All posts by Chee Chor Lor

Taylor & Chee on Ethics of Being a Tourist and Tourism

Effects of Tourism

Tourism industries and practices around the world call ethics into question. Specifically focusing on Thai tourism through the lens of an American tourist, many of the attractions have recently been brought to light, focusing on the lack of sustainable and/or ethical practices. According to Thompson-Reuters, an estimated 30 million foreigners visited Thailand in 2015, contributing 2.21 trillion Thai Baht (about $60 million USD) to the country’s GDP. This is a huge portion of the economy, but with questionable practices in some areas, it’s important to delve deeper to understand the country’s tourism industry.

Part I: Ethics of Tourists

As a traveler and tourist myself, while researching for what practical ethics are considered appropriate for travelers such as myself– it was much easier to ask myself, how do I act to ensure that I am responsible, respectful and ready to learn? It was very easy. I thought back to when I was a child in school. We were taught (and to this day still should be practicing these), the three Rs.


We could list hundreds of tips and ethics of being a tourists in another country but the foundation of this results to the basic morals of being a human. First, be responsible for yourself, your actions, words and how that impacts the environment and others. Secondly, be respectful of yourself, others and their differences (including their values, morals, traditions and space) and lastly, be ready to learn, meaning you should be open minded.

Eternal question: is the glass half-full or half-empty?
Eternal question: is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Is the glass half full? Half empty? Full? Empty? Does it really matter?

As a tourist, in my personal experience, I have been let down due to my overly filled expectations of the country and what kind of experience I should get from it due to social constructs and influences. When I go into a country knowing everything I think I could possibly know–I delete the opportunity to learn from my own and on my own. Having too much expectations lead to disappointment and that itself impacts your ability to truly enjoy the true potential of traveling and being immersed in the beauty of the destination.

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According to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism 2010, a collected summary of tips to help foster ethics of tourists consisted of: Honouring local traditions and customs, supporting the local economy, respecting the environment and being informed and respectful.

Honoring Local Traditions and Customs

This would be the time to reflect and ask yourself how much you already know about the destination and whether or not it is appropriate and helpful to learn a few things about it. Whether you decide to or not, it is always helpful to do some research about the destination’s local traditions and customs. This will help you as an outsider coming in, understand the local community and jump start the journey with some excitement. This could include, learning a few local words to help communicate with the local people and have more meaning. Experience and respect all that makes an international destination different and unique from its history, architecture and religion to its music, art and cuisine

Supporting The Local Economy

Throughout Thailand, I was constantly reminded and even without reminder, I knew I wanted to buy local handicrafts and products. This was extremely difficult because of how plagiarized or otherwise noted as “inspired” by designs and clothings of ethnic groups in Thailand. I could never identify whether or not I was supporting the locals or just buying manufactured goods which leads to the tip of avoiding counterfeit products. Unfortunately, it is common that many countries do not have policies that regulate this. Unlike the United States and many other “power house’ countries, Thailand along with a list of developing countries buy the American dollar at a higher rate than most other developed countries. Because of this, it is always good to keep in mind the act of bargaining. You can bargain but you should do so respectfully and keeping in mind a fair trade or transaction. Your purchase may be supporting the cost of living of not just the seller but also the systems and communities that benefit from it. The picture below outlines the breakdown of our travel and it’s impact of multiple systems.

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Respecting the Environment

It is suggested that you reduce environmental impact through being a good steward of natural resources and archaeological treasures. This includes protecting wildlife and their natural habitat, purchasing only goods and products that are not made from endangered plants and or species, fostering the life and growth of nature by taking pictures as an alternative momento of your trip.

Being Informed and Respectful

This portion highlights the importance of obeying rules and laws in your destination as any other country much like our own home country. Please observe national laws and it’s regulations as these are legal laws that ensure safety and harmony for all. The rules are as it would be in your own home. Being informed and respectful also includes respecting the basic human rights. As a child we were taught to treat others how we want to be treated so it is a basic foundation across the board regardless of where you go. In different countries with different social values and traditions, it will be difficult to see this simple rule and sometimes it is close to non existent. However, as an individual I believe we can make that decision to do better and make that choice in loving and caring for others as we would for ourselves. Coming to Thailand and spending over 2 weeks here, being treated so well reminded me of the social construct of classism. I may not see it but for everyone else it probably exists in Thailand. As a host I am privileged to eat first and served first. As a tourist, I need to be aware of this privilege and make sure that it is not oppressing anyone else.

The third point is to protect children from exploitation both in travel and tourism. In Thailand such subtle things didn’t occur to me as child exploitation until I saw how massive it was occurring across multiple cities. Things like children selling goods or begging for money on the street.

The last point is self-care. While traveling is an amazing thing, we often forget to take care of our self both physically and mentally. This includes taking safety and health precautions with everything you do, knowing your limitations and being alert while allowing yourself to try new things and being informed of how to access medical care in the case that you need it. Unlike our group, many people travel alone and this goes to say that you are responsible for yourself in case of an emergency it is your responsibility to take care of you before all else.

Part II: Ethics of Tourism

In exploring this topic, we had to also think about the ethics of tourist attractions as a whole. Being a global citizen and informed traveler also comes with an added responsibility of doing research and making sure that they are supporting tourist and local attractions that are ethical and add value to the community.

Elephant Camps

Elephant training and camps have been around for a long time, but the questionable practices of phajaan, or crushing the spirit of an elephant, has only recently come to the attention of many. Looking at it simply through the lens of an American tourist, it’s wrong. The elephants are treated horribly and tortured at a young age in order to populate the camps and attract tourists. However, it’s easy to look at this problem and make an opinion black and white. I’m not saying that phajaan is okay, I’m saying that there’s more to the story. Part of being a global citizen is understanding cultural differences and taking a step back to look at the whole picture. Taking time to dig deeper and truly understand the tourism practices is important. For example, elephants are endangered; these camps are attempting to breed more and increase the population. There is also a deep bond between the mahout and his elephant. They stick together and the elephant trusts the mahout, and this practice has been taking place in Southeast Asia for a very long time, even before elephant camps existed.


Part III

This post isn’t trying to say if certain practices are right or wrong, it’s trying to say don’t look at things black and white (this can apply to more than just tourist attractions), take the time to truly understand the context and deeper reasons for why things are the way they are. Researching and cultural understanding together feeds into a better cultural awareness, and accepting these differences.


Part III: More information & resources

Practical Tips For The Global Traveler


Beez In The Trap- Life as we know it

Thinking about what we have done so far in Thailand, my mind is bottled with so many thoughts– it has become quite challenging to process what life is like as a Thai person. In the lens of Acharn Linda’s nested model, I see the impact of all three society, natural/environmental world and economy.

From my observation, Bangkok and many aspects of cities such as Chiang Mai are becoming more commercialized and globalized. This can be seen in many forms. My first encounter to this is definitely upon the our arrival in Bangkok. Lavish city sky scrapers were everywhere and more were in progress of being built but contradicting this image were the impoverished homes, trash and construction surrounding them. I believe that due to the booming travel industry, many natural process of living in the city has been altered to accommodate the industry. The buildings and especially the marketing of ethnic cultures and their clothing. For example, it was not shocking to see Hmong patterned clothing and designs but to see it in almost every other vendor and almost in every clothing or good– was a little upsetting. I started to feel as though a part of my identity was being sold as commercialized good and that it’s value is as good as what it was sold for. Secondly, it felt as though these goods from different cultures (Hmong included) were exotic and often sough after since they were marketable and so many foreigners did not know who these different ethnic people were and what their traditional clothing and designs meant, it is just fashion.

The following picture is one capturing how ethnic cultural designs, patterns and clothing were utilized to make fashionable hand bags, earrings and necklaces all of which were sold in more than one market.

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An additional piece to the travel industry, is the romanticized idea of elephants in Thailand. It became quite clear that foreigners love elephants regardless of race, age, sex or anything you can think of. I myself have become engulfed in this wave despite being aware to a certain extent. Below you will see that in Maesa Elephant Camp, Chinag Mai, the crowd bustling to see the many elephants. It is our interest and consumerism that allows globalizing of culture and traditions. Sometimes it is hard to see which part of this is truly traditional and cultural especially the relationship between an elephant and it’s Mahhut. While the relationship may be genuine, the intention is questionable.


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The few things I felt at ease watching was the sun setting after the monk chat in Wat Suan Dok. It felt so natural and calm after experiencing the busy city life. An interesting picture I captured was of the wooded pegs that were used to maintain the tree branches. I was curios to why they needed to maintain the tree branches when they can just let it grow naturally.


Sawat Dee! #Orientation

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My name is Chee. Like some of you, I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1991. This refugee camp was called Ban Vinai and I lived in section 2. I found a picture capturing the whole of the camp in it’s entirety and immediately I was feeling nostalgic. My mother was able to pinpoint where we lived up until 1994. 

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Question 1: My experience at the Wat Temple was great. I think just to be immersed into the exposure of the monk and the Thai religion was an eye opening experience. From observations alone, I was able to learn some Thai mannerism, behaviors, interactions and much more. I saw the way posture and sitting on the floor posed to be quite dificult for many of the students (myself included), I noticed that we were all constantly adjusting and readjusting. I was also aware of how buys the kitchen was and how grand of a hospitality they all provided for our stay. Afterwards, I was thinking of how and in what ways can I learn to project similar things once in Thailand.

Question 2: My learning goal is to be mindful, open minded, and receptive to learning opportunities during our stay in Thailand. This includes learning and practicing the language. Hopefully this will help me foster my sense of identity (being a Hmong woman, daughter & student.