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How to travel ethically in Thailand

Ethical travel in Thailand requires a little bit of extra effort and awareness but it’s not impossible.

It’ll make you feel better about the impact you have on another country and who knows, you might inspire some travelling companions to be responsible travellers too.

Keep the street clean and do not litter.
Keep Thailand’s streets clean and do not litter.

Here are some simple ways you can be an ethical traveller while visiting Thailand.

1. Say no to elephant rides

In 2016, it was estimated that 13 million tourists had taken part in rides provided by the 4,000 captive elephants in the Thailand.

According to World Animal Protection (WAP), more than 3/4 of them live in cruel conditions.  Asian elephants are also considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

If you really want to get close to these gentle giants, try helping out local NGOs such as Save Elephant Foundation instead.

This foundation’s aim is to care for mistreated elephants rescued from tourism.

They wont let you ride the elephants, but you can feed them fresh fruit or watch these intelligent animals at play.

2. Say no to fish pedicures

Fish spas – where tourists and locals alike come to have their feet nibbled on by supposedly eager Garra Rufa fish – are commonplace in Thailand.

In 2014, it was reported that there were 1,341 fish spas registered with Thailand’s Interior Ministry and an estimated 3,000 unregistered spas running.

Before you think of dipping your feet into a tank of friendly ‘Doctor Fish’, PETA claims that these fish are not nibbling on dead skin because it’s part of their normal diet; they do it because they are starving.

Even though it is hard to find corroborating evidence online, what has shown up repeatedly are reports of potential health risks and hygiene standards.

Consequently, fish spas have been banned in 15 states in the US, along with Canada and Europe.

So when you walk past a fish spa next time, consider how the fish may be suffering or whether you really want to risk your health. Choose a human pedicurist instead.

Do not go for fish pedicure while visiting any spa.
Give the fish pedicure a miss while visiting the local spa.

3. Bring your own shopping bags

Most of the time when you shop in Thailand, chances are your things will be packed into a plastic bag.

Do Mother Nature a favour and bring your own reusable shopping bag. Recycling bins are difficult to find so your trash will most likely end up in landfills.

What doesn’t may end up in the ocean.

According to a survey by nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, Thailand is one of the top five Southeast Asian countries responsible for more than half of the 8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans annually.

So if you happen to be visiting any of Thailand’s islands, don’t leave your rubbish there; bring it back to the mainland for proper disposal.

Skip the plastic bags when shopping in Thailand.
Skip the plastic bags when shopping in Thailand.

4. Don’t use plastic bottles

Do bring your own water bottles when you’re island hopping or sight seeing.

Clean drinking water is usually available at hotels or hostels so fill your bottle up before start your day.

Not only are you reducing your plastic waste, you can save on your drinks budget as well.

Bring your own water bottle while travelling.
Bring your own water bottle while travelling.

5. Watch what you eat

Support local farmers and eat locally sourced food.

Choose eateries which are likely using local produce.

Most importantly, say no to exotic meats. Pangolins,  rat snakes, and turtles are protected animals.

Eat locally-sourced food while in Thailand.
Eat locally-sourced food while in Thailand.

Read more about travelling in Thailand

Visiting Krabi’s Emerald Pool and Hot Spring

Touring Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands

Top Five Things to Buy at Krabi Weekend Night Market

What to do at Santubong, Sarawak?

Santubong Peninsula, with its rich history and great landscape is only a 35-minute drive from Kuching.

Behind its mountain peaks lies an age-old legend of jealousy and rage between Puteri Santubong and her sister Puteri Sejinjang.

Hailing from a celestial kingdom, the princesses were not above sibling rivalry. One fateful day, the princesses fought violently with each other over who was the more beautiful.

Sejinjang hit Santubong’s head, after which the latter fell to the earth, becoming Mount Santubong.

Before she fell, however, she managed to throw the beam of her weaving loom at Sejinjang. The impact broke Sejinjang’s body, and the pieces scattered into the ocean, forming nearby islands Pulau Satang, Pulau Talang-Talang and so on.

With the family feud in the mythical past, Santubong is a famous place for both locals and foreign tourists alike, the beauty of these two sisters still living on to this day through the scenic views of both the rainforest and the South China Sea.

Here are 10 things to do while visiting the Santubong Peninsula:

1. Climb Mount Santubong

A steep climb up to Mount Santubong.
A steep climb up to Mount Santubong.

The number one thing to do (provided you have the passion and stamina) is to climb to the Santubong summit.

It is moderately difficult since it has some steep climbs assisted by rope ladders.

The climb takes about 3 to 4 hours to the summit and up to 3 hours to hike down.

Do not take the climb lightly as there have been cases of climbers becoming stranded out of exhaustion.

It is advisable to depart from the park rangers’ office no later than 8am and take at least 3 litres of water for each person.

Nonetheless, the views from the top are definitely rewarding.

Santubong (15)
The view from the top of Mount Santubong.

2. No energy to climb to the top? Just hike around it.

If you don’t have the energy to climb to the top but still want to enjoy the rainforest, hike around it.

At Santubong National Park, you can either follow the red trail up to the summit or the blue trail for an easier alternative.

The blue trail takes around two hours to complete and will lead you to one of the waterfalls.

If you take the blue trail of Santubong National Park, you'll find yourself on this hanging bridge.
If you take the blue trail of Santubong National Park, you’ll find yourself traversing this hanging bridge.

3. Take a dip in one of the jungle pools

While you are paying Mother Nature a visit, you might at as well take a refreshing dip in  one of its jungle pools.

Both blue and red trails at the national park have waterfalls to offer.

The waters are relatively shallow at all the waterfalls and may be only waist-deep at most.

Take a relaxing dip at one of the waterfalls at Mount Santubong.
Take a relaxing dip at one of the waterfalls at Mount Santubong.

4. Explore the coastline, not just Damai Beach

Apart from Damai Beach, there is another less famous but equally beautiful beach located at Santubong Peninsula.

Situated at Kampung Santubong, Pantai Puteri offers a scenic view of its coast.

It is a great place for beach combing as you can walk as far as the mouth of Santubong River.

There are plenty of weird-looking rock formations to explore as you draw closer to the estuary.

Be alert to your surroundings because if you are lucky enough, you might spot a kingfisher or two.

Here are some photos taken at Pantai Puteri:

5. Kayak along the shoreline

Another way to enjoy the shoreline is to kayak along it.

Permai Beach Resort and Damai Beach Resort offer kayaks for rent at affordable prices.

There are other recreational activities as well such as scuba diving, snorkelling and stand up paddleboards.

Each of them allows visitors to look at Santubong from different perspectives.

Kayaking is a relaxing way to explore Santubong.
Kayaking is a relaxing way to explore Santubong.

6. Have a taste of Sarawak culture

Visiting a new place would not be complete without having a taste of its culture.

Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) is an award-winning living museum depicting the cultural heritage of major racial groups in Sarawak.

There are seven unique houses which invite visitors to have an insight of the traditional life: the Bidayuh longhouse, Iban longhouse, Orang Ulu longhouse, Chinese farmhouse, Melanau tall house, Malay house and Penan hut.

Do not miss their cultural performances held at its theater twice a day at 11.30 and 4pm.

Once a year, SCV also plays host to the world renowned Rainforest World Music Festival.

Santubong (12)
One of the performers from Kobagi Kecak (Indonesia) during Rainforest World Music Festival 2016.

7. Swim in the South China Sea

Put on your bikinis or swimming trunks and just have a swim – but don’t forget to put on some sunscreen first!

Santubong (9)
Just take a swim!

8. Visit historical sites

The history of Santubong can be traced as far back as the 7th century.

The artifacts found in the area shows that the peninsula was a trading port between Borneo and China.

One of the historical places to visit at Santubong is Sultan Tengah Mausoleum.

It is located right before the junction to Santubong village.

The first and only Sultan of Sarawak, Sultan Tengah died in 1641 and was buried together with his family members.

Other historical sites include Batu Bergambar near Sungai Jaong, Cursed Crocodile Stone in Santubong village and archaeological site of  Bongkisam.

Santubong (10)
Miss the crowd by visiting Santubong during weekdays.

9. Explore Damai Craftworld and Event Centre

It was formerly known and still preferably called Damai Central.

The place has wide variety of facilities and services to offer which include barbecue pits, camp ground, event venues, food courts and crafts bazaars.

Monkeys can easily be spotted even at Damai Central.
Monkeys can easily be spotted even at Damai Central.

10. Sit back, have a beer and enjoy the sunset

This is perhaps the best thing to do at Santubong.

Plop down on one of the seats at Escobar at Damai Craftworld and Event Centre, have a sip of a cold beer and then simply enjoy the sunset.

Santubong (11)
The sun setting at Santubong.

National Geographic enthusiast turns orangutan devotee

Orangutan in canopy_LH
Orangutan usually lives up around the canopy area and is very agile in travelling across canopy. Photo credit: © Lukmann Haqeem

Be it exploring something new or to re-learn our history, the documentaries brought by National Geographic have drawn Lukmann Haqeem to be part of the conservation world.

Working as senior field biologist in WWF-Malaysia under the Sarawak Conservation Programme, Lukmann reminisced, “The show instills the desire to explore nature in me. I have always liked the idea of becoming a pioneer and taking human civilisation to a new level.”

When he was in secondary school, he developed an interest in Biology. During his final year of high school, he won the overall best student for the subject. This propelled Lukmann to pursue his studies in Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

“I figured that I will do something that I’m good at and passionate about at the same time. Becoming a field biologist is like a dream come true as it incorporates both exploring nature and my love for biology,” said the 29-year old conservationist.

Lukmann, who is fondly known as Bob, now spends most of his time researching wild animals, especially orangutans. He began developing an interest in working with orangutans after watching several documentaries on the charismatic species.

“Although orangutans are popular animals, not much is known about them. I decided to study them because I wanted to find out the answers myself.”

He also mentioned that the orangutan has the slowest breeding rate of any primate and is one of the most slow-breeding mammals. The interval between one birth to the next can be as little as three years or as long as eight years.

“That is why it is important to conserve them. There is no certainty on when the next generation will be born. The death of an orangutan is always a big loss to their community,” he added.

He usually spends about two and a half months to complete a survey on orangutan nests. Within that period, he will conduct three sets of field surveys, about two to three weeks for each survey with short breaks in between.

Like any other field biologist, Bob also faces many challenges. In Sarawak, the orangutan lives in rugged terrains and so Bob has to hike up and down several mountains before reaching any orangutan habitat. Besides that, he also needs to carry his own supplies into the jungle which can weigh more than 20kg.

“Another challenge will be with the orangutans themselves. They are elusive and very hard to detect. Orangutans are known to hide themselves among the canopy when they sense potential danger. Sometimes it takes me weeks before actually seeing one.”

Currently, Bob is assisting in a new transboundary green economy project area in the Heart of Borneo (HoB), funded under the International Climate Initiative (IKI), Federal Ministry for the Environment Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety of Germany.

This two-million hectare site stretches from central Sarawak, Malaysia to northern West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The project site in Sarawak includes two important orangutan areas which are also biologically rich – Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary.

One of Bob’s tasks is to investigate species presence within the HoB landscape, and to advocate for the conservation of areas where they are found so that they can have the opportunity to thrive.

“Both sites are where most orangutans in Sarawak live. Although they live in protected areas, they don’t know what a boundary is. There are always possibilities that they will travel outside the protected areas and into the hands of hunters and poachers,” he explains.

Currently there are about 1,600 orangutans left in Sarawak. This figure is nothing compared to 11,000 orangutans found in neighbouring state of Sabah.

Bob hopes that his efforts, along with that of other experts and stakeholders, will help the orangutan population in Sarawak continue to thrive for posterity.

In Sarawak, some communities, like the Ibans, have a cultural connection with orangutans. The orangutan is revered by them as they believe that humans either are descended from the orangutan, or they turned into orangutans when they die. It is also a taboo to kill orangutans according to the Iban native law.

“The people in Batang Ai still practise this cultural connection and hence orangutans are able to survive there. However, this connection has diminished in other places and orangutans have been wiped out as a result of habitat destruction and illegal killing.”

“I hope our conservation efforts will help people to re-establish their culture and connection with orangutans. With the taboo in place, orangutan populations will hopefully recover naturally and they can live harmoniously with these communities,” he said.

The orangutan is Asia’s only great ape and is found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. In Malaysia, the orangutan sub-species, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus, occurs in Sarawak and West Kalimantan; and Pongo pygmaeus morio occurs in Sabah and East Kalimantan. In Sarawak, most orangutans occur mainly in protected areas, but incidental poaching cannot be totally ruled out due to lack of management presence in many of the orangutans’ habitats and protected areas. The orangutan is classified as Totally Protected under the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance (1998).


Top 10 things you need to know about Rafflesia plant

Rafflesia, a flowering plant with no leaves and almost no stem, can easily be identified by its five leathery, speckled petals.

There are about 28 species of Rafflesia in the world, the most renowned being Rafflesia arnoldii.

Many visitors are willing to fly in just to see this plant in its natural habitat.

Here are ten things you need to know about this unique plant.

Rafflesia tuan-mudae found in Gunung Gading National Park.
Rafflesia tuan-mudae found in Gunung Gading National Park.
  1. The ‘largest flower in the world?’

One particular species, Rafflesia arnoldii, holds the record as the largest single flower of any flowering plant in terms of weight.

The largest measurement is 105 centimeters found at Palupah Nature Reserve, Sumatera. R. arnoldii and can weigh up to 11 kg.

  1. A parasitic plant

Rafflesia lives as a parasite on several vines of the genus Tetrastigma which grow only in primary rainforests.

Almost like a fungi, an individual Rafflesia grows as thread-like strands of tissue completely embedded within its host cells in which nutrients and water are obtained.

  1. Is it a real plant?

Rafflesia challenges traditional definitions of what a plant is.

This is because it lacks chlorophyll and is then unable to photosynthesise.

A study revealed that one Rafflesia species found in the Philippines, Rafflesia lagascae has no chloroplast genome, presumably because of its parasitic lifestyle.

This earned Rafflesia the title of first land plant without a chloroplast genome, which was thought to be impossible before.

It also lacks any noticeable leaves, stems, or even roots; nonetheless it is still considered a vascular plant.

  1. Another corpse flower?

The Rafflesia has a piercing, repulsive smell, almost like rotting meat prompting many locals to call it the ‘corpse flower’.

The foul smell is to attract insects such as flies, which transport pollen from male to female flowers.

But another plant, titan arum (Amorphophallus titanium) has also taken the title as corpse flower or ‘bunga bangkai’ in Malay.

Like the Rafflesia, titan arums are also found in Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo.

Furthermore, its odour is described more like the smell of a rotting animal.

A view of the inside of a Rafflesia.
A view of the inside of a Rafflesia.
  1. It takes a long time for it to bloom

Generally, the flowers can take up to ten months to develop from the first visible bud to its full bloom.

Once in full flower, the bloom may last no more than a few days.

  1. Only found in certain regions of the world

All of Rafflesia species can only be found in South East Asia.

These areas included peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, southern Thailand, Borneo and southern Philippines.

  1. Some species can only be found in Borneo

Home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, Borneo also has its own several endemic Rafflesia species.

These species include Rafflesia keithii, Rafflesia pricei, Rafflesia tuan-mudae and Rafflesia tengku-adlinii.

Found along the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, Rafflesia keithii is endemic to Sabah.

It was named after Henry George Keith, former Conservator of Forests in Sabah.

Another Sabah native is Rafflesia pricei which was named after an amateur botanist William Price. Price discovered this species on Mount Kinabalu in 1960.

Mount Kinabalu was not the only mountain which Rafflesia called home in Sabah.

Rafflesia tengku-adlinii was discovered on Mount Trus Madi in 1987. This species was named after Sabahan conservationist Datuk Dr Tengku D.Z. Adlin.

  1. It was believed first discovered by Louis Deschamps but named after somebody else

A French doctor and explorer, Louis Auguste Deschamps was believed to be the first foreigner to see the Rafflesia.

He collected specimens and found Rafflesia in 1797 on the island of Nusakambangan. While Deschamps was making his way home in 1798 with his collection, the ship was taken by the British when approaching the English Channel.

The British, with whom France was at war, confiscated all his notes and specimens. It was only until 1954 when his possessions were rediscovered in the Natural History Museum, London.

About 20 years after Deschamps made his discovery, British botanist Dr Joseph Arnold’s local guide found the flower in the Indonesian rainforest in Bengkulu in 1818.

Eventually, the flower was named after Sir Thomas Raffles, the leader of the expedition.

  1. An official flower

Being one of a kind, it is not a surprise that this unique plant has been picked as an official flower.

In Indonesia, locally called the ‘padma raksasa’, the Rafflesia arnoldii is one of the three national flowers with the other two being the white jasmine and moon orchid.

It is also the official flower for Sabah, Malaysia and Surat Thani Province, Thailand.

  1. Threats to Rafflesia

 All known species of Rafflesia are threatened or endangered. Their habitats are highly localised making them even more vulnerable to extinction.

These threats included land clearing, logging and ethnobotanical collecting.

The flowers can take up to 10 months to develop from the first visible bud to its full bloom.
The flowers can take up to 10 months to develop from the first visible bud to its full bloom.