Responsible Tourism in Thailand
Originally Published: December 5, 2014
The way we travel can have a long-lasting impact on the places we visit; positive or negative . I’d found that the tourism industry in Thailand isn’t all that focused on being responsible and could probably be doing a lot more. Many of the tours are to see caged tigers or elephants trained to paint pictures. I refused to go on any of these but i learned of a company called Elephant Nature Park which rescue and rehabilitate elephants. No riding or painting involved.
We took a really interesting walking cultural tour in Bangkok with Expique Tours run by our Travel Massive friend Simon Phillipp where we got to see the diversity of neighbourhoods in the city and learn about the local heritage, food and history and customs. The people we met along the way were locals and very appreciative of us coming to learn about their communities. The guides were Bangkokians and they were really informative and proud to teach foreigners about their city. Simon is also very passionate about Bangkok and I learned a lot of history from him as well. I wasn’t able to take the night tuk-tuk tour but it’s definitely on my list when I come back to Bangkok one day.
Simon referred me to another socially responsible tour company called ‘Local Alike’, who’s approach to tours are ‘community-based’. The Local Alike team believe in tours that help to conserve local culture and help people learn about and connect to other cultures. They work with local communities based on their needs and help them to create an authentic tour experience that will help sustain the community. Through their work they hope to “provide jobs to the locals, increase the awareness of local cultures, traditions, and environment, and also create mutual understanding between different cultures.”(local alike website) We took a historic tour of Chiang Mai with 2 of the Local Alike staff, View and Arnon.
The tour focused on some traditional aspects of Chiang Mai life that aren’t as commonly practiced today. Our day started off with a look around a silversmith neighbourhood where the artisans make beautiful, handcrafted silver carvings. They showed us a few families who have been working in this business for generations. The one that really stood for me was a father and son. They work together, side by side and the son has a physical physical and mental disability. We watched them work on this large, intricate piece together. This type of piece would take an average of 3 months to complete. The father said that if his son were not doing this, there wouldn’t be any other jobs for him. They were both incredibly focused on their work.
Coffee time! Our next stop was to a coffee shop called ‘Akha Ama’, a “socially empowered enterprise” as they like to call themselves. I was able to do a short interview with the owner of Ahka Ama, Lee when we were there. He said he wanted to open a café in Chiang Mai because he wanted to support his small community of 30 Ahka households in Chiang Rai in way where they could be involved. He says that the community takes a great sense of pride in their work. Akha Ama grow their coffee in a sustainable way without the use of pesticides. They use permaculture as a way to create sustainable livelihoods for their farmers and environmentally friendly methods of growing their products. They believe that to grow the movement of sustainability, we must spread the word.
Thailand is swamped with massage shops, so our last stop on the tour was a massage shop-with a bit of a twist. This shop was called Thai Massage Association of The Blind Chiangmai. All of the staff were blind at this massage place, including the owner. We had a chance to talk to the owner. He told us about how there are few job choices for blind people in Thailand, some include lottery ticket salespeople or singers on the street. He wanted a better job for the blind to help them become self-reliant. He tried to find other blind people around Chiang Mai that he could train in Thai Massage. They were given free meals and were provided accommodation. After finishing training, they had the option to return home and find work there or work at the association.
The Local Alike tour showcased Chiang Mai as a place of history and innovative thinking vs the usual shopping and trekking scene that most people come for. We had a lovely experience with them. I’d like to see more of these type of tours like Expique and Local Alike in more countries. This type of tourism is needed everywhere.