Sustainable Travel in Thailand: Why Should You Care?

Trouble in Paradise: How to Achieve Sustainable Travel in Thailand

Thailand needs your help. Rapid development and tourism is piling on the pressure and we all have a part to play in promoting sustainable travel in Thailand.

Think of Thailand and you probably think of paradise. Pristine jungle, crystal-clear waterfalls and gorgeous sunsets on white powder beaches. But these days there’s trouble brewing. Thailand’s success as a tourist destination is a double-edged sword- just as more and more people are able to come and experience the beauty, so the sheer numbers of tourists are starting to chip away at the edges of what makes Thailand special.

Now more than ever it’s important that visitors make an effort to travel sustainably. With a few small changes to the way we travel we can help protect this amazing country for generations to come. There are many approaches to ethical tourism in Thailand, but for this blog, we’ve covered the easiest ones to keep in mind during your backpacking trip.

Reducing Use of Plastics

This is a huge issue globally at the moment, and Thailand is no different. Anyone who’s seen a plastic bottle wash up on an otherwise pristine beach knows the impact that even a small amount of rubbish can have on the environment, and sadly it’s often not restricted to just one bottle.

What can you do? Buy a reusable bottle (like a Sigg bottle or similar) and use filtered water refill stations wherever possible. Restaurants will often refill your bottle for you at a much lower rate than buying a new one, so you’ll save money too. Also say no to plastic straws and carry your own reusable bag rather than taking the plastic bag in supermarkets. Gradually you’ll reduce the amount of plastic headed to landfill once you’ve headed home.

Invest in a metal water bottle and you're one step closer to sustainable travel in Thailand.

Animal Cruelty

Unfortunately, you can encounter animal cruelty in Thailand without even meaning to, if you don’t do your research. Shows aimed at tourists often keep animals like big cats in tiny cages, and animals like monkeys are often ‘trained’ to entertain the crowds using cruel methods. Another cause for concern is the riding of elephants at elephant sanctuaries- this is devastatingly bad for their health and can leave them permanently crippled. Our most highly recommended place to vibe with elephants is BEES – Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary, close to Chiang Mai.

What can you do? Avoid entertainments like the circus- it’s highly unlikely that the animal welfare standards will be up to scratch. Definitely do visit an elephant sanctuary (it’s the highlight of many a trip) but do your research first to make sure it’s ethically run. Never, ever go to a sanctuary that allows you to ride the elephants- they don’t have their best interests at heart. It’s much more fun getting sprayed by their trunks in the river anyway!

Researching the best places to visit elephants online can be tricky to navigate, so be sure to read our list of the top 6 ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand!

Ethical elephant sanctuaries DO exist and they're a huge part of sustainable travel in Thailand.

Visiting Hill Tribes

This is a tricky one. A visit to a hill tribe can be a fascinating experience but going on a tour can turn the experience into more of a ‘zoo’ than a genuine cultural exchange. Some tribes report that they feel very exploited by the visits and receive little or no income in return.

What can you do? If you decide that you want to visit the tribes then hire a bicycle or a motorbike and visit independently. Some tribes have issued welcomes to independent travellers so pick some that aren’t on the tour circuit and make time to visit slowly. An afternoon spent talking and spending a little money on tea or a few small gifts can feel a world apart from being herded off a tour bus, silently taking photos then leaving again.

Visiting hill tribes can be a life changing experience, but it can also be quite damaging to local economies of Thailand.

Sustainable Travel in Thailand is Effortless

These are just a few things you can do to make your travels in Thailand more sustainable- there are many more. Reducing your footprint will help safeguard the country for the future and will be greatly appreciated by the local people. A little effort from us as visitors will keep Thailand as the Land of Smiles for years to come.

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