In each of our holiday destinations we stay in locally owned and run hotels/guesthouses wherever possible. We encourage eating at local restaurants, markets and street food stalls and always employ local drivers many of whom have become great friends over the years adding the benefit of their local insights and great local knowledge to the tour. The same is true of any local transportation we use, including our boat captains.
We support local NGOs. In Cambodia this includes Phare which works to support young people from the street, orphanages and struggling families to express and heal themselves through the arts.
Osmose which promotes advancing conservation objectives through environmental education, community support and alternative income generation from eco-tourism.
Artisans D'Angkor which aims to revive traditional arts and crafts, provide fair income, whilst educating and employing the rural poor and people with disabilities. In Cambodia we also encourage our guests to donate their read books at the end of the holiday to local booksellers who are landmine victims making their living selling second hand books to tourists despite being amputees of multiple limbs in some circumstances.
In each location we recommend buying books from local sellers about the local history, culture and customs.
In our UK home which houses our office we use a 100% renewable electricity supplier, Good Energy, use recycled paper (though we rarely use our printer) we do not produce printed brochures, reducing our environmental impact. We also use power saving A or A+ rated goods and power saving hard drives and computer. We grow lots of our own organic food and support organic farming and goods. Any food, toiletries and cleaning products that we do buy in is either organic or fair trade wherever possible. Stephen eats a 95% vegetarian diet and Rachel 100%.
We support Greenpeace and Permaculture UK.
We aim to have as small an environmental impact as possible by only ever having a maximum of 8 guests and by supporting local projects and charities where we can. We incorporate walking tours on each holiday cutting the need for fossil fuels. In some locations we use horse carriages continuing with our theme of slow and low impact travel. In other locations we use tuk tuks that have open sides so that there is no need for air con.
In Cambodia we support Osmose which started a bird sanctuary on Tonle Sap lake after poaching of eggs and chicks saw bird numbers decline. Osmose initiated a novel approach to environmental protection: advancing conservation objectives through environmental education, community support and alternative income generation from ecotourism. They promote conservation through education and employ local rangers (ex egg poachers) and local people, bird populations have now recovered.
They also promote sustainable development through the making of handicrafts from an invasive plant species, water hyacinth. As of today, about thirty women, mainly head of households from poor families, generate significant household revenue from the project. For the most active handicrafters, water hyacinth (an abundant, free resource) has now replaced fish (an overexploited resource) as their main livelihood. In this way, the Saray cooperative is an ideal model of 'sustainable development': it contributes to economic resources while addressing an ecological problem. In Burma (Myanmar) we limit our flying between destinations choosing land transport where possible, giving an opportunity for slow travel and for soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of rural life. We visit local people recycling and reusing all kinds of items and fixing old electrical goods. At Nyaung Shwe we stay at an eco-lodge where you can drink the filtered tap water in the room negating the use of endless plastic bottles. All the toiletries are handmade locally using organic products. There are no fridges in the rooms instead a haybox which remains cool is utilised instead. In addition the lodge mentors young people training in the hospitality industry.
Before embarking on any overseas trip we send an information sheet which details, any dress code, or other etiquette that is required to respect the local customs and traditions. We also include the words for hello and thank you in the local language to encourage our guests to use these phrases as a starter. We also hold an orientation session on the welcome evening to remind people of the particular sensibilities of the country we are in, which reiterates dress code, appropriate behaviour in public and religious buildings, and then goes on to include such things as where to find local services, appropriate tipping (by giving an insight into average local wages) and bartering. Further to that on a daily basis guests are advised what they can expect to encounter that day with regards to dress codes, removal of footwear, etc.
We encourage interaction with locals and by visiting local artisans on each holiday we help keep traditional crafts alive. For example at Inle Lake, Burma we visit potters and traditional boat builders. In Cambodia we visit a village that harvests sugar palm and makes local delicacies, Osmose where invasive water hyacinths are transformed into handicrafts and Artisans D'Angkor which celebrates traditional craftsmanship. In Cambodia we also visit Green Star Restaurant, a not for profit local business, which supports local street kids, and Sugar Palm Restaurant which was set up in part to preserve traditional Khmer cooking skills. In Bagan, Burma we visit a traditional farming village consisting of bamboo huts and learn about the local produce and cultivation techniques, watch tribal Intha fishermen use traditional sustainable fishing methods on Inle Lake, and a different style of traditional fishing at U-Bein bridge. We also visit local markets in each country, again encouraging interaction with locals and contributing to the local economy.
To encourage understanding of the culture in each place we employ locals and for example in Cambodia, which has experienced a very complex and traumatic recent past we visit a monument and centre which has information about the local killing fields and atrocities.
In Cambodia we have always donated blood to the local Kantha Bopha Foundation hospital for Children, which provides free, quality health care to children. We give information oabout this hospital and its work to our guests who can support it if they chose, by blood donation or monetary donation, or both.