When it comes to visiting Thailand, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket seem to get the tiger’s share of attention – but that’s changing quickly. From remote islands and beaches to jungles and small villages, this Southeast Asian country of 70 million offers a wealth of cultural, and natural diversity, and, for discerning travelers, a growing focus on sustainability. Virtuoso travel advisors can work with on-site tour connections, including Exo Travel and Abercrombie & Kent Thailand (as well as certain hotels), to craft custom itineraries that offer visitors personal experiences with locals that also help preserve the environment and local cultures – two tenets of sustainable travel that we can always get behind. As you’re planning future travels, add to your list these superlative options in remote destinations such as Chiang Rai, Hua Hin, and Yao Noi Island.
Get to know the Hmong hill tribe.
Many travelers venture to the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai to gaze upon the stunning Wat Rong Khun, or White Temple. Abercrombie & Kent Thailand can not only check that off visitors’ lists, but also guide them deeper into the lush hills between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, where they can spend time with the Hmong tribal community that grows organic produce as part of the Royal Project Foundation. An initiative of the Thai monarchy, the foundation’s mission is to improve the tribe’s quality of life and revive the vitality of nearby forests and waterways. In addition to witnessing Hmong culture, visitors can walk the community’s fruit and vegetable fields, home to strawberries, peaches, cabbage, mushrooms, and other crops.
Go hiking in Chiang Rai.
Exo Travel can introduce travelers to the Akha, a tribe that dwells in the mountains of northern Thailand (as well as in Myanmar and its neighboring Chinese province, Yunnan). A village member guides visitors throughout the day while teaching them about Akha religion, culture, and customs. After a traditional Akha snack in the village of Suan Pa, they set off on a gentle hike into the forest near Doi Tung Mountain. The day wraps up with a visit to the Doi Tung Community Center and textile factory, which promotes handicrafts and art by local artisans as an alternative income for those who once grew poppies for the illegal drug trade.
Meet wild elephants in Hua Hin.
The best way to see pachyderms – no riding is allowed – in the Hua Hin district on the Malay Peninsula is to take a tour of Kui Buri National Park with Exo Travel, which stresses a responsible approach to elephant sightings. “The Kui Buri is great for sustainable tourism – it’s less well known and gives us space to offer one of the only wild elephant experiences in all of Thailand,” Exo Travel product manager Kim Martin Rasmussen says. “We encourage guests to learn about and observe wild animals in their natural habitat while also visiting community villages.”
Be a sous-chef for a day on Yao Noi Island.
The small island of Yao Noi in Phang Nga Bay is the antidote to Thailand’s crowded beaches and bustling cities. Exo Travel can transport guests there from Phuket or Krabi via boat for a memorable day trip. Travelers spend the morning meeting locals, most of whom make a living farming and fishing, and visiting an artisanal workshop to see a demonstration of batik making, the ancient practice of decorating cloth using wax and dye. Around midday, visitors have lunch in a local’s house and are encouraged to help with the food preparation. (Come hungry: The local cuisine, plentiful in spicy heat, seafood, and coconut, is delicious.) Later, there’s a walk through the rice paddies, where cows and buffalos munch herbs and farmers tend to their fields. “When travelers choose to visit off-the-tourist-trail destinations such as Yao Noi, it lets them engage in unique cultural experiences while helping preserve local traditions and improve welfare,” says Exo Travel consultant Ruetai Kubota.
Help your kid become an eco warrior.
The 56-room Six Senses Yao Noi offers myriad eco-friendly and sustainable experiences for its guests. Excursions include walking through a maze of mangroves to spot wildlife, learning about local organic farming and gardening, and participating in beach cleanups. The resort’s Junior Eco Warriors program helps kids get involved in sustainable practices too, such as helping build nests for endangered local hornbill birds.
Virtuoso travel advisor Paul Chin-Aleong visited the resort a few years ago: “From the moment we arrived at Six Senses, it was obvious that the staff was very conscious of the environment; I saw many activities and programs that support sustainability,” he says. “We were fortunate to tour the property to see all the initiatives they have in place, and they were proud to showcase them all – from the free-range chicken farm to the herb and vegetable garden.”
Beyond immersive experiences for travelers, the resort is involved in various initiatives to fund local education in the neighboring community. “We visit the local school, where host-accompanied guests can engage with the children during classes and play games,” Six Senses sustainability manager Pimjai Doungnate says. “Guests can teach the students English and share some knowledge about their home country, or even play football or basketball with them.”
Produced by Virtuoso with the Tourism Authority of Thailand
July 29, 2020
Thailand’s appeal is universal, from the pulse of Bangkok and to the lush countryside of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, to the many beaches of the south. Thailand is bright and colourful with an abundance of warm and open people. Plus you'll be exposed to amazing architecture and ruins, royal history and an up close look at Buddhism. And don't forget about the bustling nightlife, great shopping and some of the best street food you'll ever taste.