responsible tourism

How to be a Responsible Tourist in South East Asia

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.

Spear firsherman in Cebu Philippines


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.


#myanmar #yangon #barefeet #travels #botahtaungpagoda

A photo posted by carla abanes (@justtravellingsolo) on

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.

Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. - Helen Keller Click To Tweet

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Add Your Comment
  1. Reply

    PREACH! I totally agree with all of these and think it awesome you did a post like this to highlight the problems. The worst we encountered were large coach loads of Chinese tourists – the stories we’ve heard from some hotel managers are shocking!!!

      • December 4, 2016

      I know! I’ve heard a lot about this boatloads of tourists too, I just hate it that they feel so privileged just because they have money to spend on tours and hotels and travels. Aaarrrggghh.

  2. Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing such a useful blog post. This is insightful and awareness generating post and shows your sensitivity towards other cultures.

  3. Reply

    These are really fabulous tips and it’s a well-written post. Good job. I think we can always use a reminder to be respectful when we travel.

      • December 4, 2016

      Thank you! I’m glad that you find it a helpful reminder! Thanks for dropping by too!

    • Anne
    • December 4, 2016

    I appreciate your point about streeet children. I never support the,m in the belief that it gives parents more reason to keep them out of school. It is definitely tough though

    • anna
    • December 4, 2016

    Great tips! Definitely agree with all your points. I hate seeing street children beg. I never give money as I know it doesn’t go to them. I usually nip to the closest 711 and get some bread and healthy snacks to share with them though.

  4. Reply

    I’ve been to an elephant rescue in Thailand. Then a few months later I went on safari in Africa. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what capacity you interact with elephants in SE Asia, because at the end of the day they are still captive.

    So my stance on that now is to completely avoid an elephant activities in SE Asia. Period. It’s far more satisfying to go on safari and see the elephants just doing their thing in the wild as they were meant to do.

  5. Reply

    I agree completely, tourists can be so awful. If you’re going to be somewhere new to you, you have to understand the customs and observe them, and not be a general idiot. It makes all tourists look bad.

  6. Reply

    This is a great reminder to be respectful when traveling. Really love your advice of supporting the local food vendors and producers. Could not agree more, skip the western chains and go deep with the locals! These are great tips and thanks for sharing them 🙂

  7. Reply

    This is such a thoughtful post. You’d think most of it would be common sense but reading about asking before taking pictures made me think – I wouldn’t have thought to do this. I’m so glad you put this post together and it makes me excited for my upcoming trip to Asia!

  8. Reply

    This is such a great post. I totally agree with the fact that you should try and go local when eating out and buying things. It’s good to support the local economy. I also think it’s important to highlight not giving street beggars money.

  9. Reply

    These are some some great tips. I never really thought about asking permission to take pictures and I never knew not the give money to the children. Philippines is high on my to go to list…

    • Nancy
    • December 11, 2016

    I am completely on board with you on your tips starting with having respect while traveling. Not leaving your trash for others to look at or even pick up is huge and the animal cruelty is something that stays with you for a long time after returning home. It’s so sad…. Good to see you are bringing up many important issues to help us be a little more aware while traveling.

    • Skye
    • December 11, 2016

    I have to agree on all of these points! Great tips. I have spent a lot of time in SE Asia over the last couple of years and its always interesting to watch the way visitors act in those countries. We’ve written about the elephants too. It’s so important to spread awareness about these issues. It’s the responsibility that comes with the privilege of travelling!

  10. Reply

    Some brilliant points there. It’s become so important to travel responsibly these days and people need to be aware of where they are and how they behave. I always find supporting the locals on the top of my list and often go out of my way to do that.

  11. Reply

    Such important points. When I traveled through Asia, it was several years ago, and there wasn’t as much awareness or dialogue among travelers about issues like animal cruelty. Thank you for helping spread the word!

    • Nancy
    • December 12, 2016

    Excellent advice. It is troubling when people leave garbage and disrespect local customs & traditions. When we travel, we try to leave a place better than when we found it. It might be something simple like collecting garbage along a beach, but it makes a difference.

    • Holly
    • December 12, 2016

    Great tips. Good reminders for those who are aware as well as unaware. Very important stuff. Can’t wait to visit.

  12. Reply

    Yes it is very important to follow these. Every country has their norms and we need to follow that. Really sad to read what they do with kids to earn some money.

  13. Reply

    Fantastic tips – I think not giving money to street children is probably the thing tourists to SE Asia struggle with the most. It’s very difficult when they so obviously play to your guilt, though I think spreading awareness of the harm this is actually doing in the long run is the way to overcome it.

    • Mags
    • December 13, 2016

    Great advice. I especially like the warning about animal cruelty. I know from my recent trip to Thailand that sometimes even the places claiming to be “rescues” or “sanctuaries” treat the animals poorly too. Be sure do research before you go!

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