Conscious Travel in Thailand
By Katia Shulga and Barry Allard, a yoga teacher and social entrepreneur, currently travelling the World and writing about it at www.thegoldinyou.com. Follow Katia and Barry’s travels on Instagram @thegoldinyou or take one of katia’s youtube classes.
Sustainable and ethical travel starts like any other journey, with research. We all know the feeling of excitement when you’ve booked that flight to a new destination, or maybe even one where you’ve been many times before. The weeks leading up to the adventure we secretly google restaurants at work between answering emails, and look at all the not-working we’ll be doing.
Guess what? Travelling ethically is the same, you just add another search term - “ethical”. It takes a little care and consideration, but in this way, you can contribute positively to the country that you’re visiting and its people. And it’s no less fun!
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in the world and its popularity has grown year on year. We love the country and have visited it regularly over the last 15 years. In that time, parts of it have changed beyond recognition, often for the worse. Solitary beaches have become built up with hotels, covered in plastic and that coral reef that we used to snorkel around is gone. But, at the same time, tourism has brought lots of opportunity to this beautiful country, and we need to consider how we can travel there and leave a positive imprint.
This year we spent a month here and connected with a whole host of people looking to improve the way that tourism is currently done in Thailand. We learnt that, these days, you can make a positive difference really easily.
Here are some points to consider and some solutions to your ethical traveling woes.
Where to start:
When going to Thailand we would always recommend spending at least a few days in Bangkok, a city that is alive with smells, flavours and experiences.
Committed to bringing back the long lost communities of local artisans to life, they conserve the traditional way of life and local wisdom to transform Bangkok into a city of exquisite arts and traditions. As they say: ‘A tourist city for “foreigners” will be a liveable city for “everyone” too.’
- Book your tours of the city or, the indeed the whole country, through sustainable tour companies, such as Local Alike, Hivesters, and Trawell Thailand. These are all social businesses aiming to support the communities that they do tours in, rather than exploit them for their own profits (as many tour companies do.) You can book cooking courses there, as well as walking tours, market and temple visits, nature hikes, farm stays, sustainable trips and so much more!
What to watch out for:
Be wary of the typical tourist traps in Thailand, such as elephant rides and other animal related activities. Elephant trekking is a classic tourist excursion, but these beautiful animals are severely beaten and abused at an early age to prepare them for this work.
There are not enough forests left in Thailand to have all the captive elephants roam free, but there are some solutions to the problem. Instead, visit one of the emerging elephant rescue shelters and connect with these majestic creatures in a much more profound way. You get to play with them, feed them and even go for a walk and a swim!
- Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation
- Elephant Nature Park
- Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary
- Surin Project
A few years back, we also visited the Koh Lanta Animal Welfare project that looks after dogs and cats. We spent a few hours playing with them; it was really informative and fun, especially as there are so many homeless dogs in Thailand.
How to give back:
- If you have been moved by the unbelievable impact of plastic on the beautiful Thai beaches, consider joining Trash Hero for one of their beach clean ups.
- Bring a water filter with you to avoid buying lots of plastic water bottles
- Consider getting toxin-free sun lotion (you may need to get this before your travels, although we did find Badger Balm lotions in Bangkok). Not only is it better for you to not rub lots of toxic ingredients all over yourself, but also better for the ocean. We wash off something like 5,000 tonnes of sunscreen into the ocean each year and this has a severe impact on the ph balance in the water, effecting coral and other micro-organisms.
How to support the local economy:
Thailand is filled with lots of bargains and shopping for cheap dresses, sunglasses, fake watches and random decorations that look totally amazing there but weird and out place when you bring them home. This is all part of the travel. Which, as fun as it is, also has a hidden cost to the people working in the factories producing these things and ultimately to the planet as well. This doesn’t mean that you stop, but rather than buying lots of cheaply made trinkets, consider quality products made by local artisans and social enterprises creating sustainable fashion. Some that we love are:
After our last visit to Thailand we left more hopeful that there is more awareness of environmental problems, more solutions and overall, that the situation isn’t hopeless. Our solution? Let’s all share our experiences of sustainable travel to inspire others. It’s not about telling people what to do, it’s about showing them an alternative way and how much fun you had doing it!