In an attempt to escape the pollution in the city, we recently
decided on a visit to the Pang Soong Lodge Outdoor Education & Research
Centre. Approximately 50 kilometers from Chiang Mai (less than an hour’s
drive) the Centre is located in a gorge next to a stream at the head of the
Mae Lai valley in Mae On District, nestling 700 feet above the valley below,
and between two heavily forested National Parks.
The ethos of the resort is ‘responsible tourism’, focusing on eco-tourism
and environmental education. Shane and Sriphan Beary are the co-owners of
the lodge, together with their Thai business partners, Ajarn Amnuay and
Kanika Inpajat, who have owned the land for 15 years.
lodge blends in perfectly with the natural surroundings.
Pang Soong Lodge is situated in a unique, private-sector operated and
community-owned ecotourism development. The Pang Soong Nature Trails are an
attraction designed to raise environmental awareness, to protect the forest,
and to showcase the local wisdom of the Khon Muang people.
The villagers of Ban Mae Lai are the custodians of the community forest in
which they, and their ancestors, have farmed fermented tea (Chaa Miang) for
over 200 years. These local people were originally part of the early ‘Tai’
ethnic group that migrated south from China and settled in Northern Thailand
after their lands were overrun by tribes from further north.
The lodge itself fits in well with the surroundings, snuggled up amongst the
natural beauty surrounding its boundaries. There are 16 bedrooms, which can
accommodate 1-4 visitors in single or bunk beds. Guests go to bed at night
and wake in the morning to the sound of the Mae Lai stream as it flows over
a waterfall just 30 metres from the window.
16 spotlessly clean bedrooms can accommodate up to 4 persons each.
Five kilometers down the road is the Royal Agriculture Development Project
at Teen Tok, where vanilla is being cultivated. The plants are extremely
difficult to grow - traditionally, there is only one single three-hour
period on only one day in the year when conditions are exactly right for the
male and female genes to produce vanilla pods, one of the world’s most
From the lodge, visitors can take guided walks along the many trails that
run through the 30 sq. km. forest. The trail entrance fee, paid by every
guest, goes into a social security fund managed by the village committee.
Project and financial reports are submitted at discussion groups held
between the company and the villagers twice each year.
Three village guides accompany the walks, together with a team of outdoor
educators led by American, Courtney Goode, whose Thai colleagues speak
fluent English. All are able to provide amazing insight into the forest and
its biodiversity. The trails range from easy to difficult - so far,
visitors’ ages have ranged from 7 to 79 years old.
With the likelihood of seeing wild boar, snakes, spiders larger than the
size of your hand and wild cats such as the Civet, together with deer and
numerous species of birds and butterflies, it is a relief to know that the
guides, who have received basic first aid training, are fully equipped with
two-way radios and medical packs!
On our walk, almost immediately after setting off, Courtney was already
explaining the incredible biodiversity in the area, showing us a plant that
villagers use for fishing which, when put into still water, paralyses the
fish! The next surprise was the ‘Strangler’ fig tree – so-called for its
method of reproduction. When birds and small creatures eat the seeds and
defecate on a different tree, a small parasite carried in the seed emerges,
travels down into the ground at the tree’s base, and plants its own roots.
It then grows up around the tree and strangles it.
Next was a typical banana plant; below the fruit is a flower which
porcupines love to eat, ramming the plant until the flower falls. Courtney
also explained to us that, throughout the forest, there are many plants
which provide natural remedies and medicines; the ‘Jack in the Bush’, for
example, is a natural blood coagulant.
The local people love the forest and work hard to preserve it for future
generations. Many of the old tales and superstitions ensure environmental
protection. For example, children are told not to disturb a spider’s web,
otherwise they will never marry when they grow up! On our own walk, it soon
became obvious that it is essential to take the guided tours rather than
just walking freely by ourselves, maybe not realising the damage we might
do. While escorting the tours, Courtney and her colleagues and guests
conduct an ongoing biodiversity monitoring programme, set in place to record
the conditions and changes in the forest.
When guests return to the lodge, hungry after a long, fascinating and
informative walk in the fresh air, they can choose from a wide menu of
dishes at very reasonable prices, including spicy Thai soup (Tom yum moo),
deep fried chicken in butter served in a sweet and sour prune chili sauce
and vegetarian curry. Breakfast choices are Thai, American or Continental,
plus a large range of seasonal fruit. Whilst relaxing in the evening around
the campfire and listening to the frogs, guests can enjoy a beer, a whisky
or one of the many delicious cocktails containing local fruit juices.
As previously stated, emphasise is on environmental education, which
includes teaching English to the students at 4 local schools, one of the
planned programmes & activities in which guests are invited to take part.
Prices for a stay vary, guests can choose between one of the set programmes
of 1, 1.5 and 2 days’ duration, including transport to and from Chiang Mai.
Alternatively, they can design their own package, with advertised rates for
a single room starting at 350 baht and individual tours from 2,000 baht.
Discounts are available for students under 18 years old and seniors over 55,
if booking in family or active senior groups. Special rates are also
available to members of the Chiang Mai Friends Group booking through
Boutique Travel Service. Volunteers from the group join in teaching
assignments run by Voluntourists without Borders, with ‘Week End’ English
camps at the lodge, run for local students, taking place twice a month.
For further tour details, please visit www.track-of-the-tiger.com under
Track of the Tiger T.R.D – Eco-Adventures 2009, or
Guided tours into the forest are a highlight of
A variety of ecological treasures await visitors
to Pang Soong Lodge Outdoor Education & Research Centre.