Green Footprints of Phuket
The Amazing New Chapters of Sun, Sand, Sea & Sustainability
June Mukherjee, Phuket, 15-5-2022
When a much-visited country encounters a break from continuously welcoming and entertaining visitors from all over the world, showcasing the best of its natural beauty, what does it do? It clearly lets its priceless assets breathe a little, and fill in more energy to welcome back guests with a lot more to offer. Since the time the pandemic started subsiding, Thailand, the land of smiles started to slowly open its doors to international visitors through various careful sandbox programmes. Now, it is open to all, keeping careful disclaimer in place to follow the safety protocols for everyone’s best interest.
It is important for responsible travel media to know all the developmental work being carried out before they travel to a destination and upon returning, to share the same with readers alongside beautiful anecdotes that corroborate the hard work. It must be highlighted how enormous background work is being done relentlessly to give a picture-perfect destination experience to tourists and travellers, especially in this post-pandemic era in the safest, most sustainable and responsible manner.
When a top tourist-attracting country like Thailand reopens after a dreaded pandemic, it surely tries its best to justify a popular tagline like Amazing Thailand and take it to the next level. On a recent visit to Thailand, The Asian Footprints looked at and experienced some of the Amazing New Chapters through its green lens.
The Green Signals
When the world was under lockdown, Thailand was pretty focused on keeping sustainability and responsible tourism as the pivot while reinventing tourism campaigns for the reopening. During the entire pandemic period, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) continued to redefine its tourism strategies and showed more commitment to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2020 itself, TAT teamed up with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) to develop a long-term sustainable tourism strategy that would pave the way for the Thai tourism industry to align with the SDGs in the post-Covid-19 crisis context and make sustainable, inclusive and community-based tourism, the ‘New Normal’.
It was also significant to be advancing this agenda in the year marking the 60th anniversary of TAT by undertaking a range of social and environmental initiatives in different industry and economic sectors as part of the strategy to promote ‘Responsible Tourism’. It also focussed on the promotion of 55 emerging destinations to decongest the already well-known tourist spots, create jobs in the rural areas and reduce income disparities. These social and environmental initiatives and green-minded programmes have been rolled out to protect Thailand’s vast natural and scenic beauty.
The ‘One for Nature’ initiative forms part of this strategy to protect, rehabilitate, and conserve Thailand’s natural resources through responsible tourism and all tourists can follow the same when in Thailand. TAT also signed an MoU with the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organisation and the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association to promote low-carbon tourism and implementation of climate action for sustainability. TAT has already been promoting green tourism with the long-established ‘7 Greens’ project. TAT decided to encourage tourists and travellers to support the sustainability of green tourism and enhance their travel experiences with a small or neutral carbon footprint towards the goals of achieving sustainable net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by promoting ‘low-carbon tourism’, reducing resources, energy consumption and waste.
The Green Routes
The carbon balance project includes creating a carbon-neutral tour programme, carbon-neutral community-based tourism (CBT) village, highlighting carbon-neutral tour companies, carbon-neutral souvenirs, as well as various carbon offset schemes and incentives. Based on the TAT’s ‘7 Greens’ project, five carbon-neutral routes were created: Chiang Mai; Kanchanaburi; Prachin Buri–Nakhon Nayok; Udon Thani–Nong Khai-Bueng Kan; and Phuket–Phang Nga. All the routes follow the BCG (Bio, Circular and Green) Economic Model, which focuses on five categories: wellness tourism, sports tourism, cultural tourism, eco-tourism, and spiritual tourism.
The recently launched ‘Amazing New Chapters, Amazing BALANCE’ represents a new era in which routes and activities follow the BCG Economic Model in combination with the ‘Happy’ model and ‘Carbon Balance’ model. These are responsible, sustainable and high-quality tourism products. Bio tourism focuses on travel that promotes biodiversity; for example, the use of local and eco-friendly ingredients to create culinary dishes. Circular tourism supports travel that promotes the efficient use of resources and which minimises waste that is generated from travelling. Green tourism is travel that is environmentally friendly and which seeks to minimise carbon emissions; for example, using an outdoor venue instead of an air-conditioned building, choosing daytime schedules that reduce the need for lighting, and limiting single-use plastic.
The Green Footprints
Of the low-carbon routes mentioned above, The Asian Footprints explored a few trails of the Phuket-Phang-Nga route covering Khao Lak, Takua Pa, Phuket Old Town, Phang-Nga and the surroundings of Phuket. While the itinerary was full of adrenalin-pumping adventures, sailing amidst the sea and soaking in the sunshine and the breeze, walking in the fresh air, and culinary delights, the unique take for AFP was to see the smiles on the faces of the local communities who are so happy to see tourists again. The low-carbon routes in the Phuket & Phang-Nga area involve the local community and their way of life in a very important way and their sustainability is now circled around responsible tourists who will leave nothing but good footprints in their memories and take back even greater memories.
The Andaman Sea with its iconic myriad emerald green limestone karst rising out of the water is a signature of Phuket’s natural landscape. Though Phuket, often called as ‘Pearl of the Andaman’ is one of the most popular destinations in the world for its beautiful beaches, it was a surprise to explore the hidden treasures of Khao Lak, under one and half-hour drive from Phuket airport. Kayaking at the Little Amazon or ziplining at Hanuman World, midway between Khao Lak and Phuket are nothing but moments from a redefined Thailand one can treasure for a long time.
Khao Lak is a more tranquil beach destination than Phuket with long stretches of sandy beaches on one side and mountains on the other. A canoe, kayak or boat trip in Khlong Sang Ne or Little Amazon Takua Pa in the shade of century-old banyan trees and mangroves which line the banks is a mesmerising experience and captures the essence of slow travel. For a more local experience, we went to Baan Tha Din Daeng village which is a strong community-based interior area promoting sustainable tourism. The locals will welcome you into their daily life, show organic fruit-farming methods, and take you on a relaxing kayak ride through the mangroves or a short hike to a local beach where you can go swimming. They become your local guides, take you for a long tail boat ride and give a live demonstration of their indigenous style of cashew plantation with an immediate tasting session.
The popular beaches of Phuket are now even more amazing as they are super clean, tourists and all the service providers are following the safety and health protocols and due to the overall effect of the pandemic, international tourists are also opting for off-the-beaten-track locations with lesser crowds. Bangtao is Phuket’s longest beach and is quite steep with high waves. Surin is a coastal village with white sand, turquoise waters, boutique shops and high-end resorts. Kamala, north of Patong, is popular for viewing the sunset and ex-pats and the young crowd loves the beach clubs and bars. Karon, Kata, and Kata Noi are situated south of Patong and are more peaceful and suitable for swimming, snorkelling, windsurfing, and sunbathing. Patong is Phuket’s best-known beach and the busiest centre of the island’s tourism and nightlife. As island hopping is now one of the trendiest things to do, keep Similan Island and James Bond Island on top of your list. Yes, it is named after 007 where ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ movie was shot. However, the best lookout for panoramic views is at the Samet Nangshe viewpoint of Phang Nga Bay.
The very popular yellow-coloured corner building with a clock which is now almost equivalent to Phuket Old Town’s internet identity is actually the starting point for a beautiful walking tour and it gives one multiple directions to choose from. Typically, this is where the car or van will drop you off with an idea that Phuket Old town is best explored on foot. Any way you go, you get to see colourful Sino-Portuguese style shophouses, beautiful street arts on the walls, small cafes, restaurants, art galleries and museums, batik shops, and Chinese shrines where history and heritage are enshrined all over the place. The slow stroll may take you inside a vintage old house which also hosts guests with customised dining in traditional style. And for all the history enthusiasts, the Peranakannitat Museum is there to display Phuket’s native culture and heritage.
Phuket’s signature cuisine and diverse eating culture saw it become the first city on the UNESCO Creative Cities listing for its gastronomic delights in 2015, not only in Thailand but also in the entire ASEAN region. In addition to being the melting pot of cultural cuisine, Phuket is also well-known for excellent super-fresh seafood. Similar to the food scene in Bangkok, Phuket offers a culinary experience of both traditional and inventive creations across all levels of the price range, from sophisticated restaurants to street vendors.
Visiting Wat Chalong which is the largest, most revered, and most visited Buddhist temple in Phuket is a must as is visiting Wat Pho in Bangkok. The sheer magnanimity of the temples speaks volumes about Thailand’s Buddhist heritage and its religious history. At the same time, one cannot go to Phuket and miss the Big Buddha, a 45-metre-high marble Buddha statue in Karon.
When we talk about sustainability, we talk about energy saving. Instead of private cars, when in Phuket you can take the Phuket Smart Bus that will take you through famous sites and attractions along with other tourists. Phuket provides free wi-fi allowing you to connect to the internet anywhere, anytime. The Thai government has banned smoking on several beaches. The use of single-use plastic and throwing away of garbage is a big no.
Inspired by the rationale of sustainability, Thailand is now promoting eco and adventure travel routes to the following provinces: Bangkok, Chon Buri, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Surat Thani, Krabi, Phang-Nga, Phuket, and Chiang Mai – that offer cycling, walking, trekking, and other such activities. These programmes have their carbon footprint calculated, reduced, and offset until being carbon neutral. Tourism programmes that use the BCG Van Tour, BCG Mini Caravan, BCG Self-Drive Package, and BCG Fly-Drive Package modes of transportation, Electric (EV) or hybrid vehicles, eco-friendly hotels and accommodation are being given priority. Outdoor activities such as cycling, ziplining, white-water rafting, camping, trekking, bird watching, and kayaking are widely promoted among international tourists. Products made in Thailand, especially by the local communities, including eco-friendly baskets woven from recycled plastic strips etc are encouraged to purchase and use.
Thailand is doing its bit to bring back global tourists in a sustainable way, it is finally the responsibility of each traveller to give back a smile in exchange for every smile they give. And by becoming a responsible traveller, by connecting with the local community, one can leave sustainable footprints on a foreign land.