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Southeast Asian countries embrace eco-tourism in a big way

Last Updated : 22 February 2013, 20:46 IST
Last Updated : 22 February 2013, 20:46 IST

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A recent visit to some Southeast Asian countries was interesting from the point of view of conservation of environment. An awareness is growing that eco-tourism has to be strengthened to protect the valuable natural and cultural resources.

Some of these small nations have set up wildlife parks, nature reserves and resorts that comply with strict environmental regulations. However, there is much to be done to make environmental protection more dynamic before these get sidetracked in the enthusiasm to earn foreign exchange through tourism.

  Bangkok city, Thailand, is coping with traffic chaos by building more flyovers, use of ultra-modern metro system, though with a limited coverage, and use the Chao Phraya river to ply boat-taxis to avoid congestion, reduce pollution as well as speed up traffic. The river is fairly clean despite so much activity over it. However, a few ancient canals, which used to be connected to the river in ancient times, are not in good shape. To help passengers arriving and departing from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, free shuttle buses are provided to the Public Transportation Centre. There is also an express shuttle bus that plies frequently between the airport and the city.

 Laos (official name is Lao PDR) is a small nation richly endowed with natural beauty. It is cashing on eco-tourism, with its vision spelt out: “Laos will become a world renowned destination specialising in forms of sustainable tourism through partnership and cooperation with stakeholders. It is hoped that this would spread knowledge of Laos’ unique cultural heritage around the world while benefiting the natural and cultural heritage conservation. This is expected to improve the socio-economic development of the stakeholders while ensuring the rich biodiversity of the eco-system.”

Laos has 20 national protected areas and two Unesco World Heritage Sites, including the ancient town of Luang Prabang and pre-Angokrian Vat Phou temple complex. The mysterious ‘Plain of Jars’ is likely to be included as archaeological historical and natural values. The guiding principles of Lao tourism are: decrease environmental and cultural impact by tourism while promoting responsible business practices. However, a few of the agricultural practices followed in Laos like ‘slash and burn’ technique on hill-slopes and growing bananas, after destroying forest cover, are certainly not eco-friendly.

Rescue centres

In the forest where the famous Kuang Si waterfalls is located, which is 30 km from the town of Luang Prabang, are areas in the forest earmarked for the ‘Tiger Rescue Centre’ and ‘Bear Rescue Centre.’ The rescued wildlife are adopted by the NGOs ‘Care for the Wild International’ based in Sussex, UK and ‘Free the bears Fund Inc.,’ UK, respectively. An Indo-China female cub tiger named Phet that was rescued when she was a few weeks old, is being looked after by the NGO in a separate enclosure so are eight bears rescued from poachers. These NGOs work in close collaboration with the Laos police to track down illegal operators who harm wildlife for commercial purpose. In the heritage town of Luang Prabang, French funded projects under Unesco sponsorship are being taken up to restore heritage buildings, historical sites and Wats (Buddhist temples).

In Vietnam a few heritage sites have been identified like the Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin and the Tombs of the Vietnam Emperors in the ancient town of Hue which was once the capital of the nation as World Heritage Sites for their natural beauty as well as for their cultural importance. However, the beautiful Halong Bay with about 3,000 natural rocky uninhabited islands, making them most attractive, is being loved to death. Hundreds of boats of all types ply the serene waters adding to pollution. This is where responsible tourism could help in minimising pollution due to man-made activities.

Cambodia has many tourist attractions. Siem Reap is the gateway to the famous Angkor Wat temples. Realising the need to conserve the monuments, the Unesco has stepped in and has encouraged nations to work with the Cambodian government to restore the glory of some of the temples. Presently France, India and Japan are restoring the temples of The Baphuon, Ta Prohm and The Bayon respectively.

A few activities that help the environment are: use of ‘green’ vehicles inside the temple complex, strict security check on visitors, levying a fee for entry, cleaning up undergrowth and the tanks. A few natural sites in Cambodia are being declared as ‘National Parks’ to protect the wildlife as well as the biodiversity therein. There is encouragement to eco-tourism too. In towns like Siem Reap there are slogan urging citizens to keep the town clean, not to use plastics and not to pollute the river.

There is encouraging news on the conservation of environment in these Southeast Asian countries. However, much more needs to be done to conserve the natural heritage as well as monuments of a glorious past by encouraging sensible eco-tourism that improves the living standards of the stakeholders without harming the environment or cultural heritage.

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Published 22 February 2013, 20:45 IST

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