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Your guide to travelling sustainably through Thailand

marshy walkway in Thailand

In partnership with Amazing Thailand

So, you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, but want to ensure your dream Southeast Asia vacation isn’t an environmental nightmare. Thankfully, there’s been a lot of improvement in this area over the past few years, and sustainable travel in Thailand is no longer something that requires immense planning. In fact, it can be achieved with relative ease.  

A whole host of sustainable tour operators, responsible accommodation options, and pro-environment initiatives have popped up in the stunning nation over the past decade, driven by the local populace, government pressure, and a new breed of travellers who view sustainability as key to their plans.  

Whether you want to see the highlights of Northern Thailand or explore the entire country with a Total Thailand tour, it’s now easier than ever to do so with a clean conscience. Check out below to see our guide to sustainable travel in Thailand!  

A change in attitude from the Thai government

After The Beach came out, the Thai government famously restricted access to the location it had been filmed in, Maya Bay. This was because the tourist numbers were beginning to damage the surrounding natural ecosystem. The stunning spot is now partially reopened, but visitor volume is being kept in check.  

The government has also introduced some other responsible initiatives in recent years, like the banning of single use plastic bags in supermarkets. While Thailand has a long way to go in this respect, the progress is welcomed.  

river in Thailand

Image source:Contiki

1. Make a difference before you’ve arrived

There’s plenty you can do to engage in sustainable travel in Thailand before you’ve even stepped foot into this beautiful nation.   

One of the easiest and best is to ensure that your toiletries are made sustainably. This means using products with non-toxic ingredients, and no microplastics. You can also order items you need for your travels that arrive in recyclable or biodegradable packaging, instead of reams of plastic.  

Another great idea is to pack some reusable food containers. Snacking during long journeys often can’t be avoided, but you can do so without having to use plastic carrier bags if you plan ahead. Items like beeswax food wrapping are space efficient and incredibly useful, while also being reusable and biodegradable. 

One of the simplest and most common ways to pack sustainably is to ensure you have a reusable water bottle. Tap water isn’t drinkable in Thailand for the most part, and water in plastic bottles is incredibly cheap, so it’s easy to get into a cycle of simply buying a new one every time you head out. However, in tourist areas there will be a number of spots where you can fill up your bottle — vital under the scorching Thai sun! 

If you really want to take it up a notch, tools like the Lifestraw will make it even easier to avoid buying plastic bottles. You can use this in conjunction with things like iodine tablets to safely drink tap water from almost everywhere in Thailand.   

With that said, it’s still best to check, as some of the places you’ll visit on a Thai Island Hopper East trip will have such high heavy concentrations of metal in the water that filtered water is a must even with a tool like the Lifestraw.  

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2. Be proactive

Sustainable travel in Thailand can be about much more than making sure you are making a minimal impact on the environment. In many ways, you can actually do something positive!  

There are tons of volunteering options available in the Southeast Asian nation that can help you in this aim. You can donate your time to animal shelters in exchange for accommodation, or give your money to wildlife conservation areas that have sustainability at their heart.  

It’s easy to make a difference outside the animal kingdom, too. Initiatives like Trash Hero (which began in Thailand) organise groups of rubbish collectors to clean areas of debris and other trash, once again allowing these spaces to breathe properly. Not only will you feel good, but it’s also a chance to meet locals and other travellers who have the same mindset as you when it comes to sustainable travel in Thailand.  

travellers in Thailand

Image source:Contiki

3. Eat well but also right

As a food destination there are few countries better than Thailand, and that’s largely driven by its delicious street food culture. However, as of right now, single-use plastics are the go-to when it comes to serving customers – so be mindful of this.  

Some of this can be abated by being proactive and bringing your own containers and utensils to stalls, but that can be unwieldy and leave a mess in your bag. It’s best to look for street food stalls that use wooden utensils, and biodegradable paper or rewashable plates. However, that’s easier said than done.  

Really, the best way to enjoy the glorious Thai food culture while also ensuring your environmental impact is kept to a minimum is to visit local restaurants. Many of the best sit-down spots offer incredible value, so you won’t be losing out from a budgetary perspective, and you can also bask in your post-meal satisfaction without any of the guilt that comes from utilising single-use plastics.   

4. Stay in accommodation that puts sustainability at the heart of everything it does

Whether you want to stay in a wooden hut or a luxury hotel, you’ll be able to in Thailand. The wealth of accommodation choices available is one of the reasons the country is such a popular destination, but among the numerous options there are some that are perfect for those looking to engage in sustainable travel in the country.  

Sustainable accommodation isn’t limited to one price point, either. You can have cheap hostels that aren’t so good for the environment, and 5-star spots that would receive approval from Greta Thunberg. So, no matter your budget, you will be able to find something. There are a few factors to look out for. The World Travel Awards and organisations like Green Tourism are reputable in terms of certifying whether or not a hotel or hostel is really sustainable.   

On a more practical note, you can see if your accommodation limits unnecessary energy consumption (turning air conditioning off in empty rooms, having a lights out policy after a certain time, and similar rules), as well as their water consumption.  

Hotels and hostels which offer recycling services are also a great choice, as are those that get some of their power from renewable sources. Bangkok gets nearly 4,000 hours of sun a year on average, making it an excellent place for solar panels.   

You can also see how directly your accommodation is promoting environmental education. This may be by something as simple as explaining why they limit their consumption, or by something more practical like offering tours and activities that focus on sustainability. They may also donate to local green charities and use recycled or locally sourced products, both of which are vital parts of sustainable travel in Thailand.  

Phuket town in Thailand

Image source:Contiki

5. Keep your wildlife tourism wild

Thailand is home to hundreds of unique animal species that many people dream of having a chance of seeing, from elephants to tigers to monkeys. However, this means that many so-called sanctuaries up and down the country engage in unethical and harmful practices, including whipping and drugging animals.  

Thankfully, there’s a new wave of responsible wildlife attractions that put animal rights at the heart of what they do. Respect for the natural world goes hand in hand with sustainable travel in Thailand, so make sure that if you do go and see some incredible creatures, you’re doing so in a place they’re treated well.  

Elephant sanctuaries are a big business in the country, and with some research you can ensure your once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these majestic animals is done so at a venue that treats them well. Although there are a few things to look out for, if the elephants roam free and don’t give rides, that’s a good start. Luckily, travelling with Contiki makes it easy to ensure you’re always engaging with wildlife responsibly because we only partner with rescues that truly care.  

One experience that is never ethical is sitting close to and stroking a tiger. Either it’s a cub that’s had its mother taken away, or it has been heavily sedated so that it doesn’t attack. There are rescue centres that take in the big cats, and you may be able to get a glimpse of them from behind security glass, but that’s about it. And, given that tigers are cold-blooded killing machines when they’re not doped up, that’s for the best.  

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6. Take your time to get around

Look: we know Thailand is massive, and that trips often come with a hard time limit. The temptation to fly up and down the country so you can see all of it is very strong, but as far as sustainable travel in Thailand goes, it’s not a great practice.  

The best thing to do in this situation is to see the journey as being just as important as the destination, and thankfully Thailand’s natural beauty makes that easier than ever. The country is connected by train, ferry, and coach, and these transport options often go through some absolutely heavenly scenescapes.   

Inter-country travel also benefits from these land connections, so you can have an Asian Adventure without flying. And that’s not mentioning the fact that many of these routes are experiences in themselves, like the famous slow boat from Thailand to Laos that goes down the Mekong Delta.  

Additionally, in Bangkok there is an astoundingly cheap, clean, and efficient public transport system, so you can easily get around the big city without having to take cars or tuktuks. Electric tuktuks are becoming more and more popular in Bangkok these days! Not only will you be contributing to a culture of sustainable travel in Thailand, but you’ll also get a better feel for the city, enhancing the authenticity of your experience.  

Contiki travellers in Thailand

Image source:Contiki

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