What You Can Do

Respect Cultural Differences

• Learn a little about the local culture and customs before you go. The more you know about them the better you can appreciate and understand the destination. Try to use your guidebook as a starting point, not the only source of information.
• If you are faced with strong cultural differences, consider how you would react in your home country e.g. if strangers were visiting your home or children’s schools or taking pictures of you and your family.
• Learn a few local words – simple greetings and a ‘thank you’ will often earn you a big smile! In much of Southeast Asia it is respectful to greet others by bowing your head slightly and pressing your palms together in front of you as if praying.
• Keep calm and be patient. Remain calm and courteous whatever the situation and remember a smile often goes a long way.
• Be sensitive to local cultures. Many countries have multiple ethnic groups who may have their own etiquette and taboos. Listen to your guide’s advice and do tell locals about your own culture, they are often just as curious as you are.
• Connect with people before taking pictures. Always try to ask for permission before taking pictures or filming people, taking some time to chat first helps. Remember that they are not exotic photo opportunities and minority ethnic groups in particular may be unhappy to be photographed. Refuse to pay for photographs as this encourages begging.
• Dress modestly and be sensitive to the way that people around you dress. Wearing revealing clothing can be offensive, especially in rural areas. Pay attention to any special requirements for visiting temples and other religious buildings.
• Respect cultural and sacred sites e.g. don’t take home pieces of ruins, write on them or scramble off the paths.
• Understand locals’ aspirations to economic development and material possessions that we may take for granted. While we may be intrigued by traditional rural life, it’s easy to forget that it is often uncomfortable and strenuous. We would argue that modernity is best when it enhances traditional ways instead of denying them.
• Answer questions. Be prepared to answer (numerous times!) personal questions like: “Where are you from? Where are you going? Are you married? How old are you?”. Most people are simply trying to be friendly, to practise their English or start a conversation. Note that privacy has a very different meaning in Asia.

General Etiquette In Southeast Asia
• Avoid showing affection in public as it is considered quite offensive – sorry, no kissing!
• Don’t point or gesture with your feet or put your feet up on furniture. Avoid touching someone on the head.
• When using a toothpick, use one hand to cover your mouth.
• Present money and gifts with both hands and accept them the same way.
• Always let the oldest be served first and bend slightly in front of elders.
• Don’t curl your fingers to beckon somebody over or point it at another person’s face. Asian people generally use a subtle downward waving motion to summon someone.
• Don’t touch people of the opposite sex.

Contact with Monks
• Show respect to monks, novices and nuns. Don’t offer to shake hands and avoid stepping on a monk’s shadow.
• Women should not sit next to, or hand anything directly to Buddhist monks.
• Show respect by not taking photos or disturbing monks during prayer times.
• Don’t sit with your back or feet towards Buddha’s image.
• Handle Buddha images or sacred objects with respect; avoid placing them in inappropriate places (on the floor for example).

Child Protection

• Children are not tourist attractions. Don’t visit or volunteer at orphanages and any other visits where you may meet children e.g. local schools or informal settlements must be organised in conjunction with the community or local representatives.
• Volunteering is difficult to get right and for this reason we don’t offer it. At a minimum you should be able to offer proven skills that are in demand by the hosts and to commit for an extended period of time.
• Don’t give to begging children as this tends to lock them into a cycle of poverty. Instead use businesses with a social impact such as vocational restaurants, or donate to organisations that support at risk children and families. You may also be able to bring much-needed school supplies from home via www.packforapurpose.org.
• Be vigilant about protecting children from exploitation but if you see a child that needs help, don’t put yourself at risk – tell your guide or call the police.
• Sex with children is a crime – if you suspect child sex tourism, tell your guide or call the police.
• Children should be at school not at work – if you think a business employs underage children and prevents them going to school, tell your guide or call the police.
• Look out for ChildSafe-certified businesses when you travel.

For more information, visit www.thinkchildsafe.org.

Consumer Behaviour

• Support the local economy: buy locally-made food and handicrafts direct from local craftspeople and markets. Stay in accommodations that have invested in the local community.
• Experience the cuisine by trying local restaurants, your guide will be happy to recommend the best places. Avoid all you can eat buffets and too much food waste.
• Visit shops that directly support the livelihoods of disadvantaged people – we include these in many of our trips.
• Don’t buy souvenirs made from endangered species or historical artefacts.
• Bargain within reason and always with a smile! Remember that a few pounds or dollars is worth a lot more to the seller than to you.
• Using local transport like tuktuks can be part of the fun, but don’t get annoyed if you’re pestered and always agree a price in advance.
• Follow local laws on alcohol and drug consumption and bear in mind that the penalties can be extremely harsh.
• Do not support the sex industry including hostess bars etc. They are often run by people-traffickers and the mafia.

Respect the Environment

• Save energy and water, particularly by minimising your use of air conditioners (in vehicles and your room) and turning off switches and taps when not in use. Take your key fob (if you have one) with you when you leave your hotel room and check that the lights, electric fan, air-conditioner and television are off. Take a shower instead of a bath and don’t have your towels and bed linen changed daily.
• Use low carbon transport wherever possible, like walking, cycling or taking a rickshaw (which will also support the driver‘s livelihood).
• Travel less but stay for longer – it’s less carbon intensive but also more fulfilling and restful. Where suitable, avoid short haul flights.
• Reduce your plastic use and avoid single use plastics. Take your own bags shopping, say no to styrofoam food boxes, avoid plastic straws and don’t wrap your luggage in plastic film, plus many other things you can do. Most of all, take a reusable water bottle or reuse a plastic one.
• Dispose of your rubbish carefully and avoid leaving any waste behind when trekking or visiting rural areas. If you can, pick up litter in natural spots and dispose of it properly.
• Recycle where you can and take used batteries home with you for recycling.

Wildlife and Natural Areas

• Respect National Park rules.
• Avoid making noise or scaring wildlife.
• Never feed wild animals.
• Don’t buy wild animals either dead or alive, parts of wild animals like shells or ivory, nor anything made from materials from unmanaged forests.
• Do not stand on, touch, remove or buy corals.
• Do not ride elephants or visit camps where they perform unnatural acts like circus tricks. Do as much research as possible before selecting an elephant experience and watch out for warning signs including use of bull hooks or chains, a lack of shade and being made to feed or bathe at set times. Click here to read our elephant experience policy.
• When trekking or staying in rural areas, you may need to bathe or wash in rivers or lakes. In this case, limit your use of soap as much as possible and only use eco-friendly brands. Ordinary soap and detergents can wreak havoc with ecosystems!
• Don’t veer off marked paths as they can become erosion gulleys in wet season and cause other environmental disturbances. Stick to recommended trekking routes so you don’t get lost.
• Take food waste with you when you leave national parks to avoid introducing foreign seeds or diseases.
• Dispose of cigarette butts in bins to avoid starting fires.
• Use appropriate toilet facilities and if there are none, go at least 50 metres from people’s homes and water sources. Take any baby nappies or sanitary products with you.

“Take only memories, leave only footprints” ~ Chief Seattle