The way we travel can have a long-lasting impact on the places we visit. Last year, while traveling for a documentary I am making called The Sunrise Storyteller©, I visited Thailand. As a concerned global citizen, the tourism industry there is less focused on being responsible than I would have liked. I refused to go on any tours that involved caged tigers or elephants trained to paint and was happy to find an organization called Elephant Nature Park which rescue and rehabilitate elephants. No riding or painting involved. Unfortunately we heard about this organization too late and were already heading back to Bangkok, but my mom’s friend enjoyed the tour which teaches about animal abuse that is all too common in the tourism industry.
QUARTER-FINALIST 2015 FTF TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
While in Bangkok, we took an informative cultural walking tour with Expique Tours where we got to experience the diversity of neighbourhoods in the city and learn about local heritage, food and history and customs. The Bangkokian guides were really informative and proud to teach foreigners about their city.
While in Bangkok, Expique referred me to another socially responsible tour company called ‘Local Alike’. The Local Alike team organize tours that provide an opportunity for people to learn more about local culture which in turn contributes to conserving locally run enterprises. 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.” The historical tour of Chiang Mai we took with 2 Local Alike staff, View and Arnon was really fun and informative.
The tour we took focused on some traditional aspects of Chiang Mai life not commonly practiced today. Our day started with a trip around the silversmith neighbourhood where the artisans make beautiful, handcrafted silver carvings. They introduced us to families who have been working in this business for generations. One which really impressed me was a father and son team. They work together, side by side, and the son has a physical and mental disability. We watched them work on this large, magnificently detailed piece together which would take an average of 3 months to complete.
Coffee time! Our next stop was to a coffee shop called ‘Akha Ama’, a “socially empowered enterprise” as they like to describe themselves. I was able to do a short interview with the owner of Ahka Ama, Lee. He said he wanted to open a café in Chiang Mai to support his small community of 30 Ahka households in Chiang Rai in a way they could be involved. 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.
Thailand is full of massage shops, so our last stop was at a very special one – The Thai Massage Association of The Blind Chiang Mai. All of the staff were blind, including the owner. He told us how few job choices there were for blind people in Thailand. He wanted to create better opportunities for the blind to become self-reliant and found other blind people around Chiang Mai he could train in Thai Massage. He provided them with free meals and accommodation and after finishing training, they had the option to return home and find work there or to work at the association.
The ethical tours we took were truly inspiring proving there are good alternative and sustainable options which we can spread the word about.
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