Thailand has become one of the hottest tourist destinations around the world. While this can be a great thing for travelers wanting to see the beautiful country, the poor residents, and the local economies, it doesn’t come without negative impacts on the country’s people, its wildlife, and its infrastructure.
While there are a few ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, many of them are unethical. You want to visit the parks where elephants are rescued, cared for, and rehabilitated, not a park that has the elephants do tricks, wear collars, or take visitors on rides. Riding elephants is a good way to know if the park is unethical. Chances are: if they allow visitors to ride the elephants, they are doing other unethical things. When I was in Thailand, I went to the Elephant Nature Park just outside Chiang Mai. I couldn’t recommend it more.
Posing with Tigers & Other Exotic Animals
There is a trend of going to a zoo or a wild animal park and posing for a photo op with a tiger or another dangerous animal. Do not do this. If the tiger, or any other dangerous animal is not attacking you, it is drugged. This is very unethical, as the animals are not treated well in order to get them to pose for a photo with tourists and are being used by desperate or greedy locals for money.
While in other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore prostitution is regulated and the sex workers are tested and paid well, Thailand is not that place. Here prostitution is technically illegal, although it isn’t enforced. In Bangkok, the infamous red light districts are crawling with girls and boys ready to show you a good time for a fee. Thai sex workers are deeply tied to dirty money, including the drug trade and outsourcing sex workers through human trafficking. And they are often young. Very young. From young girls to young boys to trans people, if you are looking for a partner you can find one of any fetish. Except you cannot be sure that the money is going to the sex workers, and you cannot be sure that they are being treated well. In Thailand, they are not treated like they are in Singapore or Amsterdam.
Exploitation of Indigenous Tribes
It is a very blurry line between supporting indigenous people in Thailand and exploiting them. When I visited the floating village where the indigenous people of Southern Thailand have lived for generations, I wasn’t sure what I should do to be ethical. I would say this: if you are going to visit indigenous tribes in Thailand, which I don’t blame you for, I would make sure that the people are benefiting from your visit. If you go with a tour, ask many questions about what the people benefit from the group visiting. If you are buying food, goods, or souvenirs from the tribe, make sure that money is staying in their hands.
While traveling anywhere in the world, you must be wary about where you put your money. For example, if you are staying at a beach resort with a large golf field on a beautiful beach or forest in Thailand, you are directly contributing to the environmental degradation of the area. With this, try to simply be mindful and look for the signs that what you are supporting is unethical and taking care of the beautiful place you are visiting.
Need I say anything about this? If you’re not adopting a child, please do not tour an orphanage on your trip to Thailand.