Le Paris Phuket 56

Page 40

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

© Stéphanie Breton

For a different way to discover Thailand, far from readymade tours and outings, there are alternatives especially focusing on the experience and putting travelers in contact with local “friends.” Such is the case with the community platform VeryLocalTrip.

© Stéphanie Breton

40 I SEPTEMBRE I OCTOBRE 2016

VeryLocalTrip, travel straight to the heart

I

t was still chilly in the early morning in Sakon Nakhon, a small town in northeast Thailand located 650 kilometers from Bangkok. Tik and Tom came to get our small group. Both are professors at Sakon Nakhon university and are particularly involved in social entrepreneurship. They were our guides for the day and the intermediaries and interpreters with the communities. Along with Maxime Besnier, the founder of the VeryLocalTrip platform, Wanda Gabai, who works for the Research Center of Communication and Development Knowledge Management (CCDKM), as well as a few representatives from a high-end travel agency who came to try out one of the activities offered by VeryLocalTrip, we set off on the road. The day’s schedule included a visit to the nearby villages whose main business focuses on indigo, an ancestral economy that makes the reputation of the region. Who has never received an email from a friend, family member or acquaintance

asking for a few tips about their upcoming trip to Bangkok? From this simple observation, Maxime Besnier, a 38-year-old Frenchman living in Thailand for over 6 years, decided to create VeryLocalTrip.com, a collaborative platform that offers travelers the opportunity to discover the country through the eyes and in the daily lives of the people who live there: cooking classes, tours of Chinatown, a bike tour through Bangkok, etc. “The idea is to offer an informal visit that can be customized depending on the tastes and the desires of people, from design to craftsmanship, including street food, or even activities for children, above all, we offer a unique experience,” explains Maxime Besnier on the road leading the group to meet with a community that works in indigo, from the plant to the final product. Through VeryLocalTrip, travelers are put into contact with what Maxime calls “Local Friends,” Thai or expatriate friends

who know the chosen destination perfectly and who treat travelers by sharing their favorite restaurants, unusual stories about a neighborhood or town, and so on. “The advantage is that we avoid ready-made guides who only stick to telling the history of the royal dynasty. This isn’t necessarily what people want the most. Instead, they often want to hear history more anecdotally, which the Thai won’t necessarily say, taboos they won’t explain. When travelers arrive in Thailand, they feel a cultural gap and will ask questions about everything.” Launched two years in a more international form, with activities in about thirty countries based on the idea of an “Airbnb of experiencing local tourism,” a sort of travel agency 2.0, the activity of VeryLocalTrip now focuses more on Thailand, so Maxime is able to verify all the offers. “It’s not always possible to find ‘ambassadors’ on site, trusted people whom I can ask to verify the quality of the services. Because we don’t just offer four