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Young, Western back-packers were the pioneers of Thailand's eco-adventure travel. From informally organised small groups in the early 1970s who penetrated to the mountain fastness of Thailand's nothern hilltribes, trekking holidays have developed so rapidly over the past couple of decades that nearly every hotel and guest house in the northern capital of Chiang Mai now arranges hilltribe tours. More than 100 agencies are registered as members of the Professional Guide Association of Chiang Mai and the Jungle Tour Club of Northern Thailand.
Agencies is smaller northern towns also arrange hilltribe treks. A typical tour involves a group of six to ten trekkers, a guide and a cook. There will be overnight stays in hilltribe villages, and a hike of four, five, or even ten days. Treks are designed to expose visitors to a variety of hilltribes who typicallay live at various mountain elevations. The Tribal Research Institute in Chiang Mai recognises ten different hilltribes in Thailand, estimating their population at around 550,000.
The Professional Guide Association of Chiang Mai meets monthly to issue regular reports to the Tourism Authority of Thailand about individual treks, their problems and successes. Members also cooperate in setting trek prices.
With the growing public awareness of eco-friendly programmes such as animall-and birg-watching hiking and camping, most of which take place in national parkland managed by the Forestry Department Park Service.
In the south, sea canoeing and kayaking are drawing more and more visitors equally eager to explore the marvels of the Andaman and to see that they are preserved for future generations. In-land canoeing has caught on as well, a positive sign that more and more people are conscious of the benefits of eco-tourism.
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