A Day Beneath the Canopy with Flight of the Gibbon
A short drive out of the city will find you wending your way up a meandering mountainous road overshadowed and squeezed in by the thick luscious green jungle, eventually arriving at Mae Kampong Village.
Mae Kampong is a charming and quiet village which sits next to Chae Son National Park and has been, for the past 11 years, the home-base for Chiang Mai’s first and premier zipline adventure company, Flight of the Gibbon (FOTG). While visitors initially came to the area for the thrill of flying high over dizzying jungle heights, experiencing the tropical foliage from a unique vantage point, today they also come to experience the village itself, taking in the rich local colour and vibrant culture.
While many tourist destinations in Thailand, whether cultural or natural, have succumbed to mass commercialisation and over development, the people of Mae Kampong have made a conscious decision to maintain their identity. The village understands that its main assets are its surrounding nature and its well-preserved culture, and all decisions which affect the entire village are made with these two important elements in mind.
Flight of the Gibbon’s relationship with Mae Kampong is a resounding success story. The company not only employs local villagers, but also helps the community to increase its income from additional services. A walk through the village will take visitors past handicraft stores, adorable cafes, and charming mum and pop shops. The village today looks much the same as it did pre-Flight of the Gibbon’s arrival _ rickety wooden houses, well-kept flowerbeds and vegetable gardens lining the maze of streets, perfectly inviting for a stroll. The company has also worked very closely with the community in preserving, and even rejuvenating, the surrounding natural environment, a symbiotic relationship which has benefited all parties.
From its inception, Flight of the Gibbon began to work towards preserving and increasing Thailand’s dwindling gibbon population. “The few gibbons we found were born in cages, poached and captured,” a representative of the company explained on a recent visit. They are monitored, and their health checked by specialists regularly, but they are ultimately free. Visitors can see the gibbons from a distance in their natural environment _ it is truly a unique experience.”
Flight of the Gibbon donates part of its profits towards conservation, injecting funds into campaigns and activities ranging from tree planting, a camera trap programme to develop a better understanding of wildlife in the area, to targeted programmes such as the gibbon rehabilitation. Recently, they announced that they will soon open a new nature experience which will include an extended hike in the surrounding forests, explaining to guests the flora and fauna in the region.
The community spirit is alive and well in Mae Kampong, with members of the community understanding that if the village comes together to be eco-friendly, sustainable and authentic, then the benefits will be felt by all within the community. A local council makes decisions on behalf of the village, each change or step taken with deliberation and within the above mentioned framework.
According to locals, Flight of the Gibbon takes good care of both the forest and the community. “If the village has a money problem, the company will help,” said one villager. “Also, one day each month there is a big clean-up day, and everyone gets involved. The village belongs to everyone, not one person or one company, so we work together towards the same goal _ to preserve nature and to preserve our village.”
As it stands, 50% of Flight of the Gibbon employees are from the local area, and many more villagers not involved with the company have been able to start profitable local businesses off the back of the tourism that Flight of the Gibbon provides. The village of Mae Kampong only allows residents of the village pre 2015 to conduct business in the area too, enabling the village to remain self-sufficient and keeping the community close.
“Other similar places have many problems and conflicts between the locals and the businesses, but here in Mae Kampong we really care about each other, they understand the village way of life and we understand their business,” another villager explained. Flight of the Gibbon has brought a prosperity to the area as well as a sustainable future for both the village and the burgeoning gibbon population in the area.