Learning how to be a responsible tourist starts with understanding the problems that locals face in the countries you’re visiting. Take a few minutes to expose yourself to some hard-hitting issues, empathise with new cultures and discover how you can be part of the solution. Ethical tourism in Southeast Asia takes a village. Doing your part, however small it may be, helps us all. Beautiful destinations can only remain beautiful with the effort from everyone!
Ethical Treatment of Animals
Thailand and elephants are practically synonymous but that doesn’t mean they are all treated with the compassion they deserve. Elephants are known for their impressive memories but tourists often forget this common fact about these majestic creatures.
The Problem: There are countless elephant “sanctuaries” that aren’t sanctuaries at all. Elephants every year are mistreated in the pursuit of profits. Elephants were never meant to be ridden, carry heavy loads or ‘domesticated’. To truly tame an elephant so that humans can ride them or do tricks for our amusement, they go through extremely harsh conditioning through battery and electrocution since their childhood.
What You Can Do:
- Avoid any elephant sanctuary or tour service that offers elephant riding.
- Research elephant tours and read reviews before booking to make sure the elephants are being treated with care. The best ones out there are rehabilitation centres for elephants that were once mistreated, but are now given better lives.
- If you have a great experience with an elephant sanctuary, leave them a great review on TripAdvisor, Facebook or Google Maps! It goes a long way, leading to other tourists booking the ethically good over the bad.
- Book your elephant tours through reputable organizations like Bodega Hostels that only work with ethical elephant sanctuaries.
Avoid Single Use Plastics
Single-use plastics like straws and plastic bags are all over Southeast Asia, with Thailand being the largest offender. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven will often give you a straw in your bag for every drink you purchase, whether you ask for one or not. Many street food vendors and restaurants also tend to individually package up items. What a waste!
The Problem: Plastic pollution is just part of a larger problem in Southeast Asia. Overdevelopment of tourist traps have completely destroyed beautiful islands, beaches and more. Akin to Australia’s coral reefs, many of these islands are at risk of being permanently destroyed.
What You Can Do:
- Refuse single use plastics at any opportunity you can.
- Travel with a water bottle and refill it whenever you can rather than buying single use water bottles from 7-Eleven.
- Purchase a metal or bamboo straw to use for your drinks as you travel around. Zero Waste Thailand and Biogreen in Vietnam are excellent providers in eco-friendly produced straws and more.
Avoid Sex Tourism
It’s an unfortunate reality that Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Vietnam have become world-renowned for its sex tourism. Some of the blame lies on movies like The Hangover 2, but the truth is that it’s been an ongoing socioeconomic issue long before. Unlike developed countries like the Netherlands and Australia, prostitution is illegal and therefore completely unregulated.
The Problem: Prostitution in developing countries is highly attractive to tourists because of the difference in local pricing and foreign wages. To put it simply: it’s cheap and affordable to the bulk of tourists. The demand is high and supply has to match.
Women from northern Thailand (especially Isan) are often sold by their families into sex slavery and there’s also a large number of women who are kidnapped from surrounding areas and forced into it as well. Those who don’t fit into those 2 categories simply don’t have any other attractive career options. If these facts haven’t swayed you, let me ask you just one question: Are you okay with potentially supprting human trafficking?
What You Can Do:
- Don’t pay for prostitution. It’s that simple.
- Don’t go to ping pong shows.
- If you visit a red light district like in Vietnam or Soi Cowboy, don’t buy any drinks. Not only are they extremely overpriced, but the profits go directly into the pockets of those running prostitution rings.