As some of you may or may not know I have recently relocated myself to the North of Thailand. It is an area very popular amongst tourists who want to experience a bit more of Thai culture than you can get from the party islands in the south or who want to distance themselves from the in your face sex tourism in Bangkok and Pattaya.
I really love it here and as such I want to do right by this place. Being a tourist or a traveler is always a difficult balancing act for those of us who consider ourselves activists for social justice. Here are a few simple thoughts that I have had regarding traveling in this particular area. I cannot claim to extrapolate them to anywhere else but perhaps the general principles are worthy of consideration when planning your next overseas adventure.
Hill tribe visits
These are common fare among the many tourists that traipse through this city. They are often part of a standard day trip that includes elephant riding and bamboo rafting. Don’t do it in this manner. Hill tribe people of all kinds are extremely marginalised within Thailand. They generally do not see any money out of these visits except for what they can sell to the tourists tramping through their villages. They are treated as curiosities and as such become something akin to a human zoo. If you really want to experience hill tribe culture do your research. There are a number of lodges that are run by the tribes themselves. These usually have an emphasis on sustainability and the empowerment of local communities. Plus you actually get to interact with people rather than just gawking at them.
Do not visit the so called long neck karen villages. These people are heavily exploited and are confined to their villages by local authorities as useful tourist attractions.
There is a long history to Elephant domestication in Thailand – much like buffaloes and horses they have been used as beasts of burden. They were extensively employed in the logging industry, however since the Thai government banned logging most families with elephants have turned them into tourist attractions. Again do your research and find something that gels with your particular beliefs.
That is all I have for now but perhaps I will make this a series 🙂