The Philippines and the rest of South East Asia is blessed with countless breathtaking natural wonders, ancient structures crafted by mother nature that took thousands of years to perfect. We all know that travel opens our eyes to these natural wonders and we learn from the traditional cultures and their colorful history.
As someone who have been travelling around Asia, and of course my beloved Philippines, I cannot help but sigh when I see other tourists who feel they are privileged to be in the middle of it all. I was kayaking thru the river of Sohoton Caves and observed empty crushed beer cans left by previous kayakers. I saw some tourists who were dressed inappropriately while lingering around Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, obviously ignoring the warning that proper dress code need to be observed at all times.
To avoid these mistakes, accidentally or not, other tourists do, I came up with this post to help raise awareness of how we need to behave properly to help preserve the beauty of our planet for the generations to come.
Ask permission before taking any photos
Ask permission every time and to every one. Never mind if you have been chummy with a local vendor or a local tour guide for some time. Ask permission before taking their photo. This shows them how respectful you are of them and this also builds trust between you and your new friend.
As travellers, we do get excited to take instagrammable photos of locals in their traditional colorful costumes or children being playful. Ask permission first before you snap away. You might be surprised at how game they are posing for the camera and eagerly waiting for you to show them the photo on your view finder. Make sure you do show them the outcome of the photo, there’s a genuine bonding right there, I assure you.
The rule of thumb here is that, if you plan to take a portrait photo, or close up shots of faces, you must ask permission first. But if you plan to take a street dancing parade where there is a crowd in colorful parade costumes, then it is OK to take a photo of the entire street dancing parade scene. That simple, really.
Do not give money to street children
Through out South East Asia, mostly in the countries of Cambodia, Thailand, Myammar and the Philippines, children begging for alms or money is a common sight. As heart breaking as it might be, please do not give money to these children. Most of the time, these children are exploited by gangs or by their own families who push them into the streets, some times even half naked to beg for money. The money that you give to these children will go to the gangs or the families with surprisingly large able bodies who are too lazy to look for work.
What you can do is support the local charitable institutions that help feed and take care of the street children. With the help of internet, helping out is just a click away by donating online or sending money thru the bank.
Support the local industry
By this, I mean, shop for local items, eat local food and native delicacies, and enjoy the company of the locals. Locals can provide you with more insights about your destination leaving you with an informed decision on whether to take that canyoneering adventure or conquer a mountain instead.
Plus its more fun trying out the local street food and trying out that newly opened bar owned by a local because its more homey and you make new friends. Skip the popular fast food joints and international food chains. Instead opt for the local fisherman offering to cook for you his fresh catch of the day or the lady food server serving you the iconic Vigan longanisa plus anecdotes to share.
Leave only your footprints
And bring with you only memories, as the famous saying goes. There is nothing more disheartening than reaching an exciting destination and find some else’s crushed empty beer can floating along the river banks or someone scribbled his phone number on the side of the cave walls.
I encourage you to purchase a water bottle that you can refill at water refilling stations or restaurants along the way. Avoid leaving your plastics anywhere. Bring it with you back to your hotel or home base and dispose it properly. As much as possible, leave anything untouched or as they should be, beautiful and undisturbed.
Pack some modest piece of clothing
There are many great temples and pagoda destinations around Asia. These places or worship is where the locals observe their hundred year old culture. Lets us pay respect to these places of worship by strictly adhering to the dress code. This is why when travelling to Asia, pack in a piece of long pants or long skirt that you can wear while visiting.
When I visited Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar, even though I was fully aware of how hot and humid the weather would be, I still packed long pants that I intend to wear for entering pagodas and temples around the city. This is one of the major things you can do for showing respect to their temples and culture.
Lastly, avoid activities that encourage animal cruelty
When visiting countries like Thailand or India, riding the elephants is usually offered as part of a tour activity. These elephants are malnourished, treated badly and most of all, the bamboo seat that is sat on by the tourist protrudes thru their skin, leaving them bleeding and wounded after your fun-filled adventure.
This is also the same case with the lions that are chained and drugged, they are pretty popular in Thailand too, so that they can be tame while some tourist, with little knowledge of how these animals are treated poorly, pose behind with that winning smile.
You can be a responsible tourist by doing volunteer works in animal rescue operations. Bathing them, feeding them and playing with them can be fun too. I had a great opportunity to travel to Palompon, Leyte in central Visayas Philippines where we played a part in releasing the giant clams into the open sea as part of the local government’s giant clam seeding program.
We all should do our share of being a responsible tourist not only here in South East Asia but for the rest of the world. We travellers should be the advocates of how beautiful our planet is. We should take the first step in preserving that beauty for the generations to come. There is no one else.
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