onto the shed. It was such an amazing feeling to see what we had all come together and built as a team.


This workshop and experience was incredible for both Pat and I. We learned a lot about the people from Huay Pu Keng and gained so much from the experience. We decided to go and visit our new friends in their village which is around a 3 hour drive from Pai. Our next blog will be all about our experience in Huay Pu Keng village. We also found some beautiful finds which will be on our shop soon.

Hope you enjoyed the post.


Travelling Trader


  1. Aww you guys! I LOVED reading this blog, and the very useful Bamboo building Q & A’s. You are both beautiful souls, and an inspiration to many. It was absolutely great to have your input in the workshop AND have you around. Until we meet again! Love, Hester

  2. Lekker blog!! Would be at Mina’s on 27 Oct 2016 hope you would be around still. I would be interested in learning how to build with Bamboo if ever you stage a workshop in South Africa.
    All the best with your blog and fair trade venture!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *