Creative Tourism – Experiential Tourism
“Creative Tourism” is emerging as a large and growing niche within ecotourism, and more specifically within the sphere of cultural tourism, sustainable tourism, and especially “experiential tourism”. The common thread in these is “immersion” and “authenticity”.
Today’s travellers are more sophisticated than ever before, and are now seeking the type of tourism that grants them access to local cultures, as well as structured opportunities to participate in the activities and livelihoods of selected villages. These activities entail hands-on involvement and are derived from inherited cultural traditions, drawing on arts, crafts, agriculture, religion, and local customs.
Nowadays people travel not only to discover new places and engage with locals, but also to discover another side of themselves. A direct connection with the locals is sought through genuine interaction and the transfer of skills through workshops in arts, crafts, cooking, and even working in rice fields, on fishing boats or elephant-handling. In addition to taking home perhaps a handmade souvenir or newly acquired skills that they can use, visitors get a memorable experience they can share with their friends and families long after their trip.
This new way of travel allows visitors to discover a different culture by experiencing it first-hand, and by inclusion in the daily life of the locals at the destinations they visit. This trend has been growing increasingly for the last decade.
This type of tourism also helps generate income for local communities, making the locals proud of their authenticity and uniqueness, which in turn preserves that local culture and knowledge. The options for creative tourism in Thailand are limited only by one’s imagination, given the diversity of the local communities throughout Thailand.
How to discover “Thainess”?
Visitors to Thailand can discover “Thainess” through Community-based tourism: staying and dining with locals, and participating in daily local activities such as rice farming, batik fabric
dying, cooking, or simply shopping at local village markets. Experiential tourism, such as travelling with the local means of transport could include touring Chao Phraya River in Bangkok or the sea of Krabi by long-tailed boat, sightseeing Bangkok Old City in a Tuk Tuk, or travelling back to the past in a horse-drawn carriage in Lampang.
Creative travellers can discover “Thainess” through various handicraft workshops such as porcelain painting, silk weaving, or making jewellery or compresses. Active travellers can discover “Thainess” by riding a bike through small laneways of the big cities or through villages across the country, or even participating in a Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) lesson. For visitors who have more time, another good way to discover “Thainess” and connect with the locals is to volunteer. In fact, Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in Asia for international volunteers. Options range from teaching English in the rural villages, or working at animal shelters, to building small houses or schools. Elephant lovers can even learn to become a mahout (certified elephant trainer) at Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. For visitors who would like experiences like these, but do not know where to start, there are several local tour operators offering tailor–made programs. Visitors who feel comfortable to do so can simply arrange everything themselves.
Where to go? – What to do?
Food and Market Tours
1. Bangkok Tuk Tuk Food Tours
A friendly fully-licensed local tour guide will take you off the beaten track for the most enjoyable after-dark eating adventure, touring Bangkok’s streets in an iconic “Tuk Tuk” to sample some of its best eateries. Between bites, you can visit old-town landmarks and temples and gain a different perspective to the ‘business’ of their day time character. The tour guide will explain the background to each dish, as well as the stories behind the neighbourhoods you visit. More information at www.bangkokfoodtours.com or www.smilingtuktuk.com/foodie
2. Food Tours
No visit to Thailand is complete without trying local food. Travelers can do this on their own or on one of the private or group tours. The good thing about going on a tour is that most are led a local guide who explains the interesting stories behind each dish. Some tours even take you inside the kitchen to let you see and learn how to make the dish. Best of all, most of these tours help support local communities. Travellers looking to explore floating markets should focus on the Central region of Thailand as it is home to most of these markets. Examples of the tours include: Bangkok’s Old City Food Tour www.i-likelocal.com/activities/thailand/food/food-tour-experiencein-the-soul-of-bangkok/ Tha Kha and Amphawa Floating Markets https://hivesters.com/activity/trip/local-eatery-getaway Bang Rak Neighbourhood Local Eateries https://hivesters.com/activity/trip/bang-rakneighbourhood-local-eateries
3. Chiang Mai Food Tour by Bike
Chiang Mai is the biggest city in the North of Thailand and is famous for both its local cuisine and trendy cafés. Travellers to Chiang Mai can hop on a bike and let a local tour guide take them on a food adventure through Chiang Mai’s backstreets and alleyways; stopping at street side stalls and food markets to discover local cuisine. More information at https://www.grasshopperadventures.com/en/day-tours/chiang-mai-food-adventures-by-bike.html
4. Nang Loeng Neighbourhood Discovery
Nestled in the centre of Bangkok, Nang Loeng’s century-old market is a haven for local Thai food and hard-to-find Thai desserts. Its Lakhon Alley is one of the few remaining places where the dance-drama Lakhon Chatri is still performed. This tour lets you try delicious local Thai desserts at the dessert shop where ‘grandma’ has been making desserts since WWII! You can also explore the neighbourhood and learn how to do a traditional Thai performance with ‘Auntie’ who was born here. More information at https://hivesters.com/activity/trip/nang-loengneighborhood-discovery
Thai Cooking Classes
1. The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School
Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai offers not just cooking classes, but a full market and farm to kitchen experience: starting with a visit to a local market where the teacher explains how to choose seasonal produce and other ingredients, an informative tour around their own organic farm, and finally a professional, but fun cooking class. More information at www.thaifarmcooking.net
2. Floating Market Tour with a Thai Cooking Class or Coconut Ice Cream Making Class
Klong Lad Mayom is one of a few authentic ‘river life’ locations in Bangkok still in existence today. From organic gardens and paddle boats to the tranquil slow life atmosphere, Klong Lad Mayom isd a reflection of times gone by. Hivesters offers a day tour to Klong Lad Mayom with a Thai cooking class or a half day tour with coconut ice cream making class. More information at https://hivesters.com/activity/trip/klong-lad-mayom and https://hivesters.com/activity/trip/the-real-thai-coconut-ice-cream
Other recommended cooking schools include:
Silom Thai Cooking School www.bangkokthaicooking.com
Amita Thai Cooking Class Bangkok www.amitathaicooking.com
Naj Thai Cooking School Thai Cooking Class Bangkok www.najthaicooking.com
Blue Elephant Bangkok and Phuket www.blueelephant.com/
Krabi Cookery School by Miss Ya http://krabicookeryschool.com/
A lot of Thai www.alotofthai.com/
Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School www.thaicookeryschool.com/
Baan Thai Cookery School www.cookinthai.com/
Phuket Thai Cookery www.phuketthaicookery.com/
Kata Thai Cooking Class https://katathaicooking.com/
Organic Thai Cooking http://organicthaicooking.com/
1. Baan Silapin or Artist’s House in Bangkok
Baan Silapin or ‘Artist’s House’ is one of Bangkok’s hidden gems. The wooden house, over 200 years old, is a community hangout, serving up some great food. It also sells artwork including photos, paintings, books and artsy handicrafts. Several human-sized statues painted in red, white and black sit by the water, endlessly staring at life passing by. Its biggest attraction is the local puppet show which runs every day at 2pm, except Wednesday. Operators who offer a tour to Baan Silapin include Grasshopper Adventures
www.grasshopperadventures.com/en/day-tours/bangkok-canal-boat-and-bike.html, and Destination Asia www.destination-asia.com/thailand/experience/Baan-Silapin-artist-house
2. Thailand Heritage by Bike
This 7D/6N cycling tour takes you back in time from the current capital of Bangkok to the former Kingdom of Ayutthaya, and further north to the former Kingdom of Sukhothai. From there, you ride up and down hills and finish the tour at Chiang Mai which was the capital of Lanna Kingdom. More information at www.spiceroads.com/tours/thailand_heritage
3. Rattanakosin Island in Bangkok (Bangkok Old City)
This 5 hour walking tour will take you through attractions of Rattanakosin Island i.e. Bangkok Old City. The tour starts from Lumpini Park, easily accessed by BTS Sky Train (Saladaeng Station) or MRT Underground Train (Lumpini Station). The tour explores that infamous meeting point of international backpackers “Khaosan Road”, gives a taste of Thai street food, includes a walk along Ratchadamnoen Avenue passing the Democracy Monument and visits to Wat Sutat and the Giant Swing, the Golden Mount, Wat Saket, Mahakan Fort and Ban Batra to see the making of the monk’s bowls. More information at www.bangkokwalkingtour.com/daywalkingtour.html
4. Chiang Mai Green Sightseeing Tram
A tram service has been introduced to serve tourists with an informative tour around the old city walls. The meeting point is in front of Wat Phra Singha. There is also a special 2-hour tour (9.30-11.30AM) which includes snacks and a workshop. Booking is required for the special tour with all proceeds from ticket sales going to social and environmental conservation projects in Chiang Mai.
Contact +66 (0) 95 129 8448 for more information
1. Charm-Learn Studio in Bangkok
Charm-Learn is an art studio located at Prang Sappasat, within Rattanakosin Island i.e. Bangkok Old City. Classes at Charm-Learn are kept small and include basic pottery, potter’s wheel ceramics, photography and indigenous dyeing. Facebook: Charmlearnstudio95
2. Smitheries/ Oneform-Onepiece Studio in Bangkok
Oneform-Onepiece Studio offers classes and courses in jewellery design and jewellery making for all levels. Students are guided in developing their own designs and jewellery-making skills and typically produce rings, bangles, earrings, necklaces, pendants, brooches and other more experimental jewellery. Facebook: Smitheriesworkshop and Facebook: Oneformonepiece
3. Nova Art Lab in Chiang Mai
Nova Art Lab is a fully serviced Jewellery Studio located in the heart of Chiang Mai offering jewellery making workshops from 1 to 5 days in duration. The workshops are designed for the complete beginner and the instruction is one on one. http://nova-collection.com/artlab-jewelry-school/
4. Craftsman Gus Leather Workshop in Bangkok
Craftsman Gus Workshop offers a range of classes in leather bag making techniques for beginners and the experienced. Students are taught in small groups how to design and create their own patterns and make their own bags. The school is located in the heart of Bangkok Sathorn area, a less than 10 minute walk from MRT Lumpini Station. More information at www.craftsmangus.com
5. The Archivist Printmaker Workshops in Bangkok
The Archivist’s project supports work by independent writers, artists and designers including limited edition prints, artist books and artist-pulled prints for home decoration. Workshops on offer include Little Printmaker – for the beginners, (Little) More Printmaker for students who have completed the basic course, and Artist Printmaker for the experienced printmaker.
More information at www.thearchivist.co or Facebook: The Archivist.
7. Doknommeaw Embroidery Workshop in Bangkok
An ex-advertising woman who has fallen in love with embroidery, Doknommeaw offers workshops teaching different embroidery techniques, from basic to advanced levels. More information at http://doknommeaw.blogspot.com.au/.
8. Craft from Nature in Ko Sarn Chao
This slow-paced community derives its name from its unique situation of being on land between two canals which makes the area feel like an island (“Ko” or “Koh” in Thai). An urban oasis of green space and canal views. Visitors can explore the ancient Champa Temple (built more than 200 years ago), and a traditional Thai House (only open on weekends). They can also learn how to make a traditional Thai vintage powder (perfumery) garland, or delicious Thai banana cake. More information at https://hivesters.com/activity/trip/craft-from-nature-in-koh-sarnchao
9. The Loom
Silk weaving may sound difficult but that is a thing of the past – with a modified hand loom and a simplified weaving technique, everyone can now enjoy silk weaving as a hobby and be proud of their own works of art. Within 2 hours you will be able to weave a silk scarf, make a handbag, or many other things for yourself or loved ones. More information at www.silkweavinghobby.com.
10. Ban Don Kai Dee (Benjarong Village) in Samut Sakhon
Ban Don Kai Dee is the premiere location for Thailand’s famed Benjarong porcelain. The ceramics produced here are of the finest quality and are sought after by collectors, universally admired for the beauty and grace of their unique form, design, and colour. The village’s unique design, Sakharabenjayamanee, or “Five-coloured Gemstones of Sakhon City”, features a bluegreen background, symbolizing the sea and representing the city’s coastal fishing history. The locals of Ban Don Kai Dee have formed a thriving handicraft group and offer beautiful wares for sale as well as interactive activities, tours of the village and visits to the nearby orchards and coast. Standard homestays at very reasonable prices, with food included, are offered by many local families.
Local Experience Cycling Tours
1. Bangkok’s Green Lung by Bike
Not many people know that Bangkok has several green areas suitable for cycling. These vast areas of untouched natural greenery offer a unique view of the city. Bang Krachao, Bangkok’s so called ‘green lung’ is one such place to explore on a bike. Here, you can cycle through coconut and banana plantations, see people at work and play before arriving at a small pier on the river. On weekends cyclists can also visit Bang Nam Pueng Floating Market. More information at
2. Bangkok’s Communities by Bike
Bangkok is home to people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and ways of life, for example, the Mon community of Ko Kret, the Indian community of Pahurat, and the Chinese communities of Talad Noi and Yaowaraj. The best way to explore all these is to walk or cycle through the small laneways.
Examples of these tours include:
3. Cross Country Cycling
For travellers who are keen cyclists several operators offer all-inclusive cross country cycling tours. You can choose the distance and duration (from half day to over a week), your level of comfort, and theme of interest, for example, culture, nature, or Thai food. You travel with a tour guide and an escorting van, just in case you find the day too tiring.
Examples of operators who specialised in these tours include:
4. Cycling Tours with Local Activities
Some operators offer cycling tours combined with local activities such as cooking, handicraft workshops, canal cruises, and include a farm or home stay.
A good example is
The Riverine Wonder of Thailand
1. Chao Phraya River & Canal Tours in Bangkok
Boats are a great way to explore Thailand and with a canal tour (“Khlong tour” in Thai), one can easily imagine how Bangkok may have appeared in the past. There are several kinds of boats (express boats, river taxis, river crossing ferries, long tail-boats and lunch/dinner cruise boats) which run up and down Chao Phraya River. A tourist boat is a most convenient option for first timers as it stops at all the main tourist attractions along the river like Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), the Royal Barge Museum, and Taling Chan Floating Market. Some operators offer a one day or overnight cruise between Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is Thailand’s former capital and a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. A trip along the Chao Phraya River to Ayutthaya passes plenty of ancient temples, ruins and the Bang Pa-In Palace.
For those looking for something special, Manohra Cruise offers a cooking class aboard a river cruise on an antique rice barge. More information at http://manohracruises.com/2012/index.php.
Grasshopper offers a combination of canal boat and bike tour, see
Other useful websites include
2. Floating Markets
There are many floating markets in Thailand, mostly in the Central region with a few in Bangkok. Some floating markets open only on the weekends, whilst others open every day. Most of them open from early morning until afternoon. The big ones include Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, Amphawa Floating Market in Samut Songkhram, Don Wai Floating Market in Nakhon Pathom, and Bangkok’s Klong Lad Mayom and Bang Nam Pueng Floating Markets. If you are looking for a particularly authentic one, check out Tha Kha Floating Marketing in Samut Songkhram. Many local tour operators offer a day trip to Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa Floating Markets. Some offer a few day package tours including a visit to a floating market combined with visits to other local attractions or some handicraft or cooking classes. Others combine a floating market visit with local activities such as giving food to the Buddhist monks in the morning and/or going fishing with the villagers later.
3. One Stop Eco – Cultural Experience near Bangkok
If you are looking for a ‘one stop shop’ of eco–cultural experience, Sampran Riverside is your answer. Just over an hour’s drive from Bangkok, visitors can enjoy the unique Thai Village where activities showcasing aspects of Thai tradition and culture take place every morning. Those with more time can stay in a Thai house by the river and enjoy a Thai spa treatment, try a handicraft workshop, learn to cook a few Thai dishes and visit Buddhist temples and other attractions in the area. More information at www.sampranriverside.com
Participating in community based tourism, voluntary work, and fundraising.
1. Homestay at Ban Mae Kampong in Chiang Mai
Mae Kampong is a beautiful mountain village, about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai. Located in the hills at an altitude of 1,300m, temperatures are pleasant all year round. Community Based Tourism in Ban Mae Kampong was initiated in response to the decline of demand for tea production and as an alternative source of income for local villagers. Poverty is still a problem in the area and there is a need to create jobs and income for villagers to prevent them from illegal forest encroachment. With assistance from both government and nongovernment organisations, Community Based Tourism was first implemented in 1999. Activities include village sightseeing, cultural shows and homestays. Attractions nearby include the Royal Project Teen Tok and Flight of the Gibbon Zip Line.
More information at
2. Ko Klang in Krabi
Ko Klang, which translates to “Middle Island”, derives its name from its location between the mouth of the Krabi River and the Andaman Sea. The idyllic island provides a perfect getaway from the busy world of Krabi town, just a 10 minute long-tail boat ride away. The topography of Ko Klang comprises mainly mangrove forests, with saltwater canals meandering through the island. The natural environment plays a vital part in enriching the cultural values and life of the people on the island. Ko Klang is a Muslim community where the people enjoy a simple and natural life engaging in coastal fishing, Sang Yot rice farming, producing miniature Hua Thong boats, and making Pateh textiles. The charm of Ko Klang, apart from the people and their culture, is that the island is car-free and the local people commute by bike, motorbike, and ‘skylabs’ (motorbike with sidecar). Ko Klang is an example of a community that lives a slow-paced way of life in perfect harmony with nature. Visitors are invited to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life for a moment and spend time immersing in the beauty of living at a gentler pace amidst nature and the friendly locals. Any contributions you can make to help prolong this precious way of life will be repaid to you, naturally. Visitors can learn about the rice farming, shallow water fishing, clam digging, mangrove reforestation and Pateh textile making.
More information at
3. Teaching English to local communities
Volunteer teaching in Thailand is another way that travellers can connect with the locals and English language is a most sought after subject. Though Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, many people in rural areas usually miss out on the opportunity to welcome tourists due to their lack of English language skills. Volunteering to teach English helps, and some opportunities can be found at
4. Community Based Tourism around Thailand
Community based tourism (CBT) gives guests an enjoyable opportunity to meet local people and learn about life, culture and nature in Thai communities. CBT programs are designed to build local capacity while supporting social and environmental work. In Thailand, CBT communities can be found in every region. Thailand Community Based Tourism Network Coordination, based in Chiang Mai, gives information to the public, tourists, tour operators, the Government, NGOs and academics interested to learn about, visit, or work with member CBT communities. The centre can assist responsible tour operators to identify CBT communities which are appropriate for the needs of their trips and guests. The centre can arrange survey visits for tour operators and communities to meet and develop cooperative programs.
More information at http://cbtnetwork.org/?page_id=22.
5. Fundraising or volunteering with Hands across the Water
Hands across the Water is an Australian, New Zealand and Thai charity that gives at-risk Thai children and their communities a helping hand. The projects are tailored to meet local communities’ needs – for the long term. Currently Hands across the Water supports 300 children in multiple locations across Thailand such as Baan Tharn Namchai in Khao Lak, Home Hug in Yasothon and Surin, The New Life Project in Kanchanaburi and Chumphon, Baan Nam Khem Community Centre and Tsunami Refuge in Khao Lak and PAMA House in Chanthaburi. There are many ways to raise funds or volunteer with Hands across the Water but its primary fundraising activity is cross country cycling in Thailand.
More information at http://handsacrossthewater.org.au/get-involved/volunteer-2/
6. Volunteer at Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket
Soi Dog Foundation is a non-profit organisation which helps dogs and cats of Thailand. The primary role of a volunteer at the animal shelter in Phuket is to socialise with the cats, dogs and puppies, as it is essential to teach them to trust people so they can be adopted into safe and loving homes. It is recommended that volunteers spend at least a month at the shelter, in order to build close relationships with the animals.
More information at www.soidog.org/en/volunteer/.
7. Volunteering with the Mirror Foundation
The Mirror Foundation runs a well-established, successful, and much loved volunteer program, for individuals and groups who wish to work with the minorities and the underprivileged people in Thailand. There are many ways to volunteer with the Mirror Foundation, including helping educate hill tribe children in the north, delivering food to the homeless in Bangkok, visiting the sick and elderly, reforestation and small construction projects.
More information at www.mirror.or.th/volunteereng.php and www.thailandvolunteer.org/.
Koh (Ko) – an island, e.g., (Koh) Ko Klang in Krabi
Mu Koh (Mu Ko) – a group of islands
Wat – temple, e.g. Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) in Bangkok, Wat Phra Singha in Chiang Mai Khlong – canal.