Tourism lessons from Thailand

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

IT'S called a familiarization tour, that's when a group is brought around for a quick look-see of a place, usually for tourism purposes. But most of all, it was a time to reflect and learn.

It was a three days and a few hours tour of Bangkok and two agri-based tourist spots northeast.

Working as one, benefitting all

First grand stop, Anantha Samakhom (Arts of the Kingdom): a grand display of the intricate traditional crafts of Thailand - from carvings to embroidery, the details defy description. The gold finishings are fantastic, yes, but the use of beetle wings to give that natural iridescent glow is awesome. How many beetle wings have been used to fill up that exhibit? How many hands snipped those delicate materials and placed this along with gold and precious stones? The precious stones and the gold as ornaments can easily be comprehended, but beetle wings... gives a peek into how Thais see nature and appreciate these, seeing into the details of the metallic sheen as ornaments worthy to be inlaid along with gold.

While the intricate details are not apparent in our own indigenous crafts, the artistry and colors are just as fascinating. Could there be a time when the region, or even just the city, comes up with such a permanent exhibit for visitors to see and appreciate in all its well-maintained glory and not some dust-layered display.

What's more fascinating about Anantha Samakhom is that it was initiated by The Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques or the SUPPORT Foundation under the Royal Patronage of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit first launched in 1970 and formally established as a foundation in 1976.

"Support Foundation is dedicated to the preservation of the Thai art and cultural heritage and craftsmanship and has enabled farmers to earn supplementary income during the period after the annual harvest," its website reads. Local hands, royal patronage, full support for the arts.

We don't have a royalty, but we have local governments and leaders and artists and most of all, indigenous crafts...

In the meantime, a visit to Anantha Samakhom should be able to blow your imagination away. It is one showcase of how pride in and dedication to a country's crafts and artistry can bring in the people to better appreciate what a country is all about.

Belies and legends as appreciable art

Next lesson venue, "Siam Niramit: Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Siam," dubbed as "Thailand's Must-See Show."

Act 1 is a journey back to history to "The North... the Ancient Kingdom of Lanna", "The South Sea... the Traders from Overseas", "Issan... the Heeritage of the Khmer Civilization", and "The Central Plains -- Ayutthaya, the Mighty Capital."

Act 2 titled "Journey Beyond Imagination" presents the three worlds: Fiery Hell, Mystical Himapaan Forest, and Blissful Heaven.

The third and final act is all about "Joyous Festivals" that gives a glimpse on Thai culture that combines religious ceremonies with celebrations as "merit-making festivals" because Buddhists (Buddhism is the prevalent religion in Thailand) believe that to go to heaven, "one must gather merit on earth."

The show boasts of its scale, being one of the largest stage productions in the world that combines Thai arts and culture with state-of-the-art technology that will make the audience gape at the stage changes in split seconds, including the appearance of a river onstage where no water was seen before. It also boasts of 150 performers with 500 costumes. Indeed, it is a must-see show for anyone who is spending some time in Bangkok.

As the scenes opened one by one, however, brings back thoughts of how legends and myths of indigenous peoples right in our backyard is not even known by a quarter of the present Davao residents. Who among us know Agyo? The supernatural hero in these peoples' ulaging (folk epic), a hero so strong, powerful, and of the divine world it would have made the Ilocano's Lam-ang, the epic hero we only knew about in our primary and secondary education, like Robin to Batman.

Whoever has listened to a Gugud (myth) and got to know about where the tribes of Maguindanao, Manobo, Talaandig, and Maranao came from after the Great Flood? Have we even imagined Nalandangan (Paradise) as imagined by the indigenous peoples? Have we even heard of Apo Agbibilin or Nabis Ha Agbibilin? Sad to say, very few can say yes to these questions and yet these myths and epics hold materials that can make imaginations soar with Agyo as an epic hero who stepped in and out of Nalandangan while Matabagka or Yambunganon rode her sulinday (a small hat), which she can transform into an air vehicle.

Yes, we have the Kadayawan where street dances have the ethnic flavor. But the ethnicity has become generic, the dances barely discernible, the war dance, planting and harvest dances, and just about every other ethnic dance now all mixed up in a generic theme with a generic playing of the gongs and the kulintangs; even the colors of the tribes are mixed and match with no regard for its significance to these people's beliefs and culture. The stories are all lost, just the rhythm remains.

And then the farm...

After those big doses of super-Thai culture, colors, and crafts, we motor on a northeasterly direction to enjoy the laidback pace of farmlife. Not.

Farm Chokchai has all the trimmings of a dairy farm and could have been a quiet dairy farm before the hordes of tourists came and filled its restaurant and souvenir shops and bleachers.

At the Nakhon Ratchasima Province in northeastern Thailand, Farm Chokchai gives you a close-up experience of dairy farming, including squeezing milk from live cows.

From the nipple-squeezing, it's off to the short show on how milk is processed and ice cream is made. All in an airconned gallery showing just enough people going around their milk processing and ice cream making roles, all done in the exact time it takes to finish the narrative.

And then it's off to a ride on the tractor-towed trams to... an animal show! After the animal show that features a calf that doesn't do anything except walk along its master (and poo onstage when its turn to walk around was over, although I doubt if that was part of the show), a golden retriever tasked to bring in some signs, a parrot that bicycles and do one math equation, and then dogs who do several tricks. And then it's off to the petting zoo where you get to feed deers, rabbits, goats and more calves!

There must have been more deers and rabbits and goats and calves hidden somewhere otherwise these animals would have all been obese after all the visitors have done feeding them, batch per batch.

The visit is then topped with a steak lunch at the restaurant before a visit to the souvenir shop that features a lot of...cow items; stuffed toys, key chains, ref magnets, whatever.

Those who want a longer stay at the farm can go "glamping", or camping with glam. Farm Chokchai has a campsite suited up with airconditioned tents and cushioned mattresses and all the amenities of a hotel in a camp setting. Glamping, indeed.

All throughout the tour of the property, you get to see how a sheepdog herds sheep, how a sheep is handled, all animals well-trained and ready to perform. You also get to drop by a horseshow where cowboys show their stuff in a small stage suited up to look like a corral. This is followed by a quick guided ride with their horses. (No, you are not allowed to ride alone. Bummer!)

After Farm Chockchai, it's off to the PB Winery where you get to see the winery's vineyard and is given a tour of how wine if processed followed by wine-tasting. Again, the tour is conducted using a tractor-towed tram.

Down here, we have Malagos Resort with its Sunday bird shows and August Farm Fair (scheduled on August 6-7, 2011). Somehow, the farm tour is picking up and the meet and greet with animals is gathering a lot of interest among children and adults alike. The big plus are the number of birds that perform and the other animal extras.

Further south is the Eden Nature Park, which already has carved a name for itself. But we need to drum these up some more to bring in, not just the locals, but the whole tourism horde, where visitors fly in just to experience all these in properly guided tours that give each visitor a taste of what it is to be in Davao.

All throughout, our van (with a total of 13 members we were assigned two vans) had Apple as our tour guide. Apple is a repository of information of just about anything on Thailand, including an off the cuff question about one Thai athlete by one of the tour members and how many minutes it will take us from one point to another, unpredictable traffic included (and even knows how to operate the videoke machine that uses a keyboard and not a remote control). I would want to have a tour guide like Apple anytime, anywhere if I intend to go visiting any place in the world. The other travel writers with me were Nelia Neri of Sun Star Cebu, Ma. Pilar Jarque Loop of The Freeman (Cebu), Joselito Costas of Cebu Daily News, Celso B. Jimenez Jr. of Panay News (Bacolod), Ian Ray Canoy Garcia of Mindanao Times, the official photographer Rose Razon, with Cebu Pacif PRE consultant Charles Lim, Cebu Pacific's Michelle de Guzman, and Viveca Singson of JG Summit.

As a postscript, with us in the tour were Tourism Authority of Thailand's Philippine marketing representative Dave de Jesus and Elaine Seah, who heads the TAT in Singapore.

Yes, TAT has an office in Singapore, which Ms Seah describes as manned by just about six personnel who do everything, including the cleaning up. A lean and mean crew trained to bring in the tourists in Asia's air traffic hub. That, is lesson number five.

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