Maya Bay

A Few Things You May (or May Not) Miss on Your Next Trip to Southeast Asia

Trends come and go in Asia with alarming regularity. Everything from fashion to entertainment to social movements ebb and flow with the tide of what’s popular and/or profitable. But the latest trend is one that we hope sticks around for a long time. It’s an unusual one, but a very welcome one. Can you guess what it is?

It’s environmental responsibility.

Wait – was that a derisive snort? Well, we can’t really blame you, to be honest. If you’ve ever traveled in this part of the world, you’ve surely seen that the strict environmental regulations that we are so used to in the west get about as much respect as the late, great Rodney Dangerfield. In fact, we’ve often been downright saddened to see heaps of plastic on beaches, or piles of garbage in national parks. It’s a real problem that previous efforts have only sort of, kind of attacked.

But lately we smell something different in the air, and it’s got a grassroots aroma. In January of this year two major hotel chains – Avani and Anantara – officially banned plastic straws from all of their properties in Asia, with the rest of the world following soon. It might not seem like much – straws are just a little thing – but one guest can easily use 4 or 5 straws per day. Stretch that across thousands of guests 365 days a year, and you get a lot of plastic! Now, guests of Avani and Anantara hotels will be offered straws made from bamboo, a fast-growing plant that’s easily replenishable. Better yet – just sip from the cup like our ancestors did. They stayed hydrated just fine!

Another big piece of news was the decision by the Thai government to close Maya Bay for several months beginning May 1, 2018 in order to let the beach and reefs recover from too much tourism. Most famous because of its inclusion in The Beach with Leo DiCaprio, this particular stretch of sand is a poster child for over tourism. It’s still beautiful, but visit here in the high season and you’ll have to beg, borrow, or steal to get a photo that doesn’t have hundreds of boats and people in the background.

A few months of closure likely won’t result in any big improvements, but it’s a start, and the most dramatic step taken toward doing something tangible in recent memory that’s been initiated from the top down.

But there’s also lots of action from the bottom up. A recent episode of the Bangkok Podcast had as a guest someone who started a petition on on a whim and forgot all about it – until news programs started contacting him to ask about its phenomenal growth. The petition was trying to get 7-11 stores to ask if you wanted plastic bags before simply shoving your purchase inside one. As of this writing, the petition has over 35,000 signatures.

And let’s not forget about “plastic bag man”, who wandered around downtown Bangkok recently to raise awareness of how many plastic bags one person uses in a three month period. Crude… but the point was well made, and videos of the poor plastic monster lumbering around in 40C heat went viral.

So be prepared – on your next trip to Southeast Asia you may ask for a straw only to be told they don’t have any; you may plan a trip to a beach that’s been closed; or you may witness stunts that draw attention to the problem of excessive waste.

But it’s hard to complain when these small inconveniences are in the name of a much greater good. You may not be able to see Maya Bay in person, but knowing that our great-grandchildren will should give us all the warm fuzzies.