Eco-activities in Thailand

To be in touch with nature and to help conserve it for future generations, eco-resorts and eco-tours are being designed for responsible nature lovers. The goal of ecotourism to increase the appreciation of Thailand natural beauty and to help keep it intact for others to enjoy in the future. Here are some suggested activities that eco-minded tourists might consider when coming to Thailand on holiday.

Elephant Safaris

Experience riding through the forests on the back of a king of the jungle, and learn to appreciate their mighty strength and agility. Most elephant camps that offer treks are based in Chiang Mai, but elephant rides which last a few minutes are also offered at tourist destinations in most resort towns. Elephant safaris can range from a few hours to a few days through the jungle so you can select a safari to suit your time frame or level of adventure.
These elephants are forbidden to work in the logging industry and elephant safari keep them and their owners gainfully employed. Another benefit is that the elephants are kept out of the cities where conditions are tougher for them

Sea Cruises & Beaches

Take a cruise and view the impressive scenery the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea has to offer. Travel in style and leisure in a luxury liner or travel intimately in a converted rice barge up the Chao Phraya river. Wherever you choose to go, visiting Thailand’s coast and gorgeous beaches are not to be missed, especially the islands. Accommodation and travel conditions range from luxurious to rugged so choose your resorts and travel methods to suit your style, desired comfort level and budget.

Trekking

Thailand offers ideal terrain for hiking, from the limestone forests of Krabi to the undulating mountains in the North, where many hill tribe people live. Head over to any national parks for nature-based trekking, teeming with wildlife, waterfalls, and other natural attractions. Some treks incorporate elephant safaris and other modes of transportation, such as rafts and pickup trucks. Treks vary in length and difficulty so check with tour operators when booking to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and select a trek based on your interests.

Walking Tour

Sometimes getting intentionally lost in a city or town is the best way to find out how the locals live instead of sticking only to the high traffic, tourist areas. You’ll learn a lot about Thai culture by observing the lifestyle, trying Thai food and interacting with Thai people. You can use a guide book and do your own walking tour or join an organized walking tour.  Most walking tours involve temples and in Bangkok, sometimes walking is much faster than driving! Do keep a map handy though as you’ll want to be able to get unlost eventually.

Wildlife Viewing

Some of the rarest tropical animals and birds can only be found in the nation’s national parks. The most common trips are bird watching, but even a simple walk in any mountainous area will guarantee a sighting of gibbons and monkeys. National parks are located all over Thailand so you can select a park which is known for particular animals or birds or geographic features. While viewing wildlife might be your primary goal, there will be plenty of opportunity to see the amazing plant life as well. Reccommended parks are Khao Yai, Doi Inthanon, and Sam Roi Yod, although there are many others.

6 Principles of Ecotourism

The term “ecotourism” was coined in 1987 and is used to describe a wide range of activities. The word itself is a blend of “ecology” and “tourism.” In 1991, The Ecotourism Society (TES) developed the following definition of ecotourism: “Ecotourism is a responsible travel to natural areas that covers the environment and sustains the well being of local people.”

TES has expanded the definition with these 6 basic principles of ecotourism:

  1. It avoids negative impacts that can damage or destroy the character of the natural or cultural environments being visited.
  2. It educates the traveller on the importance of conservation.
  3. It directs revenues to the conservation of natural areas and the management of protected areas.
  4. It brings economic benefits to local communities and directs revenues to local people living near the protected areas.
  5. It emphasizes the need for planning and sustainable growth of the tourism industry and seeks to ensure that tourism development does not exceed the social and environmental “capacity.”
  6. It retains a high percentage of revenues in the host country by stressing the use of locally-owned facilities and services.

The term ecotourism covers aspects of tourism that draws upon natural, human-made and cultural environments. It is often used to describe any type of travel which focuses on natural environments or settings. Additionally, ecotourism adds social responsibilities to make travel to natural areas purposeful and attempts to increase understanding of cultural and natural history of the environment. The local people benefit economically from conservation and the overall goal is to preserve the natural environment despite the human pressures of tourism.

Ecotourism – Is it harmful or helpful?

In the last decade, ecotourism has exploded and everyone wants to cash in on this trend from eco-resorts to eco-adventures. Ecotourism attempts to maintain the natural aspects of the tourist destination while compromising with the need for income from tourists and the resources that these tourists require. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local area.”

Tourism brings lots of money to an area which might not have much income otherwise and ecotourism has become the solution to preserving the natural assets of these areas. In most cases, tourism does benefit the local economy and better the locals’ livelihoods with income from tourism. Traditionally, the locals’ and tourists express little concern over the changes in the local area, natural beauty, waste disposal issues and so on which arise as the number of tourists increases. These problems are especially difficult in newly opened areas or developing countries, such as Thailand.

The trend in the past decade to help alleviate the problems caused by tourism, especially in natural areas, is ecotourism. However, the term ecotourism itself is often misused or overused. There are no set rules or accepted way to verify whether something classifies as ecotourism or not. This means that many tour operators can make claims about their tours being eco-tours without any clear criteria. The operators might not know any better or they are simply following what everyone else is doing without understanding the purpose of ecotourism.

There are many problems with ecotourism that eco-destinations must deal with. These problems include poor waste management, shortage of knowledgeable guides, and excessive development. These destinations often undergo a drastic change when “big operators” come into an area and develop larger resorts and complexes. I recently visited Thong Nai Pan on Koh Phangan and saw a drastic difference between two beaches in the bay. One beach was changing quickly as investors from Bangkok were pumping money into renovating resorts from the original wooden bungalows to concrete rows of rooms. As the resorts provide nicer amenities, they can charge more for the rooms and attract customers with more money to spend. But, this type of resort and the tourist they attract tend to have greater impact on the environment because there are bigger buildings and facilities, such as pools, and thus produce more waste.

An unfortunate byproduct of tourism is that the very visitors who are coming to see the beauty of the landscape inadvertently cause damage to the place that they have travelled so far to see. A good example are snorkelers which crowd on boats to view coral reefs and damage the corals by stepping on them. Plastic bags and drink containers floating in the water is another byproduct of these visitors. Day after day, the visitors come and little by little the coral will become less beautiful and the ocean water will become more polluted. The result is that the natural assets which brought the visitors to the area in the first place will be destroyed.

The million dollar question is “How can we ensure destinations are sustainable?” It is a matter of figuring out ways to control the negative impacts of tourism (e.g., loss of habitat, loss of water quality due to poor sewage/pollution control, etc) so that they don’t lessen the areas’ value as a quality tourism destination. This responsibility cannot fall upon the local authorities alone as the nature which is lost belongs to us all. We all are responsible for the affects of our travel and need to consider ways to ensure our destinations prosper with the fewest negative effects on the environment.