Thailand is a place of beauty, adventure and there are so many amazing activities to try here, that after three years of living here, I am still finding new activities and places to visit. Unfortunately there are also a number of activities that have given rise to exploitation, both in regard to wildlife and people. I believe that people do have the power to bring about positive change and, particularly in a country like Thailand, where many locals are keen to reap the benefits of tourism, I feel it is important for tourists to do their research into putting their money into ethical enterprises.
·Visit a tiger temple or take pictures with tigers. The infamous tourist temple was closed down last year. When it was investigated, they found dead tiger cubs in a freezer and allegations of missing adult tigers thought to have been sold on the black market to China for tiger bones. This scandal is on top of the commonly held assumption that these tigers are drugged in order for tourists to take photos with them. I personally feel that the claim that people can get close to them because they are domesticated tigers brought up around people does not have any ground. Getting into a cage with a grown adult tiger is dangerous, no matter how the animal was raised. Read more about the truth on the BBC website here
Go to a pingpong show, sex show or participate in any activities relating to the sex industry. Aside from my personal feelings about female exploitation, Thailand is a hub for human trafficking and there is no knowing how the women and men in these industries are treated. 425,500 people are thought to be enslaved in modern day slavery in Thailand. (Source https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/country/thailand/ )and some of these unpoliced, illegal industries have been found to ‘employ’ underage prostitutes, indicating child abuse and exploitation. Is this really where you want your money going? This article is an interesting and eye-opening read from the BBC website.
Sunbathing in the nude, women going topless on a beach and males riding around on scooters without shirts. Spain this is not. Most of Thailand is fairly conservative, whether the locals are Buddhist or Muslim and getting your baps out on the beach is not acceptable here.
Standing on coral reefs. Coral is extremely fragile and if you touch it, not only could you end up injured, but you are killing this vital eco-system that the ocean relies upon. Please be extremely careful of where you are stepping in the sea.
Touching wild animals- There are regular news stories in local papers here in Thailand about people touching turtles and I am frequently frustrated by the number of Instagram photos of people holding up a starfish. That is a wild animal and you are disturbing it. Remember to always be respectful of wildlife.
Taking photos in the markets or streets with ‘pet’ monkeys or gibbons. These are animals that belong in the wild and should not be used in the tourist industry in this way. Often teeth are painfully removed to ensure the animal does not bite people and they are often wearing nappies and chained up.
·Fishing and squid fishing. This is more of a personal thing as I am super into scuba diving and would prefer to see the fish underwater rather than kill them. However, I think it is important to be aware that Thailand has a massive problem with over-fishing and unfortunately very little is done to stop this. As a result of corruption many fishing boats can still be seen in marine parks which are supposed to be protected and I often sea fishing nets while scuba diving in supposedly protected areas. Don’t add to this problem.
Thailand has some great dive spots and while some of them may not be as incredible and colourful as they once were, the reasonable prices and wide availability of dive centres will always keep me coming back for more diving. As far as I know Koh Tao still claims to be one of the cheapest places to do your Open Water certification, which is where I did my first diving certificate 4 years ago, and it’s been an obsession ever since. I have over 70 dives and most of them have taken place in Thailand. I still have a few more dive places to try out in the near future though.
While I’ve dived off many islands and beaches around Thailand the following are my top dive sites that I have returned back to many times:
Diving Koh Phi Phi
Known as a party island, Koh Phi Phi often surprises her divers with some great underwater marine life. Some of the best diving I’ve done in Thailand has been around Phi Phi Marine Park. One dive, my sister and I spotted a turtle, a black tip reef shark AND a leopard shark – all before midday. The coral is generally in pretty good shape, though the waves can make you feel a little queasy on the way out to the dive sites. I recommend using travel bands like these from Amazon Travel Sickness Wristbands (Black)
Stay: I have yet to find a great place to stay in Koh Phi Phi (after around 5 trips at least), I recommend showing up and using the little accommodation office near the pier. Give them your budget and they will find you a place.
Don’t miss: the beach fireshows – after I have been spoilt for fireshows living here, I still think they are impressive and the best in Thailand.
Diving Koh Similan / The Similan Islands
Diving the Similan Islands is usually on the bucket list for divers in Thailand. While the Similan islands are no longer covered on coral and marine life, they still have some great dive sites. Whale sharks and manta rays can be spotted around this area. Day trips here are extremely expensive (when I went we paid 6000 baht for two dives, compared with 2500 baht average in other dive spots around Thailand). Liveaboards are very popular here and you can often get great deals at the end of the season (April, May) if you can be flexible. This whole area is closed off during the rainy season (end of May to October) and even in October you are not guaranteed diving (my liveaboard was cancelled due to enormous waves one October). If you are considering a liveaboard then make sure it includes Richelieu Rock or at least Koh Bon for a chance of manta rays.
Arguably the best dive site in Thailand, I was lucky enough to spot my first whale shark here and therefore it will forever by up there in my memories of great dives. The dive site has lots of pretty purple coral and is claimed to be one of the best spots for whale sharks in Thailand. ( If only we could hold the whale sharks to that…!). North of the Similan Islands, it’s about a two hour, fairly bumpy, speed boat ride to get there.
Same details for Khao Lak, see above.
Diving Koh Phangan
Diving on Koh Phangan can be both great and disappointing in my experience. Sail Rock dive site has a lot of shoals of fish so if you’re looking for quantity then diving here can be impressive. The coral is fairly pretty, although expect a lot of divers underwater around the time of the Full Moon Party. The visibility is always worse around Full Moon and, unsurprisingly, there is no diving on the whole island for the day after the Full Moon party. For Full Moon Party Tips, read my post here as I’ve been to 5!
While diving on Koh Tao has seen its reputation take a nose dive (!), it remains one of the cheapest places to get your Open Water Certificate and there are 75+ dive centres to choose from. If you just arrive on the island, use your negotiation skills to get your diving qualification and accommodation throw in together. Be prepared for it to get very busy underwater.
Don’t miss: a trip to Ang Thong Marine Park- I’m yet to go but have heard great things.
Ao Nang Islands, Krabi
Many dive shops in Krabi will also advertise taking you to Koh Phi Phi Marine Park, but a cheaper alternative is to stay and dive the local islands. Visibility is not always the best but when I went I saw two bamboo sharks and I was lucky enough to see this amazing seahorse. I find there can often be lots of marine life to see even when some of these dive sites don’t shout about it. Ao Nang also offers a great jump off point for island hopping around Railay, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Yao Noi and more.
I never go diving without my Gopro Hero 4. I’m convinced the moment I do is the dive when I will see five sharks, 10 mantas, some dolphins and a whale. Buy GoPro HERO4 BLACK from Amazon here
It took me a while to figure this out but your underwater dive photos and videos will look shit unless you include a red or orange filter. (Should have listened more on that colour loss part of the Advanced Open Water!) Get yours here Polarpro Red Filter and make sure you remember it when you dive. Or your photos will look like my whale shark one above – very blue!
If you get cold easily then I recommend using a long sleeved rash vest under your shorty wetsuit. I am yet to find a dive shop in Thailand that would give me a long wetsuit (for free). I always use my billabong rash vest to keep warm on those longer, deeper dives. And especially for liveaboards when multiple dives means a lower overall body temperature. Buy a similar one here from Amazon, Dakine Women’s Persuasive Snug Fit Long Sleeve Rashguard
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Riding an elephant in Thailand on your bucket list? Re-think your list.
I like to think that any tourist planning to visit South East Asia and interact with animals would do some research into the type of establishment they are participating in and giving money too. Unfortunately the high number of tourists who ride elephants and visit tiger temples in Thailand every year suggests otherwise.
Making a Difference
I would love to see tourists taking responsibility for their actions. In the Western world, we are so lucky that we have the money and often the time to travel to places like South East Asia. When I first visited Thailand, I could find only TWO elephant sanctuaries that did not offer rides. Four years later there has been a burst in ‘no riding’ sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and it is thanks to the tourists who drive the demand for this. If there is no demand for elephant riding, then local Thai people will be encouraged to use their elephants in alternative tourist settings such as feeding and bathing with them.
Elephants are not made to carry items on their backs. The metal racks placed upon them during tourist rides does lasting damage and deforms the elephant’s back. Working elephants are subject to cruel and abusive ways of taming them known as ‘the crush’ in which elephants are tied up for days or weeks and violently abused until they will comply with the abusers’ commands. Many elephants are trained from an extremely young age which includes being separated from their mothers. Elephants are often blinded on purpose, as a blind elephant is that much easier to control. Large metal hooks are driven into wounds to force the elephant to turn left and right. The skin around the tusks is often hacked at in order to sell as much of the tusk as possible on the ivory black market.
Ideally these elephants would be rehabilitated and released into the wild. Unfortunately in Thailand this is often not possible, either the elephants rampage local farms, are too dependent on humans. or there is simply not enough jungle to realise them back into. Luckily Thai locals have set up sanctuaries such as Elephant Nature Park and Hug Elephant Sanctuary (two that I’ve personally visited!) to protect them, work with them and boost local tourism using them.
So here’s to the Thais and the tourists, changing the fate of elephants in Thailand little by little…