1. Don’t go see the “long-neck women.”
While there are a few hill tribe tours that promote human interaction, most are exploitative and create human zoos. Karen women traditionally wear metal rings around their necks to push down their shoulders, and are beautifully photogenic. However, Karens are refugees from Burma and, fearing the effects on tourism, the Thai government won’t allow them to seek asylum elsewhere. Don’t support this.
2. Use child-safe certified taxis and tuk-tuks.
These are transportation options where the drivers are on the lookout for kids in trouble and refuse the fare of tourists travelling with local children.
3. Don’t go to tiger temples.
The tigers in these temples are often drugged so that they won’t attack tourists who pose for photos with them. When the tigers get too big or aggressive to control, they’re slaughtered and their bones are used for traditional “medicines.” Participating means supporting the illegal trade and breeding of an endangered species.
4. Be aware of human trafficking.
Bargirls and boys abound in Bangkok’s Patpong Road and other redlight districts, but prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand. Some have chosen to work in the sex industry to build a better life for themselves. But it is not uncommon for children from poverty-stricken families to be trafficked into prostitution and the sex trade.
5. Research your elephant encounter.
First of all, never ride an elephant. The howdah seat on their back damages their spines. Don’t support organizations that make elephants do unnatural things like perform tricks or paint. Elephants also often go through a horrific process called phajaan (crushing) so that their wild intelligence is tamed enough for human interactions like being fed and bathed by tourists. Make sure your elephant “sanctuary” isn’t bringing in wild and young elephants to cater to tourists’ desire for encounters with this amazing animal.
However, some elephant sanctuaries provide much needed care for rescued animals whose former lives were in logging camps or being led on a chain through city streets helping their owners make an income. Your admission fee helps pay for the elephants’ expensive food and medical care.
6. Buy local and fair trade.
Choose locally-owned hotels, restaurants and shops and buy local products. Give tips directly to your guide, hotel housekeeper or restaurant server. Buy meaningful souvenirs, such as OTOP products, where the money goes directly to the maker.
7. Don’t give children gifts and don’t buy gifts from them.
Doing any of this keeps kids out of school. If a poor family can make money from kids selling postcards or reselling the candy or book you give them, they will. Cartels also often employ kids to beg for handouts.
8. Be conscious of your consumption.
Especially on the Thai islands, fresh water is a limited resource and waste disposal is challenging. Use less and dispose of your garbage carefully, whether you’re on a Thai island or not.
9. Don’t ask for chopsticks.
Thais pride their history, including using the fork since the 19th century. The King of what was then called Siam, seeing his neighbours colonized by the French and English, decided that he would make his country so modern and Western that invading Siam would be unthinkable. Fictionalized in the movie “Anna and The King,” Siam adopted Western practices like the fork and spoon, improved education and women’s rights, and implemented new business and military strategies. They did indeed escape colonization.
Chopsticks are fine for street food and noodle dishes, but otherwise use your fork to push food onto your spoon, and put the spoon not the fork, in your mouth.