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Be Polite on a Trek

Bathe in streams and waterfalls but do not use chemical soaps and shampoos. Many hill tribe villagers used to be able to eat small fish, frogs and insects from now-polluted streams. They don't know why there is nothing left to gather or fish for, but knew that it was all fine before the tourists arrived. They also figured that if the well-educated, smart and rich tourists think it's okay to bathe in the streams, why shouldn't they? Before tourists set such an example, villagers gathered water and washed their clothes and bodies away from the streams and waterfalls to avoid polluting them.

Drugs are a no no! Do not buy and/or smoke opium from villagers and guides. Guides typically pay villagers about 400 baht for 20 or more pipe loads of opium, then resell it to tourists for 100-200 baht a pipe load. This is big money for the guide, with sad consequences for the villages, many of which do not even grow their own opium, but are coerced into buying it from local drug lords. Meanwhile, village children see foreigners smoking and think they can do the same every day, and still go to college and make lots of money just like the tourists do. In worst cases, opium-addicted villagers will sell their children in order to support their habits.

Take pens or pencils for the children. Do not give candy to children or money for pictures. In fact, nothing should be exchanged directly between tourists and villagers. A village is a very communal place, and what belongs to one belongs to all. Jealousy and hate between villagers can arise because one family or person received something from a tourist and another did not. Jealousy, believe it or not, is a major contributor to the drop in population in villages visited by tourists. The ones driven away are actually the lucky ones though, as they wind up in a neighboring village that is closed to tourists.

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