A Guide to Responsible Travel in Thailand
By Dawn Jorgensen
Global trends indicate that an increasing number of travellers want to engage in local conservation and activities that promote sustainability. In Thailand these conscious travellers are opting for city treehouses and island homestays, volunteering at animal sanctuaries and visiting eco-initiatives that support local communities while obtaining extra insight into the country.
With climate change affecting all of us, tourists are becoming more aware of their own carbon footprints, but also the economic and social influence they may have on the destinations they visit. In summary, if you leave the air-conditioner on when you leave the room, aren’t carrying a reusable water bottle and think that interacting with wild animals is acceptable, you’re not being a responsible traveller.
Here are some ways to help you travel more responsibly:
Choose Greener Accommodation – Be selective in your choice of accommodation. Look to family run businesses with a strong eco feel, or sustainable tourism endorsement, which ensures that environmental, economic and social values are being upheld. Get to the core of responsible tourism by eating locally sourced food, in turn supporting resident farmers and creating job opportunities for the community, while getting a real taste of the homegrown cuisine.
Support local – When it comes to eating, sleeping and buying souvenirs, choosing where you spend your money can have a massive impact on the community. By having meals at small restaurants, staying in a family-run guest house or purchasing a trinket from a street vendor, you are helping to inject money directly into the local economy. Besides creating a more authentic travel experience for yourself, you are also helping someone create a better life for the communities that are so generously hosting you.
Choose an Eco-Friendly Tour – Seek experiences that have meaning and create memories, from cultural and heritage experiences that speak of the traditions and history of a place to adventure activities or travel with a purpose, where tourists can contribute to a greater cause or even get involved in local conservation efforts. Research what is available in your chosen destination and remember the old adage – take only photographs, leave only footprints.
Respect the Local Culture – One of the greatest rewards of travel is learning about different cultures and religions. The world and its people are diverse and fascinating, and it is an astonishing feeling being privileged enough to experience it. Keep in mind how important it is to show respect to those local customs and traditions. Many countries are more conservative with their dress sense and wearing shorts and sleeveless tops may be inappropriate. Take the time to learn a bit of the local language even if it is just to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
Go Plastic Free – Tireless efforts by environmentalists have greatly increased awareness of plastic’s negative impact on the ocean, and the planet and many tourism bodies have pledged to take action, aiming to end the use of plastic straws, plastic water bottles and single use plastic. Carry a shopping bag and your own reusable water bottle, don’t use disposable toiletries, carry a cloth napkin or two. Don’t buy unnecessary cheap plastic souvenirs, opt for the real thing made locally and ideally with a story that inspires telling.
Be kind and respectful – Be respectful and aware of your surrounds, be they urban or wilderness. Be gracious to all who host and serve you. Say thank you. Be present. Think about what you post on social media. Remember that you are a guest, and that travel is a privilege.
Doi Chiang Dao, Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary, Chiang Mai
Where you can make a difference on your next trip:
- Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation project
Founded in Phuket as a research division of the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project aims to rescue and rehabilitate illegally captive gibbons, prevent the mistreatment of the species, and educate the public in the devastation of illegal wildlife trade. The park grounds are open to the public with volunteers offering guided tours and information about the individual animals on-site, with longer term volunteer opportunities available. The project depends on public participation and asks for any sightings of gibbons used for tourist photo-ops, a strictly illegal activity, to be sent to their e-mail so the group can follow up.
Aerial Photograph of Bamboo Bridge at Na Noi Village, Nakhon Nayok Published in Nakhon Nayok, where nature is closer than you think. Osotho Magazine, Issued : October, 2019 Page 58
- Join A Beach Clean Up with Trash Hero Thailand
This is an easy way to make a difference, all you need is a few hours and to look out for a beach clean-up near to where you are staying. There are a number of organisations working towards saving the shores with waste prevention projects, marine restoration and other conservation initiatives, Trash Hero is one of them. This global NGO traces its roots back to Thailand, where a small group of friends first started to organise community members for weekly beach cleans. Now there are more than 50 chapters across nine countries, almost half of which are in Thailand. Community members assemble regularly to hold trash clean-ups and a range of other projects, uniting locals and tourists alike over a feel good day helping the ocean.
- Visit a dog shelter, the Soi Dog Foundation
More in need of support than ever with reduced resources given the pandemic. In the past, widespread euthanasia or the sale of dogs to meat markets in Vietnam or China was practiced, but this is no longer endorsed. Today, the Soi Dog Foundation is one of the largest organisations that fight for the humane management of Thai street dogs, tending to their medical needs and working to find them forever homes. Based in Phuket, the organisation is always looking for volunteers to help socialise the new rescues who often arrive very shy of human interaction, and flight volunteers that help check in the animal at the airport when they are bound for their new homes.
For community based tours and personally guided bookings, connect with Locals Alike at https://localalike.com/, a Thai-based social enterprise that assists with developing authentic eco-tourism while offering support to the communities.