Make a positive impact with alternative tours
Tourism can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can generate profit for the economy while on the other it can exploit natural resources. This problem is all too relevant in Thailand but there are niche travel companies that offer unique experiences providing positive benefits to our culture. If you're bored of going to the typical Thai tourist spots and long to do things more than the average tourist, then look no further. Guru complied a list of travel companies making a difference in the country.
What do they do?
Bangkok Vanguards focuses on unfamiliar locations and experiences that would pique your interest. Consider it finding the hidden gems around the city. The idea was developed in 2009 by chief explorer and co-founder Michael Biedassek, who developed it through his love of exploring Bangkok through informal settlements or old areas that are part of the city's heritage. Michael, who is Thai-German, has always taken an interest in the human side of things and values cultural conservation, and with that in mind started a travel company in 2012.
Bangkok Vanguards facilitates travel experiences in sustainable urban communities and heritage conservation, with community-based activities that include walking and transport tours. The company hopes that participants can appreciate and reconnect with all aspects of Thai culture from the people, food, nature to architecture, as well as understand the needs and challenges of local communities and societies.
Although Bangkok Vanguards aims to take you on fun and unusual adventures, they do have a "Bangkok Starters" tour where participants can sightsee the best of what Bangkok has to offer in a day from temples and canals to food markets and skybars. If you really want to get into the meat of the city, you could sign up for their popular "Three Sixty" tour where explorers can discover urban communities and conservation projects or try their "Coastline Adventures" tour to learn more about the country's local fishing communities.
Love to bike? How about cycling on an 18km bike ride at night through Chinatown with their "Bangkok Nightriders" tour, while exploring the nooks and crannies of the area? Or join their "Bike2Basics" tour to cycle in some of Thailand's scenic biking trails and through canals and floating markets, including Amphawa, Bang Noi and Tha Kha floating markets. Bangkok Vanguards are even planning food tours that dive beyond the culture of street food.
What do they do?
The HiveSters website greets you with their aim -- to give you "real Thai experiences with a social twist". They aim to give sightseers interesting and authentic travel experiences through sustainable tourism. You can join one of HiveSters' various activities that help preserve Thai culture and increase income for locals in communities.
The award-winning social enterprise is co-founded by sisters, Achi and Mint Thamparipattra, who come from a family with a travel agency business. This gave them the opportunity to travel around Thailand where they witnessed the many disappearing local communities due to the effects of unsustainable tourism and urban development. HiveSters was founded to preserve Thailand's rich culture and they work with more than 300 artisans around the country specialising in various aspects of culture from arts and crafts, food and drinks, wildlife and exploration and more.
There's plenty of activities to partake in with HiveSters, whether it's exploring and learning about Thailand's diverse local communities, indulging in food, hanging out with animals or crafting. Explore the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai in Thai traditional outfits, make merit with monks and learn how to cook traditional food. Or how about chilling out at the old market of Hua Takhe and discovering its vintage shops and marvelling at their very artful graffiti wall. If you want to surround yourself with nature while also being in the city, take their cycling tour of the urban oasis that is Bang Krachao.
Pick up new found skills such as crafting floating krathongs, making scented garlands and kites, weaving foliage and even brewing traditional Thai tea. There's lots of things for foodies too such as learning how to cook local dishes (such as pad Thai) and desserts or take a tour around Chinatown. Hang out with animals at the Wildlife Rescue Centre and learn about their endangerment, including walking and bathing elephants.
What do they do?
Focusing on community-based tourism across Southeast Asia, Local Alike prides itself as an online marketplace that not only curates travel experiences within Thailand but also Taiwan and Vietnam. Their trips are "designed to be enjoyable and authentic for every traveller and local alike" (get it?). So expect to find interesting tours you may not usually find with other companies.
Local Alike was founded to solve problems regarding tourism in Thailand and to fill a need for sustainable development in the tourism industry in which local communities can be saved environmentally. Local Alike's mission is to reduce the inequality of opportunities by developing an online platform to help local communities thrive and improve. Their tourist activities respect the locals and never intervene their way of life, so kudos for responsible tourism!
There are experiences in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai that are exclusive to Local Alike. You can visit the mountainous village of Mae Kampong, try Northern dishes at the Pong-Huai Lan Village or learn about the Lisu hill tribe and development projects around the area while staying at an eco-friendly bamboo lodge. In Chiang Rai, you could visit the Hloyo Village at Doi Mae Salong and meet the Akha hill tribe and learn their way of life through cooking and embroidery, or if you're just looking to chill you can stay at the Sawanbondin Farmstay.
Other touring activities include hanging out with elephants, delving into the art of jewellery-making, kayaking through the scenic fishing village Laem Sak in Krabi or experiencing the beauty of the slums of Khlong Toey, Bangkok.
What do they do?
Hoping to share only the good experiences of the city, Trawell is a company that aims to transform communities that are on the verge of being lost in time to become the next tourist attractions. In addition to offering their unique travel experiences, they also write blog posts highlighting hidden treasures worth exploring around the city. The blog posts, however, are in Thai only.
Trawell offers four tours in four different villages. History buffs will be delighted with what they offer. Be a monk for a day in the village of Ban Bat where you can learn how to make monk's alms bowls, cook their rod fai fried rice and dance with the community. How about wandering around the Sangkhapan neighbourhood and into the village of Wang Krom, where locals are known for sewing yellow robes, or make their traditional bua loy dessert recipe?
Delve into Nang Loeng district to explore the first land market in Thailand and appreciate their cultural performances, as well as look at the historical Chalerm Thani cinema. You could also learn about Bangkok's first Living Heritage Museum at Mahakan.
Wild Enccounter Thailand
What do they do?
Did you know that whales live along the Thai coastline? If only you could get near these gigantic aquatic mammals and see them splash around like in movies such as Free Willy or Finding Nemo. Well, now you can thanks to the efforts of Wild Encounter Thailand, a wildlife eco-tourism company devoted to protecting the marine mammals in the Gulf of Thailand.
Wild Encounter Thailand started as a family bird-watching trip at Kaeng Krachan National Park six years ago, when they came across the whales off the coast of Phetchaburi province. Once the company was able to build a boat specifically for the activity they became the first in Thailand who offers a whale-watching cruise. The company hopes that by observing wild animals in their natural habitat, it would help raise awareness on how important it is to protect our aquatic friends.
The whales that you observe and learn about are the elusive Bryde's whales. Sorry to disappoint but there are no killer whales here doing epic flips over rocks. However, as you're on a cruise, you'll get to learn all about the endangered sea creatures, their ecology and conservation efforts from the tour guide onboard. Hopefully, you will learn just how much the pollution is harming them as you can see from all the news of whale-related deaths (say no to plastic, people!) Book your whale-watching activity to find out if you're a whale whisperer.
Whale-watching isn't just the only thing you can do with Wild Encounter Thailand. They also have tailor-made trips for bird-watching. It's not just domestic trips, they also have international trips such as watching tapirs in Malaysia or tigers and snow leopards in India. You could even go to Japan and observe killer whales. The company is also planning to host diving courses for those wanting to become whale riders (OK, not really).