You can travel like a tourist on Koh Libong and Na Muen Sri in Trang province while experiencing the slow pace of everyday life
SOME 15 years ago, Koh Libong off the Trang coast in Thailand’s southwest, was often unable to accommodate even the relatively small number of tourists that visited. Fortunately for them, the local residents were generous enough to offer their own homes for them to bed down.
And so what began as lending a helping hand evolved into the Libong Island Tourism Homestay group. Prachum Charoenrit, then a member of Koh Libong’s Subdistrict Administrative Organisation, remembers the early days well.
Back then, the island had a single resort with a capacity for 60 people and a regulation that banned construction on land without title deeds, explains Prachum, who is today the village head of Moo 4, Ban Batu Pute.
“It was fairly chaotic during the high season. We let visitors stay at our houses and eat with us,” the 42-year-old village head says with a smile, adding that after discussion, the villagers decided to form a homestay group.
A bungalow belonging to Libong Island Tourism Homestay group.
Last year, the Libong homestay passed an evaluation by Ministry of Tourism and Sports with flying colours and was certified as an official Thai Homestay.
These days, it offers 15 choices of accommodation for a total of 40 people. Tourists can choose to stay in one of five houses along with the residents or opt for the 10 small bungalows overlooking a calm bay.
Currently the group has around 30 members and they share both services and income.
For example, tourists eat breakfast at other local shops or at restaurants belonging to member restaurants, Prachum explains. When they want to travel by boat, they rent these from boat owners who are also group members.
Koh Libong in Kantang district is the largest island in Trang Sea and can be reached only by a 30-minute ride in a long-tail boat from Hat Yao Pier.
The island is home to a Muslim community of some 4,000 souls who earn their living from fishing and growing rubber trees. Thanks to promotion of community-based tourism by the Trang office of Tourism Authority of Thailand, they are also able to generate income from visitors.
Linda Tonwicha, 33, who used to work in the front office at a resort, saw a good business opportunity two years ago and decided to start her own business Linda Travel @KohLibong. It’s the only one-stop service travel agency in the island.
Just as the homestays do with breakfast, she shares the benefits, allocates some travel services such
as motorbike rental and boat rental to other locals.
When Libong villager Jasoa Rhonrung, 43, finishes her routine rubber tapping, she can be found at the pier ready to give tourists a motorbike ride around the island. Although the extra income is unreliable, she can earn Bt500 to Bt800 for each ride depending on the time and distance.
Dubbed the city of dugongs, Koh Libong is the only place in Thailand where you will have a chance to spot these endangered marine animals and, if you’re really lucky, get to swim with one.
There are 250 dugongs in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea and 210 of these live around Libong, says Prachum, explaining that the waters around the island are still rich in sea grass, their main food source.
The best and more environmentally friendly way to enjoy the mammals is to climb up the 150m Batu Pute Hill and watch the creatures from above,
You can also take a long-tail boat ride in the hope that these cute marine beasts will surface though the vessel will need to cut its engine and anchor. Another possibility is to climb up to the five-storey watching tower at the end of Leekpai Bridge, but be warned, it’s currently under renovation.
From Libong, tourists can travel to nearby islands but only during November to May. Using Libong as a base, visitors can take boat trips to Koh Muk, Koh Ngai and Koh Kradan in the northwest islands, and Koh Sukorn and Koh Laolieng to the southeast.
While Libong is a good example of community-based tourism, Ban Na Muen Sri is a role model in terms of conservation of indigenous knowledge.
Located in Na Muen Sri subdistrict in Na Yong district, Ban Na Muen Sri is famous for its local hand-woven fabric.
Na Muen Sri textiles have a unique structure, extraordinary patterns and specific colour pairing (always red and yellow), and are made by special smaller sized looms called gi that produce a finer detailed fabric, The fabrics are also a One Tambon One Product (Otop) of Trang.
A weaver at Na Muen Sri Community Enterprise works at the loom.
The art of weaving at Tambon Na Muen Sri has been passed down for more than two centuries, says Arob Rueangsung, president of Na Muen Sri Community Enterprise, who two decades ago researched the origins of the long-forgotten woven cloth patterns.
The Na Muen Sri textile dates back to reign of King Rama VI. Back then, Na Muen Sri textile was very popular among nobles. The textiles were made by a group of Na Muen Sri women, who kept their looms and accessories in their basements.
When they were not caring for their rice fields, these women wove for household use and distributed some textile to friends and relatives. Their skills helped generate income but the activity was suspended during World War II due to a shortage of material.
In 1971, four women decided to repair their looms and began weaving again. When Kusol Ninla-or, a daughter of one of those women, saw what her mother was doing, she joined in.
In 1973, Kusol established Na Muen Sri Weaving Group to preserve this folk wisdom and bring back the traditional woven cloth for the younger generation and for sale. It then spread out to nearby villages and became famous. In 2005, the group was developed into a community enterprise.
Grandma Kusol was a kru, or master of Na Muen Sri weaving and the creator of the Luk Kaew pattern, a unique weave in yellow and red. She passed away last year.
Initially, the group had only eight members but today that has increased to 139 in an age range of 18 to 50.
“They are still working full time as rubber tappers but when the rubber price is low, weaving earns them additional income,” says Arob.
Run as a family business, the group generates annual revenue of some Bt8 million. Expenses come to Bt100,000 per year, including salaries and free meals.
To date, the group has created 50 new patterns on top of the 32 traditional ones. They also turn the fabric into ready-to-wear attire, bags, umbrellas, headband and hats.
Arob, a fifth generation weaver, says it was hard for her textile to compete with those produced in north and northeast of Thailand in terms of price, so she introduced attractions that would draw tourists to her community.
She started in 2009 by offering handicraft lessons and homestays for tourists and later expanded to include community-based and cultural tourism.
Koh Libong mosque
Visitors can watch the weavers hard at work at the centre next to the showroom then pop up to the second-floor Na Muen Sri Heritage Museum to admire more than 100 traditional fabrics donated by village elders and weaving tools.
“Tourism plays a vital role in helping our community and products to become well-known,” says the 59-year-old president, who also plays a major role in preserving the cultural heritage.
Later this year, they will organise tram tours with guides around the subdistrict allowing visitors to see the villagers’ way of life and take in hot spots like Tham Khao Chang Hai, a limestone cave about 4km from the village. Next year, more homestays will be offered.
Arob adds that she is working on elevating the enterprise to a company to satisfy tax and other regulations while also expanding the business. “It will help us strengthen the community as well,” she says.
For now, Arob and her group will continue to train the young generation in the old weaving ways and tell them the stories of the textile and their ancestors so they will take up the mantle and pass it down to their children in turn.
IF YOU GO
>> Koh Libong is 30 minutes by long-tail boat from Hat Yao Pier. Check out Libong Island Tourism Homestay at (086) 943 7669 or (094) 315 5445 or visit www.HomestayThai.net
>> Na Muen Sri Woven Cloth Community Enterprise is open daily from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Call (075) 583 524 or visit Facebook.com/trangnameunsri.