Ten years ago, my husband and I went to visit Thailand for our honeymoon. While we were enthralled by the vibrancy of Bangkok and the lushness of Phuket, environmental responsibility was definitely not the first adjective that came to mind during our travels – instead we could describe Thailand’s phenomenal food, extraordinarily friendly people, scarily bad taxi drivers, and unusually painful Thai massages.
This is why I was so pleased to read last week about Thailand’s expanded focus on environmental protection – a process that began in 2003 and has expanded to the level that Governor Suraphon Svetasreni of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced a few weeks ago “The need to reconcile the economic and ecological impact of travel and tourism is critical to the balanced strategy that we are pursuing as part of our tourism development policies.”
It’s more than lip service. Though there is still a way to go until Thailand develops a reputation for sustainable tourism, Thailand has developed a Green Leaf Certification program for hotels; a Thailand Tourism Awards program that recognizes sustainable tourism suppliers that are contributing to the conservation of the country’s natural and cultural resources; and the 7 Greens Concept, with an aim to promote environmentally-friendly tourism.
So, why now? Here are my top 5 reasons to visit Thailand sooner rather than later:
- Fewer Crowds – the months of January and February tend to have less rain coupled with more sunshine. In addition, after the Christmas rush, the crowds have gone leaving behind unique natural and cultural experiences at better prices.
- Beautiful Beaches and Diving – while the beaches in Thailand may vary from the rustic and pristine (Koh Yao Noi) to the celebratory and luxurious (Koh Samet), the commonality is their beauty and turquoise waters that make diving a very popular and educational activity.
- Incredible Flora and Fauna – the devastating floods last fall caused immense damage across the country, especially to the Historic City of Ayutthaya. However, the waters have now receded and the country is emphasizing not only its rebirth and resilience but the beauty of its other UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well including the wildlife in the Don Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest and Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Real, Local Communities – one of our readers, Charles, a frequent traveler to Thailand, contributed a lovely article that speaks to his gratitude of going off the beaten path and being able to “meet the locals and participate in village life…” in northeastern Thailand.
- Slow Boat Travel – the major cruise lines all have itineraries that run through the region, but if you are looking for a less crowded alternative, consider the green slow boat on the Mekong from Thailand to Laos, which is “operated by a company that contributes to the schools of the hill tribe villages where the boat stops along the way, and does good green things like organic gardening, energy-efficient lighting and hot water, composting and recycling”.