Innovator Spotlight – back to authenticity with Lamai Homestay, Thailand

lamai homestay responsible tourism thailand

Have you ever wondered what Thailand was like before the Full Moon parties, before every strip of coastline became lined with villas and hotels? Wondered if it was possible to see a more genuine side to the country as a visitor? I was in Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan 23 years ago, and even then it was banana pancakes and European techno all night long. And from speaking to friends who have been to islands that then were unknown specks, mythical places as personified in Alex Garland’s The Beach, the commodification of the country for tourist pleasure has only spread.

But not everywhere. There’s really only one place to stay in Ko PetLamai Homestay – designed and built by Welshman Jimmy and his Thai wife Lamai to bring money into one of the poorest and most unchanged parts of Thailand and help the community keep its soul, not sell it away.

Everything about a visitor’s stay here is designed to open the doors to a side of Thai life you’ll never see on the beach or the Khao San Road, but also to ensure that tourists’ presence doesn’t affect it. Here the tours offer a privileged chance to witness life as it is really experienced by local people, not staged for an audience. Shopping for food at the local market. Or food-foraging and capturing the same wildlife eaten by the village people and which are all plentiful in the local environment, which means catching and frying scorpions and spiders – a favourite local snack. Learning about the process of rice planting and harvesting. And watching the water buffalo amble home as the sun sets over the paddies at the end of the day. Life is uncomplicated here, and this is what visitors love.

For all the tours, guests are accompanied by Lamai, who ensures that they get a genuine local insight into all that is going on, yet also that their presence is not impinging upon the villagers’ way of life. Furthermore, the homestay employs local people on a rotating basis to demonstrate crafts – silk-making, basket-weaving, mat-making, food-foraging. This ensures everyone can benefit financially. And Jimmy and Lamai make sure that many of these people working with them will be women who are for whatever reason unable to work in the rice fields – mothers with small children, pregnant ladies, elderly or disabled women.

Lamai-Homestay

This commitment to the integrity of its community and environment runs through everything the homestay does – all the food is sourced locally, their gardens are teeming with local wildlife, everything that can be is recycled. And in a country that has long been beset by issues over tourism and the treatment of children, their policy is up front and very clear: “Children under the age of 16 are not employed at any time. Visitors are requested to be very sensitive in their treatment of children and to report to Lamai the behaviour of any tourist which could be construed as exploitative in any way.”

A business like this should be full every day of the year. But the bitter irony is that their strengths – being truly off the beaten track, enabling a deep, authentic connection to real life, also provide the hardest challenge. Not one tour company has agreed to make them part of their itineraries, despite the homestay having won countless awards, including most recently the Thailand Green Excellence in Tourism Awards in 2013.

So it is a constant struggle to bring in business. But for anyone seeking to provide their guests with the chance to discover and savour another side of Thailand, or even just the chance to unwind away from touts and backpacking hordes, there are few places left like Lamai Homestay. As one visitor wrote about staying here:

“We learned more about Thailand in our first hour with Jimmy than in our first two weeks in Thailand.”

  • Understandably my self,my family and our villagers and tour locations are delighted and extremely honored to read Jeremy’s excellent article/blog.Just to expand on the reality of “no agent interest” this sadly is purely based on financial reasoning by their product managers.These agents require locations offering to them the maximum bed allocations possible .Our home stay is exclusive occupancy,Just You, your friends or family > which equates to 1 client or a maximum of up to 6 clients on any one date reserved. We offer a maximum number of just 275.people to visit our home each year. This to agents is unacceptable.But his to us is True Sustainable Tourism to our own rural location.
    To us anything more would be a compromise from our 16 yr.policy of authentic sustainability and environmentally / eco friendly experiences.Thankfully our clients awareness grows annually through our W.W.annual awards, our 2 web sites and of course excellent informative articles such as this one .All help sustain our position as sadly the agent less, unquestionable leaders in providing exclusive 1 to 1 informative and responsible travelling experiences in all Thailand 😉

  • A follow up on the above.1 month on, sadly not one agency fronting responsible tourism seems interested enough in our little contribution to actually contact us as regards offer their clients our product? or perhaps their just to busy making money from an arguably false trade description to read WTM Spotlight !
    I think therefor a better and more accurate description of All such agents products would be >
    Our Responsible Sustainable Policy and Packages Are Only Offered As Long As They Generate Loads Of Profit For Us ! 🙂
    This obviously would explain not include us in their programs. We proudly only offering to accept 1 to 6 clients a week.
    Happily we have survived 16 yrs without Tour Agency’s and we intend to add to that a further 15 yrs.of award winning community help and awards with or without them.;)
    Lamai & Jimmy Founders/Owners Lamai Homestay