Eco-conscious travel is not just about watching your carbon footprint and ditching plastic water bottles (though those are obvious musts if you’re serious about sustainability).
It extends to all facets of a trip, including the companies you support while on the road. Luckily, there’s an increasing number of ventures to choose from when it comes to ‘green,’ ethical and socially conscious exploring. Here are five around Asia, to get you started:
Save Elephant Foundation
“Elephant sanctuary tours” are one of those quintessential Thai experiences Sadly, most of these so-called ‘sanctuaries’ don’t have the animals’ best interest in mind. A few red flags? A sanctuary that offers elephant rides, particularly when there’s a big basket on the elephant’s back, is probably not in it for the right reasons.
Due to the shape of the animal’s spine, riding on their back can strain their vertebrae and cause permanent damage. What’s more, elephants are often trained through a brutal process called phajaan (crushing their wild spirit), to ‘domesticate’ them, essentially depriving them of their natural surroundings and upbringing.
This is all to say: do your research before spending your travel dollars on these photo ops. To meet elephants in a safe, caring environment, check out socially responsible associations like the non-profit Save Elephant Foundation, an organisation in Chiang Mai that’s dedicated to caring for elephants.
All of the elephants on the grounds have been rescued from exploitative tourism jobs, and are now living the good life in retirement. Instead of rides, look forward to bathing, feeding and observing the elephants in their own space. You can also stay overnight, take jungle treks and sponsor the elephants’ veterinary care.
Dining can be a big part of socially responsible travel – especially if, like us, you’re always up for trying new dishes and learning about local culinary traditions. In Vietnam, Koto – short for Know One, Teach One – has pioneered ‘responsible gastronomy’, which aims to support the local community through the culinary arts.
Founded in 1999, the not-for-profit social enterprise aims to break the poverty cycle by training disadvantaged youth in Vietnam in the art of hospitality. To date, Koto has trained over 1,000 students to become sous chefs, hotel general managers, business owners and service gurus.
To get travellers involved, Koto offers delicious meals and cooking classes at its training restaurants, dubbed KOTO Van Mieu, in Hanoi. That way, aspiring cooks have a chance to hone their skills – and visitors can taste their delicious local staples, like steamy pho, green mango salad, banana leaf-baked fish and more.
Start or finish the night with a few drinks upstairs at The Temple Bar. It’s a casual spot for cocktails, smoothies and refreshing beers.
Rinjani Women Adventure
When visiting Lombok, Mount Rinjani is a major draw for many outdoorsy travellers. At 3,726 metres tall, the active volcano is a sight to behold, with dramatic cliffs, a turquoise lake and breathtaking vistas over the island all around.
Most treks up the mountain are conducted by male guides, but Rinjani Women Adventure has set up a programme to support gender equality while simultaneously protecting the pristine natural environment.
In rural Indonesia, women are traditionally be expected to be housewives and raise children. Despite extreme poverty, many families have historically relied on men to provide for the family.
“I want the women in Senaru also inspired and follow in my footsteps so that they can help the family economy and make the role of women in Senaru more and more independent,” writes founder Sukatni, who founded the company in 2000.
To empower local women, Rinjani hires and trains female guides for all of its tours. That’s just one piece of the puzzle: Sukatni is also passionate about taking better care of the environment.
“My concern on Mount Rinjani increasingly frequent damage and environmental pollution caused by waste generated from Rinjani trekking activities. I invite each climber to follow the program ‘Keep Rinjani Green and Clean’ and leave nothing behind.”
In addition, to Mount Rinjani hiking programmes, Rinjani Women Adventure also provides cultural and culinary tours, forest walks, and village expeditions.
Orangutan Trekking Tours
One more for the animal lovers out there: Orangutan Trekking Tours in Borneo, Malaysia.
Run by a passionate group of 33 locals who call themselves the “Green Team,” this Borneo ecotourism venture offers one of the best ways to observe these fascinating primates up close without disrupting their natural rhythms.
Ranging from two to fives days in length, each jungle tour considers your group’s specific interests and needs. Along the way, you might also spot a few other native species like wild boars and black-handed gibbons, proboscis monkeys, king fishers and even crocodiles.
Meanwhile, a dedicated photography adventure is perfect for both amateurs and professionals.
No matter which tour you choose, each has been designed with the environment at top of mind. Everyone on the Green Team grew up in the area, and it’s clear they care deeply about protecting their forests, rivers and animal.
In addition, all profits and tips go directly to helping spread education through the local community about the impact of deforestation.
The Blue Yonder
Founded by Gopinath Parayil in 2004 to turn a spotlight on the Nila river valley in Kerala, The Blue Yonder has been creating “immersive” and “responsible” travel experiences long before they were buzzwords.
With its homebase in Cochin, India, the travel venture has expanded considerably over the past 16 years, now operating across India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and even South Africa, with the goal of ‘co-creating’ travel encounters with local communities.
So what does that mean? The Blue Yonder works closely with residents in less-frequented destinations to showcase the local beauty and heritage of each place, as well as the interesting people who live there.
Experiences range from hiking in the Himalayas to farm visits in Kochi, visiting rice paddies in Pokkali, and visiting Nepal’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites – all with many opportunities to talk with and learn from local residents.
Through these interactions, Blue Yonder believes that visitors and residents alike will have a chance for meaningful exchange and connections.
The signature tour? In northern Kerala, illegal sand minders-turned-travel guides lead travellers along the banks of the Nila to meet artisans who practise traditional metal work and kalari, a local martial art.