Unless you’ve been living in, well, a cave, you’ve probably read the recent story about a group of teenage boys who went exploring in a cave in northern Thailand and got trapped by rising floodwaters. Despite the treacherous conditions and tragic death of one of the rescuers, the boys got out alive after 16 days with the help of some very skilled divers and Thai Navy SEALs.
Along with everyone else in Thailand and much of the world, we were glued to the story throughout the entire ordeal, and let out a cheer when news broke that all had made it out. It was especially important to us for several reasons, not the least of which is our connection to Chiang Rai, the remote northern province bordering Myanmar and Laos where the cave is located.
Chiang Rai is an amazing province with a rich history that played an important role in shaping what is today’s Thailand. The people who call the province home are hardy and proud, but also funny and warm. The food is amazing, the weather is gorgeous, and the landscapes will blow your mind. We’ve been cycling, trekking, kayaking, driving, and exploring Chiang Rai for over 20 years, and we’ve never gotten tired of the experiences.
As the long fingers of tourism seek to reach ever deeper into the world’s more remote places, change is inevitable. It’s a double-edge sword (and a topic for another blog or five) but the one thing it is not, is avoidable. Change is here, and the best bet – for us as a travel business and lovers of Thai culture, and for those in Chiang Rai who have called it home for generations – is to embrace the change in smart, sustainable ways.
Chiang Rai’s demographics are complicated, which is part of the reason we love showing people around. Nearly 13% of the people come from hill tribes like Lisu, Muser, Akha, and Karen, while a hefty chunk of the remaining percentage can trace their roots back to the Tai people of southern China. It’s a wonderful blend of languages, cultures, food, architecture, and customs.
Indeed, to make sure our guests get an authentic perspective into all of this, we put a lot of time into finding the right guides. Not only are they knowledgeable, friendly, funny, smart, and adventurous (like all of our guides are!) but they also boast a deep connection to the people and the culture of the area. You simply won’t find anyone more suited to show you Chiang Rai.
Through our guides, Smiling Albino has forged strong relationships with local Chiang Rai communities. We have worked closely with these communities to help them improve their lives – without compromising their cultural roots. As more travellers visit the province, it is of utmost importance to manage the influence they will have on the ethnic communities and civil infrastructure.
So for now, Tham Luang cave is the most famous spot in Chiang Rai – there’s even plans of turning it into a museum! However, believe us when we say that Chiang Rai offers so much more – and we know just the people to show you around in smart, sustainable ways.