Ethical traveling in Thailand is incredibly crucial when tourism has taken off in the last few years. Thailand gets millions of visitors each year, and being a responsible traveler will prevent strained resources and environmental damage to this developing country. It is our responsibility as tourists to choose to be sustainable, and these are 5 ways you can make your next trip to Thailand a guilt-free one.
1. Avoid Animal Tourism
Be mindful of cruel animal attractions that cause harm to wild animals. Some of these animals are subject to abuse and giving patronage to these companies only furthers the spread of these attractions. Instead, do some research on sustainable travel, and seek out true sanctuaries that actually care for or rescued these animals.
In Chiang Mai, you can volunteer your time, and spend the day with rescued elephants at the Elephant Nature Park. There are many different types of activities, depending on the level of engagement you would like with the animals. I found it to be extremely fulfilling to help wash, feed, and play with the elephants in a small setting that also ensures that they are well taken care of.
2. Support Local Communities
Visiting the Karen Long Neck tribe seems to have riled up plenty of Western media coverage and controversy, saying that their “captivity” makes this visit seem like giving patronage to a “human zoo.” Being an outsider, it seems easy to believe, but believing in ethical travels, I wanted to find out for myself. I wanted to talk to a few of the locals in the tribe, and find out how they really feel about their living situation. In talking to them, they seem happy, and they expressed that tourism helps them support themselves. They were originally refugees from Burma (Now Myanmar), escaping from war and violence, and sought refuge in Thailand. Returning to their homeland is really not an option, and staying in Thailand allows for them to retain their colorful traditions and spread awareness of their culture, all the while, making income from visits and support from tourists by selling their crafts. They were extremely friendly and welcoming, and were happy to interact with me. I can understand if people were to visit the village without any interaction with the locals, and simply just took photographs of their daily lives, that this visit would probably seem less meaningful. These women I visited are from another tribe that live with the Karen Long Neck tribe. Do you research prior to your visit to see how you can make your experience enriching for all.
3. End Child Labour
It might seem intuitive to give change or even purchase things that children try to sell on the street, however, this actually backfires when it reinforces the belief that finishing grade school is unnecessary to make a living. Children often get pushed to sell small trinkets on the street as a means to bring money home to their family, but when tourists succumb to their pleas for money, the children falsely believe that the act of selling trinkets or begging is more profitable than getting an education. This contributes to a lower literacy rate when children abandon their schooling.
4. Support Local Businesses
When we support local businesses, we back the local economy and help revitalize communities. Much of the country is struggling in terms of income, and our support does make an impact. Avoid chain restaurants and stores – There are plenty of street and night markets to truly embrace the Thai culture, and find awesome handmade crafts.
Some examples might be to book tours with local companies that are sustainable, or even staying in guesthouses instead of large chain hotels.
5. Choose Activities Wisely
As beautiful as some of the islands of Thailand are, be mindful of marine life when snorkeling or diving. The ocean’s eco-system is so delicate, so steer clear of companies that encourage touching of corals or marine life. Wear a rash guard instead of sunblock to prevent contaminating the waters further.
A unique water-activity alternative is to climb a “sticky” waterfall near Chiang Mai. These rocks have some sort of a grip due to the mineral deposit, much like the cotton castle terraces in Pamukkale in Turkey, which allows you to walk up effortlessly. The round rocks feel like a hardened sponge, and have this grippy texture to it. You can find the Bua Tong waterfall an hour out from Chiang Mai.
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