Ecotourism? My *rse

21 Jun

Zipwiring through the canopy of tropical forest, Laos.

Zipwiring. Great fun. But not exactly green.


Monday morning sees us in Chiang Mai, for centuries capital of an independent state, sometimes Siamese, other times Burmese, now the hub of northern Thailand. If you’re Thai, it’s a city of culture and spirituality, of wooden temples, medieval monasteries, crumbling chedi, universities…

If you’re a tourist it’s the regional centre of those outdoor activities so bewilderingly bundled together under the headings “ecotourism” and “trekking”. Zipwiring. Whitewater rafting.
Rockclimbing… Erm… ATVing… Paintballing…

Now, I see how whitewater rafting could loosely count as trekking and perhaps be branded eco-friendly. But since when has zipwiring been green? And as for churning up the highlands with diesel-spewing quadbikes…

We crossed the Mekong into Thailand yesterday from the border town of Huayxai in Laos. The headquarters, as it happens, of an operation called the Gibbon Experience.

Now, junior and I had been discussing busting the budget and blowing $250 to spend two days and one night in their canopy-level treehouses in the forest. Simply for the experience of getting up close and personal not just with the gibbons but the myriad other species that live at that height.

Turns out, however, that many folk pass their entire sojourn with nary a sighting of the elusive gibbons.

Small wonder, on closer inspection.

The treehouses and much of the surrounding forest are connected by zipwires. Steel cables slung through the canopy, down which one whizzes in harness at speeds ranging from exciting to terrifying to Oh-Christ-I-Just-Took-A-Chunk-Out-Of-That-Tree.

It is hard to think of anything, short of ripping the trees out and replacing them with bungalows, more likely to encourage any local apes to head for the hills than populating their aerial habitat with high-tension cables and sending whooping “ecotourists” rattling down them.

Fun? Hell, yeah.

We loved zipwiring. I’m not, in fact, averse to any of the activities listed above (though it was junior, not me, who started leaping up and down in the street chanting “Paintballing! Paintballing!
Paintballing!”).

Green?

Honestly.

Soooo not.

Now, I’m not quite sure where the term “eco-tourism” originated. Tourism board? Lonely Planet? Marketing consultants? Focus groups?

But it’s probably time folk reclaimed it from the greenwash merchants and began to use it for activities with some kind of environmental focus. Y’know. Low-impact. Sustainable. Low-energy. Doesn’t drive the animals away…

And I’d also quite like to reclaim the term “trekking” for, well, basically walking (perhaps taking the odd boat).

Not to a day of paintballing and ATVing, completed by heading to the Oirish pub for Guinness, fish and chips, and New Zealand versus Italy on the flatscreen.

We’re in ASIA, chaps. Sweet jesus god.

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6 Responses to “Ecotourism? My *rse”

  1. LaboriousLiving at 5:02 pm #

    WOW! I would have to spend the money to stay in the tree-house. I just don’t know if I could glide. I am so scared of heights!

    • MummyT at 9:08 pm #

      Yes. I was tempted. But there are treehouses in Latin America, without the zipwire, so I think we’ll do that there. That’s the great indulgence of long travel. You can say things like “ooh, whale sharks… Shall we do them now or later?” Or “treehouses… hmmm….” But I think a treehouse without the wildlife might just end up as a very expensive two days’ gliding…

  2. jessiev at 9:22 pm #

    that is so crazy that they are sooo mislabeling!! what fun you’ve had, though. 🙂

    • MummyT at 10:25 pm #

      Yeah. It’s been great. Going to write about our amazing young monks tomorrow (and they were truly amazing)… But today I saw a “trek” which consisted of: drive to elephant camp, feed elephants, drive to river, go whitewater rafting, drive to zipwire, go zipwiring. It’s so mislabelled… We are, however, going paintballing tomorrow. Sir’s reward for 13+ hours on three buses, three tuk-tuks and one boat yesterday. Mind you, he is under no illusions as to value of said activity to the environment…

  3. *Artificial_Angel* at 6:34 am #

    That Photo looks so cool!!
    I’ve allways wanted to do that. Closes i’ve gotten though, was skydiving. =)

    • MummyT at 2:57 pm #

      Now, THERE is something I’d really like to do… One day, one day…

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