ASEAN Iconic Destinations Included in No-List of Travel and Gastronomy Guide Fodor’s

Sustainability, overtourism, ASEAN, environment, responsible tourism

Tanah Lot temple in Bali (Photo: Alamy from South China Morning Post)

US Travel and gastronomy guides Fodor’s is every year publishing a list of places to avoid due to environmental, ethical and political reasons. Overcrowding, over-commercialisation, deterioration of locals’ way of life are the justification for the guide to ask its readers to act responsibly when visiting the world. ASEAN destinations are not immune with new destinations jointed the 2020 list.

The idea is simple. For a couple of years now, US-based travel and gastronomy guide Fodor’s is listing destinations that tourists should avoid due to the way tourism has been developed in recent years with or without the consent of local authorities. Fodor’s use criteria such as ethics, environment and also the political context of the destination.

Although many countries might find the No-List unfair or unjustified. Fodor’s publishers explain that “the No-List [helps] to highlight issues—ethical, environmental, sometimes even political—that we are thinking about before, during, and long after we travel. […] But, ultimately, we know that our readers–globe-trotting world citizens–will continue to make up their  own minds. As such, being featured on the No List is not a scarlet letter. Rather, it is a promise that when we do cover the destinations mentioned here–all of which are, truly, wondrous places–we will be doing so responsibly, warts and all.”

The list covers the entire world, from the United States to Europe and Asia. In the past years, destinations such as Amsterdam or Dubrovnik in Europe, Machu Pichu in South America or Big Sur in California. ASEAN countries have not been immune of an includion into the No-List. in the past, Thailand Koh Tachai has been listed. But this year, three new destinations are making their entry. There are -to no surprise- Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Bali in Indonesia; but also, Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

Fodor’s justifies the decision as follows:

    • The temple complex of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Cambodia’s most visited attraction, is suffering under its own popularity. The literal wear and tear brought on to the 900-year-old temples is having damaging effects on its foundations and structural integrity: steps are slippery because of the many tourists who have walked them and bas-reliefs are worn down by the number of tourists who have touched them. The Apsara agency – charged of managing the site- is now limiting the number of visitors to 300 at any time who are allowed at the top of Phnom Bakheng hill, a popular spot for sunsets. A less obvious impact on the area is the water shortage brought on by this year’s drought and exacerbated by hotels in the Siem Reap area. In 2019, Angkor Wat’s moat lost more than 10 million liters of water, the equivalent of four Olympic-sized swimming pools. A call to further restrict and enforce the limitations of tourists visitations in both numbers and access (placing bas-reliefs behind glass, building wooden staircases and footpaths), as well as government regulation of the hospitality industry’s water use, and encouraging tourism growth in other areas of the country, are key steps to reducing the damage brought on by overtourism.
    • Bali, Indonesia’s most-visited island, has suffered the effects of overtourism in the last few years to the point that the government is weighing a tourist tax to help combat some of the more sinister effects on the environment. In 2017 a “garbage emergency” was declared over the amount of plastic on beaches and in waters; the Bali Environment Agency recorded that the island produced 3,800 tons of waste every day, with only 60% ending up in landfills–an obvious observation to anyone visiting the island. A ban on single-use plastics (shopping bags, styrofoam, and plastic straws) went into effect in December 2018, and this year, the Bali legislature has debated imposing an extremely negligible “tourist tax” of US$10 per visitor. Water scarcity, brought on the development of luxury villas and golf courses, has impacted the profits of local farmers. And besides negative environmental impacts, authorities are now working to enact guidelines mandating respectful behaviour from tourists who are visiting religious sites in bathing suits, climbing over sacred sites, and generally disrespecting customs and cultural norms.
    • In 1902, French built a railway that runs through Hanoi and Hai Phong and to this day it still carries passengers and cargo across the land. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the rail line snakes through a densely populated neighbourhood, literally passing behind houses and shops on either side. Dubbed Hanoi Train Street, the photos captured of the area are, predictably, stunning. But because the tracks are still operational, they come with a dangerous price. That hasn’t stopped the Instagrammers, who gather along the line vying for the optimal shot. Vendors now cater to the tourists with snacks and drinks, and cafes have popped up, encouraging crowds to linger. Recently, a train had to make an emergency stop in order to avoid hitting the tourists snapping selfies and loitering on the tracks, and eventually was rerouted. In response, the municipal government of Hanoi has ordered that all cafes along the tracks to close. New signs have also been installed in the area warning passersby not to take photos or videos near the tracks. While the ban is intended to protect the tourists, it also seems inappropriate for visitors to inconvenience the operations of the rail line.
Elephant riding to be banned

Fodor’s also asks its readers to stop riding elephants, after partnering with the non-profit World Animal Protection to commission a study into elephant conditions in countries like Thailand, where elephant riding is widespread.” This was an exhaustive investigation into hundreds of wildlife projects and businesses, conducted by impartial animal welfare experts. The results were beyond conclusive. In the 118 elephant venues assessed, we found over 1300 animals suffering in terrible conditions: taken young from the wild, separated from their familial groups, broken again and again using sharp hooks and other tools, chained up at night and denied good nutrition.

All for the sake of 10-minute tourist ride, or a circus-like show where animals were made to stand on their hind legs, or juggle, or paint pictures using their trunks,” concluded the study.

The demand for elephant rides, especially in Thailand, has surged in recent years due to an influx of tourism, and with the opportunity for profit comes the opportunity for corruption and cruelty, giving rise to exploitative camps that use chains, whips, and minimal downtime. These conditions create stress and exhaustion for the highly intelligent animals. Conscientious travellers who want to interact with animals because they love them should remember the hidden cruelty that can come with the set up and reconsider participating in these activities. Abstaining altogether would reduce the demand for attractions where elephants are exploited for human amusement.