When we step out of our comfort zone and travel to an unknown country is a great way to get to know ourselves better. We have the opportunity to observe our attitude towards challenging situations. And we should do it in order to see if there are aspects we could improve to become more respectful visitors.
Ideally, when we enter a foreign territory we should walk on tip toes, full of curiosity and willing to expose ourselves.
A few days ago in the park of Chiang Mai I chatted to a couple who started cycling in October 2012 from Germany and arrived in Thailand in January 2014. I thought that they had found their own way to fulfil the requirements of ethical travelling. In particular, their way of transportation has a global consideration for the environment and isn’t invasive at all. Additionally, their modest attitude attracted local people and made it possible for them to live authentic experiences.
Like them there are plenty of estimable travellers who leave their home with an empty luggage in order to fill it with warm smiles, adventurous hindrances and life-changing lessons. This is the idea of journey that movies like The Motorcycle Diaries convey.
Unfortunately, the tourism industry often shows the other side of the coin and reminds us that we live in a world far from ideal. This highlights more than ever the importance for travellers to make aware choices and avoid supporting businesses in which landscapes, animals and even human communities are for sale.
In this field the most paradoxical mechanisms take place and, for instance, people are forced to abandon their territories and their roots to become civilized. Later, the same people will be constrained to reconstruct a replica of their original world to sell it as a tourist attraction.
An example of this is represented by the hill tribes inhabiting the North of Thailand like the Hmong, the Lisu and the Karen. They all have their own traditions and typical dresses, among the Karen there is a subgroup in which the women wear neck rings, they are touristically known as the long neck or giraffe women and they have become a must see attraction in the past years.
North of Chiang Mai, in an area where there are several tourist entertainments like the elephant camps, the snake farms, they have also constructed a fake village where the women await tourists to sell them their handmade scarfs and some other factory made souvenirs. To enter the village, which is easy to access, you must pay an entrance fee.
This situation arises many issues, yet, it’s worth considering the traveler’s influence on it.
If you visit such place in order to get to know the local culture and people you will be disappointed; the only thing you can do there is buying souvenirs and take a picture with the women who think of you as potential buyers and nothing more. If you visit such place be aware that you’ll have paid to walk on a short gravel path among souvenir stands in a fake village, it’s like entering the setting of the Truman Show with a different plot and other characters.
The money you spend won’t help anyone, these women do not need help, they just need to be left alone and free to live in their original villages. They’re and have always been self-sufficient communities.
You can meet Karen, Lisu or Hmong people and learn about their culture by visiting them where they really live.
We don’t need to cycle the world to be good travellers but we have the power to choose how to travel. Weizman in his book “The least of all possible evils” describes how we ended up accepting the lesser evil when it comes to wars, humanitarian actions and political interventions but in our simple lives we can still opt for no evils at all.