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ASEAN

Thailand's indigenous women break tourism barrier

Soe Aubomo, one of the Thai-Karen guides of Chai Lai Sisters, leads an elephant at dawn. (Photo by Oz Go)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- Deep in the jungle of Mae Wang, two hours drive southwest of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, five Thai-Karen women banded together to do something their community had never heard of: They started a company run entirely by women. It was only later they realized they might have made national history by becoming Thailand's first tour company run exclusively by indigenous women.

Supported by seed funds from the Mae Wang-based nonprofit Daughters Rising, the group, calling themselves Chai Lai Sisters, opened for business in September. The women all hail from the Karen hill tribe ethnic group that dwells near the Thai-Myanmar border. All the women at Chai Lai Sisters are under the age of 30, and come from ethnic hill tribe villages near Mae Wang.

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