2011. I was living in Thonburi, Bangkok, just over the river from the well-known Khao San Road, the neon-light, bar-filled street where many a backpacker spends the first nights of their Southeast Asian adventure, likely crouched over a plate of Pad Thai with a cheap and very strong cocktail of dubious alcohol. This was my second time living in the mega-city at the beating heart of Thailand. Bangkok sits on the Chao Praya River that winds down from northern Thailand via the old capital of Ayuthaya, before it runs out into the Gulf of Siam a few miles south. Bangkok in the old days was known as the Venice of the East – the city was once criss-crossed by a large network of canals – khlongs in Thai. The boats that plied the river were the most important form of traffic at the time. Some of these khlongs are still there, and in use, but many of them have reluctantly given way to a concrete jungle that has grown up over the years, and anyone that knows Bangkok will probably agree, the nickname “world’s largest car-park” can be appropriately applied.
Category: environmental issues
To escape the pandemic, I spent most of summer 2020 amongst the forests of Herefordshire, England, where ancient gnarly trees shoot into the sky and craggy rocks border the winding Wye river as it snakes its way through the lush green countryside to the Severn Estuary. A romantic description you might think, but its a true one.
The area’s beauty, especially when contrasted with the cityscape is breathtaking – as I write that I definitely feel like it must be a sign of getting older when you start seeing so much beauty in your home country. That’s not that I seek foreign travel any less. Damn, right now I am constantly dreaming of the crisp blue skies of the northeastern Chinese winter and a backstreet Sichuan restaurant, or steamy tropical islands of southern Thailand. Words aren’t enough to show how much I miss the vibrancy of Asia.
But, on a summer’s day in Herefordshire when the temperature tops 30c, I’m perched in the vivid green forest surrounded by tall trees and ferns that look like miniature palms, I could be in Southeast Asia. The birds are talking as loudly as they’d be in say, the jungles of Malaysia, and the river water temperature being much warmer than the northern European seas, means that swimming here in the summer is very, very easy. Eager fish in the Wye even remove dead skin from your feet – you’d pay a couple of hundred baht for that in Bangkok. What the River Wye does need though is Vang Vieng style tubing. Rickety make-shift bars at the river-side hauling tubers in for beers and cheap cigarettes as they float down river on tractor-tyre inner tubes, but I am pretty certain all the red tape in the UK though would not allow this.
Recently, there has been a huge amount of discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on tourism. Today, The Guardian published a piece on how Thailand’s islands have been affected, given their huge reliance on tourism. “Deserted beaches, empty bars: Covid-19 devastates Thailand’s tourist islands” is the headline.
I have spent a number of years in Thailand, and worked in travel, seeing how development has changed places. But, as my earliest time in the Kingdom was 2004, to go back further I have to look at old guidebooks. I have been collecting Lonely Planets from the 1980s and fascinated by how places used to be. Well-known Thai islands such as Koh Samui are in normal times packed out with tourists filling the thousands of hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars, tourist shops etc. But such islands only a few decades ago were sparsely populated, with small fishing and farming communities that were relatively cut-off from the mainland. When I read about these places, I wish I was able to experience them before all the other tourists and development arrived, but at the same time mindful that any arrival in any destination furthers scope for development.
There is little reason to write too much about the massive burden that plastic in all its forms is placing on our planet; everyone knows this, it’s that we have become so reliant on this damaging material, that knowing how to stop using so much of it is one of the greatest challenges presented to the modern world.
At home in a familiar environment we have a certain amount of control over how and when we use plastic, and how we dispose of it, but when travelling, reducing plastic usage or finding ways to best recycle what we do use can be a difficult task.
And it all starts when you board your flight.