My time in Southeast Asia has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve been zip lining, I’ve played with monkeys and I’ve jumped into beautiful lagoons. There’s an endless list of amazing activities and experiences that you should check out in Southeast Asia, but there’s also a lot of things you should pass on.
Here’s a list of things NOT to do in Southeast Asia:
Ride an elephant
There are plenty of places in Southeast Asia that give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with elephants – and it’s something I highly recommend doing. Many sanctuaries and elephant farms let you bath them, feed them and play with them. The only thing I’d advise you not to do is ride them on a basket. The baskets they wear are very damaging to them, and despite their strong bodies they actually hurt the elephants a lot.
Although some would say that ethically speaking you should not ride an elephant under any circumstance, my personal rule is not to ride an elephant wearing a basket. I got the chance to ride an elephant bareback in a swimming hole and it was a great experience that I do not regret.
Visit Long Neck Karen in Chiang Mai
Visiting the Long Neck Karen village just outside of Chiang Mai is the equivalent of visiting a human zoo. The cultural background of the neck rings that they wear is disturbing, and most of these women are refugees from Myanmar. Many of these refugees are only allowed to stay in Thailand so long as they wear these (very damaging) neck rings and live exclusively in these villages.
This isn’t a natural way of life, and it’s also not an accurate representation of women who do wear neck rings in Myanmar. Long Neck Karen is a tourist attraction, a human zoo and an exploitation of human rights.
Give money to begging kids
Those kids you see on the streets begging for money and trying to sell you stuff will touch your heart. It will be so hard to say no to their beautiful faces, but unfortunately you need to. Those kids aren’t seeing a single cent of that money – it’s going straight to adults. In countries like Cambodia these kids are most likely victims of human trafficking, and the money is going to whoever owns them (not their parents).
Additionally, as long as tourists are giving these kids money they will spend their childhoods begging for money on the streets instead of being in school.
Visit Tiger Kingdom in Thailand
The idea of getting a picture of me with a baby tiger really excited me, and seemed like such a cool experience. It was on the top of my “must-do list” in Thailand even though I knew in the back of my mind it wasn’t ethical. There’s literally no way that you can just chill with a full grown tiger and snap selfies without getting eaten alive, so it’s pretty obvious that these animals are drugged quite a bit to keep them sedated.
On top of that, Paul pointed out to me that Tiger Kingdom gives you the chance to take a photo with three different sized tigers (small babies, medium sized one, and giant ones) all at different price ranges. On any given day they need to have all three sizes available for photos – but what happens when the baby tigers grow into adults? They obviously can’t house 60+ full grown tigers, so this means the baby tigers are either dying from being drugged or they are being killed simply because they get too big. Heartbreaking!
Drive a motorbike for the first time
Motorbikes and scooters really are the best way to get around most cities in Southeast Asia, and renting them is very cheap and easy. I absolutely love the freedom of renting a bike but I also don’t think Southeast Asia is where you should learn to drive a bike. If you plan to rent a bike during your travels I’d suggest learning how to drive them in your own country. Places like Laos and Vietnam are countries where driving laws and licenses don’t exist, and driving for the first time in that kind of chaotic setting is a death wish.
Visit orphanages in Cambodia
Human trafficking is a horrific problem in Cambodia, and the orphanages are a large part of this problem. Every single day tourists visit orphanages in Cambodia where they donate money. This has become such a popular tourist activity that the number of orphanages in Cambodia has more than doubled in recent years. Just think about that for a minute… tourists are spending money at orphanages, so locals see this as a business opportunity and open more orphanages. But where are these children coming from?
Most children in Cambodian orphanages were never orphans to begin with – but because of the lucrative financial benefits these children’s parents are sending them to orphanages in exchange for money, with false hopes that the children may have better lives because of it. Not only is this not good for the children, but the constant stream of strangers entering the orphanages every day with cameras isn’t healthy either.