When thinking of Thailand as a holiday destination, white beaches, fascinating wildlife and beautiful scenery immediately come to mind. And that’s what Thailand is indeed, a paradise – as long as you walk the paths away from the areas that are defined by mass tourism and Europeans generally misbehaving in bars with bad music and cheap alcohol.

During the week I spent in Thailand I got to see so many sides of this beautiful, tropical country and was able to immerse into the long lived culture of its people, who never cease to make you smile with their bright, bubbly and genuine personalities. Because the fascinating thing about Thais is that they really mean it when they smile at you.

Thailand’s Stunning Wildlife

As a European who has only been on another continent once, Thailand presented itself as a mesmerising bubble full of fascinating wildlife and mindblowing scenery. One can really not put into words what it feels like to take a canoe ride through the jungle of Takua Pa or set foot on the white beaches on the islands lining up on the coast line of Krabi. The air is unimagineably humid but filled with exotic scents when leaving the rush of Thailand’s capital Bangkok behind.

The beginning of June might not be high season but we got exceptionally lucky with the weather. Except for a few rather heavy pours in Bangkok and Khao Lak, the sun was our constant companion.

Canoe Rides

It can indeed be slightly terrifying and might not inspire confidence immediately when you step on a tiny boat filled with air to explore the depths of what the Thais call Little Amazon. But once you’re comfortably seated in one of the canoes and have entered this gem of nature you’ll start feeling utterly at ease. All that’s around you is the sound of water and the wind playing with the leaves of the many Banyan trees that call the area their home. This tree is rather special as its roots work their way into the ground from the various twigs and settle at the bottom of the river. Thus, one single tree often looks like a whole nest of branches and therefore radiates an almost mystical aura.

Going deeper into the forest and down the river you really get to let loose of all your sorrows and the stress of daily routine for a little while as you and your mind can get utterly lost in the peaceful surroundings.

Mountain Adventures

As someone who grew up in a country full of mountains, I have already explored quite a few caves in my lifetime. But most of them have been modified in order for visitors to be able to walk through the narrow, natural corridors without problems. Phung Chang Cave in the south of Thailand, however, is different. With nothing but a head lamp you’re entering the mountain via canoe, tapping into the darkness of the mountain core, surrounded by million year old stone and cute bats hanging from the ceiling.

No cameras or phones are allowed on the 90 minute trip as you’re in contact with water throughout the entire journey. After entering the cave, you switch from a canoe to a bamboo raft that is pulled further into the mountain by guides. The rest of the cave is explored by foot. It’s important to wear either waterproof rubber shoes or flip flops as the path takes you through crystal clear water that goes up to your knees. I had never done anything remotely like this before and was entirely mesmerised by this whole experience. In Thailand you learn how connected our bodies are to nature and how important it is to cherish what nature has created in billions of years.

Deep Blue Sea

It is astounding how in Thailand you can leave the jungle behind and enter the wide, infinite open of the sea within minutes. And suddenly you find yourself with your head under water swimming alongside the most colourful fish and dive into the almost mystical world of nature’s natural aquarium. It really is an unexplainable feeling having an entire ecosystem beneath you that covers 70 percent of this planet’s surface. I had striped fish wobbling up and down in front of me an tickling me with their tiny fins because they came so close. I even felt them trying to nibble on my skin on the hunt for food and I was in utter and genuine awe watching them swim along with their respective school of fish.

The Ugly Truth

When thinking about the diversity of Thailand’s wildlife and the beauty of the landscape, it is even more upsetting to witness how such a paradise gets negatively affected by the careless behaviour of human mankind. When perfectly white sand, as soft as a cloud, gets polluted by what humans mindlessly throw into the ocean it truly does bring tears to my eyes.

The truth is, Thailand’s not all pretty beaches and emerald green forests – the country struggles. Even though economy in Bangkok is flourishing, there are still large groups of people who live in poverty. Which simultaneously affects the level of care recycling is receiving. Plastic is a cheap and affordable product that is used in almost every context of daily life.

Mass Tourism

The areas which are dominated by tourism such as Phuket further contribute to the heavy level of pollution – because many tourists seem to follow a motto: „Not my country, not my problem.“ Which is EXACTLY the problem. Thais have started to take small steps to a more sustainable way of living, trying to cut down on water bottles especially in areas like Krabi where the water is still mostly clean.

Especially the staff at hotels continuously tries to keep the beaches clean but they shouldn’t be having to do that in the first place. Things like pipes, packaging, bags and bottles don’t belong in the sea. After swimming along with those beautiful creatures in the deep blue in front of the coast line of Krabi I have realised how much we need to change our way of living and how much conscious decisions in favour of our environment can make a difference.

Fighting Against Plastic Pollution

I have already been highly aware of the plastic issue before going to Thailand but actually witnessing the problem at its very core made me realise that we’ve still been handling it with way to little care.

Obviously, I know that getting rid of anything plastic in our lives is almost impossible especially because a high amount of alternatives is still not affordable or viable in daily life when you’re young and don’t have the financial resources to obtain them. I don’t think going the extreme route is absolutely necessary. It’s the small steps one can take that really make a difference. It undoubtedly is going to demand a certain level of effort to change one’s habits as we know humans don’t necessarily enjoy breaking out of their comfort zones but I think it’s absolutely necessary in this particular case.

Small Ways to Help the Planet

I have started using alternatives to plastic a long time ago but really started to pay a lot more attention recently. If you look closely, a lot of shops do already offer biodegradable alternatives or use packaging made of paper or glass instead of plastic.

Refill Stations at Drug Stores

Twelve drug stores around all around Austria are currently running a test phase for refill stations with everyday needs such as soap, shower gel, laundry detergent and dishwasher. You can simply take your own bottles and refill them without creating more waste. You can find a list of the locations here.

Using Glass containers Instead of plastic ones

Sounds easy and IS easy. Instead of using plastic tupperware, using glass is not only more hygienic as glass containers seal up more tightly than plastic ones but are also way better for the environment. This doesn’t mean you need to throw out all your preciously collected tupperware, still using it won’t harm the environment as it’s not single use. But when you have the option to decide during your next shopping spree at Ikea, just opt for the glass containers instead of the plastic ones.

Buy loose Veggies and Fruit

Farmers markets are a great way of supporting local agriculture but are again a rather expensive alternative to normal supermarkets. I tend to either shop at both or try to buy as many items as I can unpackaged. Vegetables and fruit can often be bought loosely and don’t necessarily need to be put in a bag. My supermarket around the corner even offers paper bags in the veggie department instead of plastic ones.

Use linen bags for shopping

My household hasn’t seen a plastic bag that hasn’t been reused at least once in years. I tend to collect them in a box and reuse them as bin bags or a way of transporting things from A to B in my car. What I own more than anything, however, are linen bags. Those are not only durable but also amazing for the environment as they are made of washable fabric and last for years, I have collected a fair amount of them over the years,

Packaging Free Supermarkets

This is obviously something that isn’t available in every city and is also still rather expensive and most likely not attainable for cash strapped students but I still want to include them as honourable mention. There are two stores called „Gramm“ and „Dekagramm“ in Graz that are run by two amazing women and offer packaging free food. You simply bring your own containers and can fill them up to your liking. They also collect used glass containers and clean them so they can be reused.

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