Responsible tourism: Northern Thailand scooter tour
Thailand has been a popular destination for many travelers for more than a decade. Most travelers stick to drinking bottled water and because of this, the plastic waste epidemic is very apparent in Thailand. Plastic bags and bottles litter too many of the beaches and rivers all around Thailand.
You are probably wondering what can be done to prevent this. Luckily, there has been some really positive action taken relatively recently. All of the 12 hotels and guesthouses in which we stay on this trip have now started using glass water bottles with the exception of the hotel we stay at in Bangkok. Everyone will have two glass, refillable water bottles in their rooms. You can either fill your own water bottle up with this water or pour the water into the glasses provided to you by the hotel. You will get two water bottles placed in your room daily by the hotel staff. Also, if you want more, you can just go to the reception and ask. They are always happy to oblige. This small action is making a huge impact on the plastic waste epidemic in Thailand.
There are also some ways that our travelers can help. We ask that when you go to a store to buy something, just put whatever you bought into your backpack or daypack rather than into a plastic bag. At the start of your trip, we will even teach you a few essential Thai words. One of them will be : "It's OK". This way, when you have purchased something and the clerk starts to put it in a plastic bag, you can tell him or her "It's OK" in Thai and help to reduce the amount of plastic waste!
On this trip we go around Northern Thailand by scooter or motorbike. While these vehicles still use petrol, the amount used is limited, especially compared to other larger vehicles. Therefore, we will leave a much smaller carbon footprint than if we were to travel by bus.
Our hotels are extremely small as well as locally-owned and -operated. Approximately half of the hotels in which we stay on this trip are made from local materials, such as bamboo and palm leaves. Since there will not be any restaurants in some of the areas we visit, we will have dinner prepared by a local family and made of whatever ingredients are local and in season.
When most people think of Thailand, the first thing that comes to mind is elephants. Over the past few years, there has been a large movement from exploitation to conservation, which means elephant riding will hopefully soon be a thing of the past. The elephant conservation sanctuary to which we go to is in Kanchanaburi, which is about a one hour drive outside of Bangkok. Most elephant conservation sanctuaries are in Chiang Mai and that is where most people go to see these majestic creatures. We have chosen this elephant sanctuary near Bangkok because of its long history in elephant conservation and its commitment to rescuing as well as protecting elephants from horrible if not deadly situations.
On this trip, our travelers will have the option of stopping at a Karen Long Neck village. Unfortunately, many Karen villages are akin to 'human zoos.' We have researched this topic in depth in Thailand and have come to the conclusion that on this trip, it will be a humanitarian as well as educational opportunity. "How?" you may ask. There are many Burmese refugee camps all along the border. Many of these camps were meant to hold around 10,000 people and are now believed to hold around 80,000, which is way over their maximum capacities. In these refugee camps, no one is allowed to leave (although there are ways around this) and no one is allowed to work, so many of the refugees are essentially trapped in these camps without even a job to occupy their time or to at least provide food to their families or themselves. Inside the camps, populated with approximately 80,000 people, there is little to no force policing laws, which often leads to trouble, especially for women who often face the threat of rape daily. The Karen people have escaped living in the camps and now live in these 'human zoos' where tourists pay an entrance fee to to see their villages and the Thai owner, in turn, sees a financial gain. The reason that we encourage our travelers to visit this Karen village in particular, is that the women of these villages make scarves that they sell for about $3 USD and receive 100% of the profits from their sales. We suggest that travelers who buy a scarf from a woman talk with her and get to know her story. Then, only with her permission of course, you could take a picture. We also advise that travelers refrain from buying the small trinkets for sale in various areas of the villages because the profit goes to the "owner" of the village rather than those selling them. Finally, we will also be bringing much needed supplies to donate to them as their diet consists mostly of rice and sugar cane. Many of the women we spoke to in the camps felt it was still not safe to return to their homeland of Burma, but with the recent changes (i.e. Burma becoming open for tourism and free elections), we are hopeful that all the refugees may very soon return to their homelands without the fear of persecution.
A large number of tour guide positions in Southeast Asia are given to males, so we try our best to diversify and include local females as our guides. On this trip, you will have 2 female tour guides. We hire all of of our own guides and pay them wages very significantly above the standard of living wages.
On this trip you will have chances to buy from the locals in the community and we believe one of the best ways to give back to the community is to buy local as this pumps much needed income into the local economy. Our tour group goes to villages and many of the villagers upon seeing you will try to sell you some hand made crafts. Because the villages we go to are remote most rarely see travelers so we do promote buying from the villagers. We like to think of it as an 'entrance fee' and the guides will also buy 5-6 items from the locals as they are letting us walk around their village yet they are not getting any financial reward for this. The items to buy are very affordable and cost between $1-$5 so it is a small price to pay and they make for great souvenirs!
We have mentioned this before, but because we are riding scooters on roads that are barely visible on the map, we will only have the option to eat very locally (especially during the first half of the scooter trip). It is a great way to interact with locals as you all sit down for noodle soup together. The wonderful aspect of this is that at many places at which we stop on the trip, we are treated with warm welcomes as they are happy to receive our business and to meet Westerners.
This trip is truly a once in a lifetime experience and you get to see the 'real' Thailand that few other travelers ever get to see. By traveling the roads less traveled, we will stop at small food stands and rest stops where few venture. It is a great opportunity to get to know the locals and support small, local businesses.