10 helpful tips for ethical eco-tourism in Asia
LET’S not treat Asia’s natural treasures as our own beer-soaked personal spring break playground. That would be unseemly and untoward. For those interested in ethical travel and responsible tourism, I encourage you to do research about general as well as place-specific practices that reduce your impact on local environments, societies and cultures. To begin, here is a list of 10 helpful tips.
- Reusable shopping bags: Take or buy reusable bags and avoid using disposable plastic bags. These things are taking over the world, filling landfills and oceans with non-biodegradable, petroleum-based, toxin-absorbing plastic death.
- Leave no footprints: I’m not talking about your so-called ecological footprint or even your carbon footprint – I’m talking about your regular footprint, you know the one with the Birkenstock tread? Although it’s fine to go “off the beaten path” in the metaphorical sense – in fact most eco-tourism is doing just that – don’t mess up any more nature than you have to. If hiking or trekking, keep to the main trail or others will follow you and eventually what once was a pristine spot will look like a satellite photo of the Nile Delta.
- Educate yourself on local life: Learn local customs, practices and attitudes. Though not strictly an environmental tip, being polite and respectful is the only decent thing to do. Don’t argue over already low prices, which you can easily afford, take photos of people without asking or visit a temple, church or mosque dressed like you’re headed to “da club”. Use a bit of propriety and locals and fellow travelers probably won’t hate you.
- Bring your own chopsticks or cutlery: This will cut down on waste, whether plastic or timber. Disposable chopsticks in China alone account for the loss of 25 million trees per year.
- Use collective transportation: Sure it’s fun to tear around the Asian wilderness in your own 4×4, but think of the carbon footprint. When possible, stick to trains and buses. A bicycle is also a great option if the situation allows. It’s personal transport and produces no emissions.
- Leave everything where it is: This may be obvious, but it can be tempting to take a piece of history back home with you. Many unscrupulous people do it. Less obvious is taking pieces of nature, whether it’s animal, vegetable or mineral. You might not know it, but all those trinkets made from seashells, coral and tropical hardwoods (not to mention ivory) can have a serious ecological impact. Eco-systems are fragile things, you see.
- Bring a portable water filter: No one wants to catch a water-borne illness, but bottled water, especially when packaged in those ubiquitous plastic PET bottles is a serious drain (pardon the pun) on resources and a dangerous source of plastic waste (see tip 1). Admittedly, portable water filters are news to me, but there are these cool new ones that use UV light to purify water from pathogens and bacteria in only 45 seconds. Neat, huh?
- Patronize local businesses: Avoid multinational corporations (“the genocide of starving nations” to quote Discharge) like McDonald’s, Starbucks and the Hilton just to name a few. You probably don’t need an incredibly overpriced burger from the Hanoi Hard Rock Café anyway, but local independent establishments do need your business. If they don’t get it there eventually won’t be any point in going abroad as Asia will have been fully transformed into one big American strip mall.
- Use eco-friendly products: Especially when camping, use biodegradable bodywash, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Even if you aren’t camping, your shower water might just end up in the sea or ground so you don’t want to end up poisoning the local environment with detergents.
- Educate others: Without being an annoying holier-than-thou busybody, show fellow travelers what you know about ethical tourism practices. Be an example.
In summary: Bring reusables (no disposables), don’t be a jerk, leave stuff alone, buy local, and set an example.