Phuket, part two.

Okay, so I know that things sounded idyllic in that last post. And actually, they were pretty nearly so. Matt has had a busy fall, and I'm finding parenting a toddler to be way more exhausting than the infant days, so we were both ready for vacation. It was heavenly to sit and knit, listening to my son and his father shriek with laughter as they chased each other on the beach or ran into the waves. Finn loved all that time with his papa and Matt and I each got alone time as well.

The resort we stayed in was, as I alluded to, quite hip. Every detail was clearly designed and in keeping with the theme, which references the history of tin mining here in Phuket.

It all felt very industrial, with lots of metal and concrete, like a hip urban nightclub. The techno music that played in the public areas--bathrooms, lobby, restaurants--added to that "club" feel.

It was cool---our room, and in particular, the shower, felt like something in a design magazine.

But it's not the type of space I could ever live in, and in fact started to feel a little oppressive. Matt, however, didn't find it oppressive at all and really loved how clean and modern it felt---not fussy or hokey in the least.

The other part of the trip which gave us mixed feelings was a mass-market tourist day trip out to the Phi Phi Islands. It was absolutely gorgeous and almost unreal to swim in such clear turquoise waters. And snorkeling among coral reefs and colorful fish is otherworldly and dream-like.

But ours was just one of so many boats, all putting down anchors in that coral, and we were just two of so many snorkelers, putting our sunscreen-lathered bodies into that water, letting the waves wash those chemicals right off of us.

We felt downright queasy when our boat pulled up to "Monkey Island" and people fed the monkeys from the boat. Everybody wanted a great picture, but the guides were clearly nervous, since the monkeys have become mean and bold, thanks to boat after boat of tourists bringing them food. We were warned not to let Finn near, since the monkeys have a tendency to bite children, and adults too, if they don't get what they want.

We don't regret seeing such beauty at all, nor are we sorry to put money into an economy that is still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. But I do regret not doing more advance research on responsible day-trip operators. I studied the environmental impacts of tourism while in Indonesia and I know better than to just go with the best price. We plan to return to Thailand over Christmas break (this time to Chiang Mai) and this is good motivation to do our homework on the various elephant camps and trekking outfits located in that region.

I guess the truth is just that travel is always complex, and that as much as local areas benefit from and rely on tourism dollars, there is a cost as well. From increased sewage load and trash production to outright exploitation of cultural practices or wildlife, rarely is the tourism industry entirely benign. We were reminded, in our island day-trip, that travel involves responsibility, and requires recognition of the social exchange that takes place, more than just the financial one. My responsibility, as a tourist, goes beyond simply learning something of the language and customs, though that is a good place to start. My responsibility involves research on activities and purchases that I can feel good about, and involves slowing down enough to treat each person I meet with courtesy and respect.

In the end, I guess, being a responsible tourist isn't all that different than being a responsible human being. The cultural differences may complicate what "responsible" looks like, but the limited demands of each day allow more than enough space and time for reflection.


Phuket, part two. | ASEAN Tourism, news, travel and events said...

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