Thailand Sustainable Travel Guide
Whenever my friends talk about a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, Thailand is undoubtedly on their list. And there’s good reason. Whether you’re looking for adventure, wildlife or a hedonistic haven, Thailand has you covered. Choices abound, you can choose to trek through dense forests in one of over 100 national parks, go scuba diving, see wildlife in their natural habitat, enjoy the vibrant nightlife, or just relax on a white sand beach on a tropical island. There is literally something for everyone in Thailand, which is why the country has become the one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. In fact Thailand welcomed a staggering 26.7 million international visitors in 2013.
When travelling in Thailand, here are some of the top things to consider to keep your trip sustainable, responsible and ethical:
The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand. It was believed that over 100 years ago, the country was home to over 100,000 wild Asian elephants. Today, that number is less than 5,000, of which 3,800 are kept in captivity. And these elephant camps have become a major tourist attraction where people can watch an elephant perform tricks, or pay money to take a joyride on top of one. These elephants are subjected to both physical and emotional trauma in order to be trained to obey human commands. The truth is that we can go on forever about the exploitation of elephants and the abuse they receive in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. However, we recommend reading the information on the following pages should this be a subject you are interested in:
Tiger sanctuaries fair no better unfortunately. Despite claims of conservation, these establishments have become well-known for the poor treatment and abuse of tigers. Unfortunately, tourism is largely to blame for this. For example, tourists who choose to have their pictures taken with a live tiger often don’t realize that the tiger has to be fed copious amounts of drugs to ensure they are no longer a threat to the individual(s). In 2014, Matador Network wrote a piece on Thailand's Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua or "Tiger Temple". It listed 7 reasons why you shouldn't visit the facility. 1.2 million people read the piece, and in 2015, the Thai government shut the facility down. You can read their article here:
All-Inclusive Resorts and Package Holidays
It’s no secret that Thailand has attracted a number of five-star all-inclusive resorts, many of which are situated right by the sea. It’s exactly this image of hedonism that attracts so many people to the beaches of Koh Tao, Phuket or one of Thailand’s many tropical beaches. But it’s important to remind travelers of the pitfalls all-inclusive resorts. The most serious of symptoms is economic leakage where the host country receives little to no money from the tourism industry. When everything is paid up front, including your flight, hotel, food, drink and entertainment, it leaves little incentive for you to spend money elsewhere, such as local shops and vendors. Furthermore, the majority of the money you spend winds up as profit for a foreign-owned company, as opposed to the local economy. You’re also not likely to experience the culture of Thailand in its truest form within the gates of your resort. Finally, all-inclusive resorts put huge strains on natural resources such as fresh water and electricity.
In May 2018, the Thai government shut down Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, made popular the movie "The Beach", for four months. This was due to over-tourism, which caused damage to the local ecosystem and physical beauty of the beach itself.
How to Travel Sustainably in Thailand
Travelling sustainably in Thailand largely depends on what activities you are doing. With anything related to animals and wildlife, it is crucial that you do your research to ensure that the activity you are interested in is cruelty-free. In Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries however, that may mean skipping out on that activity all together.
Regarding hotels, instead of all-inclusive resorts, we recommend an eco-lodge instead. A quick search will bring up a number of very positively reviewed eco-lodges in popular places like Chiang Mai, Koh Ra and even Bangkok. Many of these eco-lodges are locally or family owned, and all take sustainability initiatives very seriously. You can bet that by staying at any one of these eco-lodges that you’ll be reducing your environmental footprint, and creating a positive impact with your travel dollars.
Thailand is also a great place to experience community tourism, where you can stay at traditional villages with the villagers themselves. This is an amazing way to travel and to experience a truly authentic way of life. One such village that accepts travellers to stay with them is the village of Mae Klang Luang. Community tourism may in fact be the epitome of sustainable travel as you are proactively supporting local cultures, environments and economies. To read more about the Mae Klang Luang village and about community tourism, visit our page here.