12 ways to be a responsible traveller in Thailand

Responsible travel can be defined in several ways, but it is the Cape Town Declaration which is now widely accepted as the best definition of responsible tourism. At its heart is the principle of “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” 

When you visit Thailand there are lots of easy ways you can support responsible tourism. Check out our tips for ways to give a little back to your hosts during your travels in Amazing Thailand.

The wai is part of Thai culture
(Photo: Shutterstock)

1) Respect Thai culture and traditions

Respect is at the core of responsible travel. When you travel in Thailand, showing respect for local people and their culture results in a better experience for everyone. You won’t be expected to understand all the subtleties of Thai culture, but taking notice of the basic do’s and don’ts in Thailand will be appreciated. 

Sign at a temple in Chiang Mai
(Photo: Roy Cavanagh)

2) Eat local

Supporting local businesses can be both easy and enjoyable. One way to do this is to eat and drink at independently-run restaurants or street stalls. These businesses are often family-owned and spending your Thai baht at these places not only provides an authentic experience compared to generic chain restaurants but also helps keep money in the local economy.

3) Shop local 

Shopping locally is a simple way to be a responsible tourist. In markets throughout Thailand, you can discover local products that have been crafted by local artisans. These products make great souvenirs to take home or keep as a memory of your travels in Thailand.

4) Show your appreciation

Being kind and appreciative can go a long way in making your holiday experience more enjoyable. Although tipping is less common in Thai culture compared to some other countries, there are occasions where it is appropriate. Leave a small tip for the hotel porters, drivers and housekeeping staff as a gesture of your appreciation. You can leave some small change (around 15-20 Baht) on top of your pillow each day your room is cleaned. This small act of kindness can make a real difference to the staff and their families. 

5) Learn some Thai phrases

Learning a few basic Thai words or phrases can be a great way to break the ice. You don’t have to speak perfect Thai, but being willing to say at least a few words shows that you have good intentions and appreciate the local culture. 

6) Use responsible tour operators

Check to see if the tour operator you intend to use supports sustainable travel and responsible tourism. The companies below are among those who support community-based tourism and responsible travel in Thailand:

7) Cut down on plastic use

Take a reusable tote bag with you to Thailand or buy one locally and keep it in your day-pack. As part of a campaign to cut down on the use of plastic bags, 7-Eleven and other big retailers in Thailand are encouraging shoppers to bring their own bag.

Some hotels and restaurants have stopped using plastic straws as part of the ‘say no to the straw’ campaign. Although that campaign hasn’t yet made it to Thailand’s food and drink vendors, you can always pack your own metal or bamboo straw in your day bag and say ‘mai ao lawd’ (‘no straw’). Remember to add the polite Thai word khap if you are male or ka if you are female and say: Mai ao lawd khap/ka (no straw thank you)

To take this one step further you could carry your own reusable flask or mug and ask the vendor to pour the drink directly into it. 

Using a refillable water bottle is another simple way to cut down on plastic waste. Although you shouldn’t drink tap water in Thailand, there are locations (including airports) where you can refill your bottle for free with safe drinking water. Around Thailand, you will notice water refill machines that use reverse osmosis and for just a few baht you can top up your refillable water bottles.

Look out for Trash Hero, a volunteer-led group with several chapters around Thailand. They run a bags and bottles program which encourages the use of reusable shopping bags and refillable water bottles. They also run beach clean-ups and their activities can be a fun way to give something back to the destination you are visiting.

Say no the straw

8) Visit an ethical elephant sanctuary

The issue of elephants in tourism is a complex and emotive subject. Our advice is to research before deciding which elephant facility to visit. Thailand has made big steps in recent years and there is an encouraging trend towards more ethical elephant experiences. There is still room for improvement and visitors should be aware that not all places which use the word sanctuary in their name live up to the description. However, many are doing great work to support the elephants in their care. 

Mahouts Elephant Foundation, North Thailand
(Photo: Mahouts Elephant Foundation Facebook page)

9) Don’t feed wildlife

Don’t feed fish or monkeys on your travels in Thailand. It harms the health of the animals and the ecosystem. Responsible tour companies prohibit feeding fish. Monkeys can bite and rely on human food, leading to conflicts. Avoid “monkey food” sold to tourists in Thailand.

10) Protect marine life

When snorkelling or diving in Thailand, avoid touching or standing on coral. You should also cover up and use sun-safe clothing so you don’t need to apply too much sunscreen. Any sunscreen that you use should be labelled as reef-safe. 

 11) Choose accommodation that supports responsible travel

Look for accommodation that supports responsible travel. In its simplest form, this could mean a homestay or family-owned guest house where your spending directly supports local people. There are also an increasing number of mid-range and luxury hotels which have adopted sustainable practices and support local communities.

12) Enjoy the benefits of meaningful travel

Try to avoid rushing through Thailand just to check off popular destinations or tourist attractions from your list. Instead, embrace the concept of slow travel and take the time to establish more meaningful connections with the locals you encounter. Venture off the beaten path to uncover a different side to Thailand and experience more of the vibrant culture of this amazing country.

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