virtuoso global How to See Thailand’s Under-the-Radar, Sustainable Side

How to See Thailand’s Under-the-Radar, Sustainable Side

The limetone karsts of Phang Nga Bay – best viewed on a day trip from quiet Yao Noi Island.
The limetone karsts of Phang Nga Bay – best viewed on a day trip from quiet Yao Noi Island.
Photo by Six Senses Yao Noi/Kevin Sauzeat
Eco-friendly experiences in some of the country’s most remote destinations.

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.

Soft-trekking excursions with Exo Travel in Thailand allow visitors to tread lightly (literally) in remote regions. 
Soft-trekking excursions with Exo Travel in Thailand allow visitors to tread lightly (literally) in remote regions. 
Photo by Exo Travel

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.

Spend a day with locals in northern Thailand.
Spend a day with locals in northern Thailand.
Photo by Abercrombie & Kent Thailand

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.

A view of the Mekong River at the Four Seasons Tented Camp, close to the borders of Burma and Laos. 
A view of the Mekong River at the Four Seasons Tented Camp, close to the borders of Burma and Laos. 
Photo by Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle

Travelers looking to extend their time in the area can find a wealth of great Virtuoso hotels near Chiang Rai. “The 16-room Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle is in a class by itself,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Susan Zurbin-Hothersall. “It’s an intimate hideaway. I loved having drinks at its Burma Bar. I also enjoyed the meaningful and educational interactions with the elephants and resident mahouts. Chiang Rai is a great place to enjoy Thailand while still practicing social distancing.”  

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.”

In the Kui Buri National Park, wild elephants share the forest with gaurs, golden jackals, leopards, and other treasured wildlife.
In the Kui Buri National Park, wild elephants share the forest with gaurs, golden jackals, leopards, and other treasured wildlife.
Photo by Exo Travel

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.

Among rice paddies on Yao Noi Island.
Among rice paddies on Yao Noi Island.
Photo by Exo Travel

“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. 

Rare hornbill birds make their nests in cavities found in trees – or handmade nests such as these from Six Senses Yao Noi. 
Rare hornbill birds make their nests in cavities found in trees – or handmade nests such as these from Six Senses Yao Noi. 
Photo by Six Senses Yao Noi/Kevin Sauzeat

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.”

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