Responsible tourism: what to do (and not do) whilst travelling through Asia

Responsible tourism: what to do (and not do) whilst travelling through Asia

We know from first-hand experience that travelling changes you as a person and opens your eyes to something you can’t describe until you’ve been there and done it. As a new traveller, it’s possible to fall into the tourist traps, or to accidentally disrupt local cultures and encourage negative activities. We know, we’ve done it! To make sure you don’t make the same mistakes many backpackers do, here are a few suggestions on what to do (and not do) whilst travelling through Asia.

Ask before taking photos

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Many travellers like to think of themselves as semi-professional photographers. With travel blogging so popular and people becoming Instagram famous, who wouldn’t want to give it a go? We are! Getting that perfect snap is a must and this often includes photographing the local people. Okay so here’s the golden rule: ask before taking photos of people. Whatever it is you want to capture, either a traditional dress, the beautiful faces of the locals or children playing, never do it without asking, it’s just common courtesy. Nine times out of ten they will say yes and happily pose for you, but sometimes they just don’t want to be snapped, they are human after all.

We know what it’s like to be constantly photographed without people asking us, having travelled as a mixed raced couple in India. It gets tiresome and can even make you feel emotional. It goes without saying in Asia you will come across poor areas that you are not used to and it is heart-breaking witnessing poverty first hand, but be a little sensitive when taking your photos to send home. After all, these are just people just trying to get on with their everyday lives, however hard to believe that may be.

Don’t give money to street kids

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As disheartening as it is, it must be stressed that the homeless street children in developing countries should not be given money. You will come across street kids throughout Asia’s popular backing destinations including; Cambodia, Thailand, India and the Philippines. It might not be what you want to hear but you must look at the bigger picture, especially as many of these children are often “working” for gangs. The money you give will not go to them and although you might feel like you’ve helped, instead you’ve only helped keep them in this situation. Instead of money it’s better to offer them food, drink or clothing, items that are useful to them but cannot be used against them.

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Something even better than this, is to offer them your time. Talk to them, they’re children! Get to know their situation and find out how you can help. Being a foreigner in a developing country, you are likely to have a louder voice than others, especially with government officials as these countries depend on the expenditure of tourists to develop. When you return home, these memories will stick in your mind, do your research and support a legitimate charity or contact the relevant officials to try and make a difference, or better yet, spend your next adventure volunteering!

Respect temple rules

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We all get carried away when travelling and that’s totally fine! If you can’t express yourself whilst backpacking then you may as well go home. However, it is paramount that you respect the cultures and rules of your environment to ensure you make the most of your experience without ruining it for others. Some of the mainstream hot spots include Angkor Wat (Cambodia), the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple (India), The Big Buddha (Hong Kong) and Wat Pho (Thailand). However, it is often at the smaller temples that you come across stricter rules.

Wherever you are you should try to learn a few simple phrases and signs of respect such as putting your hands together when entering or leaving – Namaste! No photos means no photos even if you reckon it’s Instagram worthy – these are sacred places. If shorts are a no-no then wear a pair of suitable trousers or a sarong, and if it is a silent temple, don’t speak. If men and women are required to go through different entrances, do it. It’s not a lot to ask, especially when you’re visiting a place that will give you memories for a lifetime.

Don’t ride the elephants

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When visiting places such a Bali, Thailand and India and you start to research things to do, unfortunately riding abused elephants in chains is still a top tourist attraction. Put simply, do not do it. No matter how well they are claimed to be looked after, they are not. Their spirits are broken in the process of training them to hold humans; they are taken away from their natural environments and forced to work. Elephants are endangered animals and will not be here forever. You can help prolong the lives of these gentle giants by not participating in this horrific activity.

We know you want to spend time with these beautiful creatures, we did too. We encourage you to volunteer with those elephants rescued from the tourist trade to give something back. There are many opportunities to visit elephant sanctuaries throughout Asia, but don’t just opt for cheapest or the one with the best salesman, please do your own research and select one that does actually support the endangered Asian Elephant. Many sanctuaries describe a safe haven for elephants but in reality they are chained, beaten and abused into submission.

We highly recommend Elephant Nature Park, where there are no chains, no cages, no cruelty, and the elephants roam about as they choose too. You are educated about the lives they have led and why they were rescued, whilst getting the opportunity to feed and observe their majestic ways. You get what you pay for in life and if you spend a little more, you can get the experience of a lifetime without adding to the misery of these incredible, endangered animals.

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James A. Michener

Special thanks to KH Travels for writing this article! Follow them on Twitter & Instagram!

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21 Responses to “Responsible tourism: what to do (and not do) whilst travelling through Asia”

  1. Brilliant. Thank you for this very informative and well written piece… A must read for every traveller. I wish I had read this before I went to Thailand and rode on an elephant. I feel awful now!

  2. Thank you for this! I had an inkling about the elephants and street kids, but completely forgot that some people would prefer if you don’t go snapping pictures of them.

  3. What a ridiculous thing to say about rejecting food.
    Do I even need to go into the reasons for saying this?

  4. The only problem with not giving money to kids is that they might get beatings if they don’t come back with money,
    It’s bad all around. I do understand where you come from though.

  5. “Nine times out of ten they will say yes and happily pose for you, ” Unfortunately, this advice guarantees that you will NEVER get an actual candid photo of everyday life. Had previous generations of street photographers followed this advice, we would have lost all visual record of customs and cultures, and only had posed snapshots meant for tourist consumption.

  6. Really helpful and interesting arcticle! In my opinion much more useful than a travel guide with places to visit! Yes, a must read

  7. lannie erickson Reply

    Thank you. I might add : Be respectful of religious figures in public places. Learn what constraints, such as conversing with or touching monks or nuns, are placed upon them. Don’t climb up on religious statuary for photos, particularly if you are dressed inappropriately by local standards.

  8. Really good point about photographing local people, something I feel really strongly about especially having been on the other end of the camera being photographed constantly day in and out. It can be so intrusive and a massive invasion of space and privacy – not a nice experience. Always better to ask!

  9. Gillian Abbott Reply

    Thank you for this.
    I too have ridden an elephant in thailand and feel really bad.
    I am going to Bali in a few weeks, can you reccomend the best places to see elephants and orangutans where they are looked after etc?

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