Ethical Tourism in Thailand: A Practical Guide

Choosing the right beaches, protecting wildlife and more.

Ethical tourism starts at “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing behind.” Yet it goes much further than that.
When traveling to a foreign land, it’s important to take note of local laws and customs. Thailand is home to many islands that are Instagram worthy. It’s important to sustain their natural beauty. Sustainable tourism only happens when everyone cooperates.

Elephant Sanctuaries and Ethical Tourism

Supporting ethical tours of elephant sanctuaries is important for preserving the species.

Using elephants for transportation and moving heavy loads has been a way of life for centuries. An ancient way of life in Southeast Asia, makes it a complex relationship. Elephants are trained to clear dense forests and cross rivers to build bridges. In 1989, the Thai government banned logging in protected areas. They also banned using elephants for logging. Despite good intentions, it led ‘unemployed’ elephants into Thailand’s exploding tourism industry.
Elephant tours come in many forms, commonly circus-like acts and carrying tourists around on their backs. Riding elephants strains their spine, permanently damaging them. The photos you see of tourists riding elephants may look great at first. But you’ll feel awful about them once you realize how they’re trained. Unlike cats and dogs, elephants aren’t domesticated. They keep their wild instincts, even from birth. Newborn elephants are put through a brutal process called phajaan (crushing their wild spirit).
The situation isn’t hopeless. Many animal rights organizations are vocal about boycotting all elephant tours. There are still sanctuaries you can visit with peace of mind. Elephants that are no longer ’employed’ still need love and care. Whether elephants are old and retired or liberated from unethical tours, ethical elephant sanctuaries do exist. Do your research before you book your day with the elephants.

Supporting Locals in the Land of Smiles

Never judge a book by its cover. Poverty levels in Thailand are still quite high, despite its bustling tourism industry. The rapid development of tourist towns has made living costs for locals higher than ever. Combine that with a low minimum wage and it can be a tough environment for many. The easiest way to support the Thai people you interact with in your travels is simple, tipping.
Minimum wage in Thailand is 305 baht ($9.71 USD) per day, so even a small tip goes a long way. Staying somewhere more expensive isn’t a guarantee that employees are paid better. Budget a little for tipping wherever your trip takes you. If you can afford a vacation in paradise, you can afford to leave a small tip.

Preserving Thailand’s Wildlife and Environment

Don't litter at the beach! Sustainable tourism takes everyone's efforts.

Overdevelopment of islands in Southeast Asia has become a huge problem. Most now consider the damage irreversible. Preventing future catastrophes is more viable than reversing the damage. There are 1,400 islands in Thailand with countless beaches. It can come to a shock to tourists how many beaches are close to the typical tourist trails.
Every Full Moon Party, there are mountains of waste that build up on Koh Phangan. Don’t be that person that leaves their garbage behind on the beach. Litter is damaging to the environment, especially plastic. Koh Tao is home to some rare species of turtles that are dwindling in numbers from eating plastic waste.

Ethical Tourism Takes a Village

By doing your part, you contribute to protecting Thailand’s culture and environment. The great thing is you don’t have to go out of your way to be a responsible tourist. You’re doing research for your travels anyway, so why not be a good Samaritan about it? Only engage in ethical treatment of animals, leave tips and don’t leave your waste behind. It’s not so hard and your adventure will still be the epic journey you want it to be.

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