Ethical or Unethical? | Some Activities That We Did In Chiang Mai Turned Out To Be Controversial

Monday, July 08, 2019

I was thinking of how I should blog the activities that we did in Chiang Mai differently, and not just present them point by point like I always did before. Yesterday during mass, I had an aha moment when I realized that some of the stuff that were included in our tour turned out to be controversial (most of which I found out when I got home na, huhuhu). 

Instead of steering clear from this topic, here's a post dedicated to just that: How do we travel ethically? How do we know if an activity or tour supports abusive behaviours for money? 

A lot of the touristy things that I did during my travels, even the ones outside Chiang Mai, have underlying ethical issues that I wouldn't know of at that time if not after seeing hate comments from another traveler's post of same or similar activity. More often than not, we continue taking part in these tours because we're not aware na may issue pala ito. 

It's a very sensitive topic for me as someone who is just starting out with her travelling life. Ngayon lang din nagiging woke ang mga tao, and although sometimes annoying, minsan may good side din to. As someone wise once said, don't hate, educate! I'll appreciate any input from you guys so we can learn from each other and revise our future travel goals and plans.


Let's start with flying lanterns. Seeing pictures and videos of lighted lanterns filling the night sky, I have no words--it looks sooo beautiful like Van Gogh's starry starry night! It even landed a spot on my travel bucket list (blame Disney's Tangled haha!). 

I once had a close-call opportunity to do this is in Shifen Old Street of Taiwan after seeing friends' posts wherein they wrote their wishes in one huge lantern before setting it off to the skies! It looks so dreamy! On my last Taiwan trip, we suddenly had to let go of visiting Shifen because of time constraints, so I had no chance to take part of the lantern activity. 

Later on, I read online articles circulating around social media dissing tourists supporting lantern flying coz really, where do these papers end up the next day? And a bigger question is, is there a more environmental friendly way to continue with lantern flying for tourists, especially in Chiang Mai where it is actually a part of their traditions every November? Again, what if we were there during the festival season, most prob I took part in lantern flying too. 😕

photo from

On another topic but also affecting our environment, the easiest way to travel with our planet in mind is by avoiding plastic at all cost. It's harder for bottled water which I consume so much (free drinking water is not always available in some countries), but we can try to apply this in other things: By bringing ecobags or big backpacks when shopping, saying no to straws, etc. Did I miss out on anything? Feel free to pitch your tips below!


I am super guilty for visiting zoos or aquariums because they always rank high in top spots to visit in most cities I've been to--especially in Japan and Korea! The concern in zoos is that these establishments "exploit animals for profit", often times holding these animals in captive as if they are prisoners away from their natural habitat.

Meanwhile, accredited zoos in this day and age learned to shift their focus from animals as entertainment to species preservation and education (for kids and for experts). Through zoos, the public is educated not only about the different animals, but also to raise awareness on conservation programs and (for the experts) veterinary medicines. They say that zoos give animals better habitats than just letting these species out in the wild (with the global warming). 

To visit or to not support? Huge fish tank in Aqua Planet in Yeosu, South Korea:

Back to Chiang Mai, prior the trip thank God that I am already fully aware of the negative implications of riding elephants. I think this concern is finally conquered by the public, most of the elephant tours now offer sanctuary visits. They banned RIDING ELEPHANTS, and the USE OF HOOKS AND CHAINS on these gentle creatures.

I picked our tour via Klook  which I think is a reputable and growing travel company app now. I think travel companies like Klook should take the first step and not add unethical tours for their users to book in their app. Again, sometimes the travellers are just not aware. I trust that the one that we went to through their app is legit pro-elephants.

I picked the full day visit at the Elephant Day Care at Chiang Mai Mountain Sanctuary (PHP 2416). Roundtrip transportation, lunch, and uniforms are all provided.

The elephant sanctuary is a new experience to me, and also very overwhelming too! We had the chance to trek side by side with our elephant (Moolah) as we walked the gentle giant through forests and mountains and rushing rivers.

I also like that aside from taking pictures with elephants, we also learned how to feed them (even prepared their daily vitamins), and support their products too (poo paper!). I think my favorite from this day was when we all just left our cameras and phones on the shore, took off our shoes, and just swam with the elephants during that hot summer day! 

 First stop of the tour, the Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park where we learned how they make use and earn from elephants' poo by turning sh*t into paper and other paper products! 

Holding dried elephant poo here, haha!

Turns out, since elephants poo all the time, coz they only eat greens and bananas and sugar canes, their poo has a lot of fiber that can be cleaned and transformed into paper!

I got myself a smiley face notebook made of elephant poo paper!

Snaps from our hiking, feeding, and swimming with the elephants at their beautiful elephant sanctuary:

The elephants are very healthy and happy! This is actually one of our highlights for this trip.

Swimming with the elephants:


I really enjoyed meeting the elegant women of the Karen Long Neck Tribe, known for wearing brass rings to elongate their necks, in a preserved village where they create and sell their crafts. They are all very meek but friendly, and aside from letting us take photos with them they also painted thanaka (ground bark) on our faces which are meant to cool our skin from the sun.

Visiting the Karen Long Neck Tribe is part of a tour we booked along visiting the Secret Temple of Chiang Mai. The village is one of my Chiang Mai bucket list after seeing travel blogs and Instagram posts of those who have been to this city. And unlike the elephant sanctuaries, it didn't cross my mind that going to the Karen Hill Tribe is something negative till I received a message on my Instagram. She said that it's like going to a "human zoo".

I really felt bad when I read this but I guess she meant well. The whole time when we visited the village, I only felt good vibrations from everyone there--from the tourists to the villagers. Our tour guide herself said that she used to be part of the tribe, you will know coz iba yung compassion and interaction nya with the kids and the women. Para silang old friends!

Sabi niya the coiled brass rings are really very heavy that she used to cry as a little girl when her mom had to put them on her neck! She also told us that they do not allow begging and giving alms to the tribe, and instead, we only hand over chocolates and candies to the kids when we visited. True enough wala akong nafeel na force selling while we were there. Even the products that they sell hindi nila pinipilit, because going to the village and the tour already involve fees which goes to the women. Although I still bought bracelets from their stalls because they are actually beautiful.

Anyway, I guess like in the elephant sanctuary you just have to be cautious which tour you will book or village you will visit. I found a good online read where these migrant women of the long neck tribe (they are refugees from Myanmar) said that these tours are their only source of income. These villages are their home and workplace at the same time.

Again, shaming those who go to these sites and activities is pointless compared to educating people to steer clear from committing the same mistakes in their future travels. I sincerely want to know what is okay, what is not okay? I am open for your valuable insights on ethical ways to travel. My comment box and email are open. ❤

Read my other Chiang Mai Travel Blogs.

PS: At first honestly I was scared to post this in fear of getting bashed. But I guess ok lang din maopen up ang conversation coz it has been proven that there are changes talaga na nanyayari coz of these opinions. Like yun elephants before nung wala pang say ang social media they offer rides talaga coz dun sila kumikita. Di naman aware tourists at that time na masama yun. Nun wala na sumuporta ng elephant rides, nag adapt din yung tours—I notice na wala nang rides now (kung meron man super konti nalang).


  1. Yes, as responsible tourists, we should always take in consideration of our nature. I remember what a tourist pledge says back in my college days, that when traveling, we shouldn’t leave anything only but footprints. And dont take anything only but photos. Responsible tourism should always be applied to protect and preserve what we have now for the future generations.��

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  2. I do agree with this ate. Iba na ang social media ngayon, dami na inputs ng mga tao but may mga aral din tayo napupulot like this. Ang dami ko natutunan sa blog na to. I love it!


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