The remote and jungled hills of northern Thailand are not where one expects to see the roots of a social movement that has raised awareness from Sydney to San Francisco, but here we are. As you gaze across a misty jungle valley that seems almost too green to be natural, you might not think twice about the cup of fresh coffee you just finished. But that dark brew is precisely why you are here.
But let’s step back a bit.
In the early 1980s, this area was most known for the infamous Golden Triangle, which covers parts of Thailand, Laos, and Burma, and from which much of the world’s heroin flowed in rivers. It minted drug-lord billionaires, incited conflicts, and addicted millions, be it to the rush of money, power, or opiates. Countless lives had been lost.
But there were plenty of innocent victims in the wake of the inevitable crackdown. Local hill tribes, mainly the Akha, caught in the decades-long churn of refugee migration, political strife, and out-and-out war, fully relied on the illicit economy for a living. With this gone, things started to break down.
However, thanks to an initiative by Thailand’s Royal Family, the hill tribes began growing a new crop – coffee – quickly becoming experts and producing some of the world’s best beans. But there was a problem – they lacked the experience to bring their product to the world, and were being taken advantage of by large distributors. Enter Doi Chaang Coffee.
Doi Chaang Coffee Company, co-founded by Canadian John Darch and Thai Wicha Promyong, came up with a unique plan – the local tribes would retain 100% ownership in production of their beans, plus a 50% stake in the Canadian company that distributed their product internationally. The coffee was organic, fairtrade, and as ‘handmade’ as a natural product can be. It was an immediate success. Not only did money began to flow back into the community, but pride began to bloom again.
It is a perfect example of how community-oriented programs can play a key part in revitalizing a village, a tribe, or an entire culture.
And the best part is that you can see it all first-hand.
After finishing your coffee (or several, we won’t judge), you can set out on a gentle hike through the 8,000 acres of crisp coffee plantations that ring the area, which sits between 900 and 1,800 meters in altitude. Along the way you can chat to farmers, watch as the beans are selected, picked, and prepared for production, and learn the secrets of what goes into making one of the world’s most consumed beverages.
We will also stop at Doi Chaang’s famous Academy of Coffee, where you can tour the production facility and chat with the Akha villagers who attend to learn economics, agriculture, and environmental stewardship in the coffee business.
This is truly one of our favorite areas of Thailand, and we have made lifelong friendships with many here. Whenever we visit, we always leave invigorated and energized – and that’s not just the coffee talking.
As you may have guessed, there are not a lot of tourists here, but as the reputation for this transformative social experiment spreads, and as Doi Chaang Coffee continues to grow, this probably won’t last too much longer.
Let us design a Chiang Rai adventure for you today. There is a surprisingly great selection of boutique hotels, resorts and private luxury villas in Chiang Rai for you to relax in at the end of each day. Inquire here!