Why We Love Phuket’s Bangtao Community

Collaborative Post By Writer Philipp Meier / (Coming Up Soon): Little Wandering Wren

While people associate Thailand with beach life, thus an idyllic life, happiness runs deeper than vacations, a paradise in the real world and a sense of escape. Thai man Lab, an 81-year-old who lives in a Phuket backwater where roosters roam, has toiled away on a rubber plantation since he was 10, a livelihood that has helped him sustain his daughters’ studies.

Happiness for him has come as a result of having everything he needs. Darkly tanned, he’s fine harvesting latex all morning, slicing grooves into the bark and peeling it back, unperturbed by the humidity. Just as beneficial to himself, not least because he lost his wife last year, is looking after his clucking hens and quacking ducks or collecting his fruit farm’s mangos, mangosteen, and dainty durian. Asked about his dreams, he says, ‘I want my son to take over in the future.’ In a word, he loves his simple life, and that’s contagious.

Should Lab ever be in financial need, he can lean on the Bang Tao community, of which he’s a member. The Bang Tao community promotes slow, community-based tourism, immersing visitors interested in another side of Phuket in the local culture.

‘People like to visit the rubber plantations, the fishermen’s village, and the goat farm,’ says Khun Tikki, the head of the Bang Tao community, one of six local communities in Phuket. The tourist spend directly supports them. They save 10 percent in an emergency fund for work clothes, donations to the school, and for paying hospital bills or tiding members over.

Jenny and I have asked Tikki to show us the community’s world. We meet him on a sunny Monday morning in April 2022 at Mida Grande, a five-star hotel in Phuket that works with the community. He warmly welcomes us, smiling, and hands over brown coconuts with straws coming out of them; the tops have been taken off. The cool, delicious coconut water is the first taste of this authentic tour in Bang Tao, a predominantly Muslim area near Surin Beach.

‘We feel stronger together, sharing food and helping each other,’ Tiki says, radiating enthusiasm and modesty at once. Covid has shown them what they really need – food, relationships, and a roof over their heads.

While the spearfishing Thais that aren’t Urak Lawoi sea gypsies have piqued my curiosity, the Bang Hod Goat Farm resonates with me particularly, aside from Lab, the rubber plantation worker. Setting foot on this award-winning farm, I instantly catch the goaty perfume in the air, wondering whether we can drink goat milk on the spot.

An almost calf-sized, black-and-white-striped Aussie goat lies around like a cow, weary of the humidity and the unborn babies it’s carrying, while miniature, local goats bleat behind. Poking their heads through gaps between wooden bars, they gaze at me with puppy dog eyes.

‘You can try,’ Tikki says, nodding to that 10-year-old youngster helping his grandmother milk the goats. Curiously, I approach that Thai boy who’s already an old hand.

Without speaking, he shows me how to place the thumb and forefinger together to pinch the top of the teat, where it meets the bulge of the udder. But this isn’t child’s play; I barely manage to milk more than a few drops. The goat humours me, staring outside as if nothing unusual is happening.

Rather than drinking the milk straight from the goat, the goat whisperer, a grandma, says she’ll pasteurize it for us. While I still need to hone my goat milking skills, I’ve been thrilled to do something utterly new to me, knowing that it benefits the community.

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