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Travel is a global obsession. The idea of exploring unique landscapes, cultures, and cities is one that has fascinated the human race for thousands of years. With modern technology, travel was becoming easier, and parts of the world that had remained untouched began to pique in the interests of tourists.

Fifty years ago, Asia was a poor, underdeveloped continent with little tourism traffic and many countries strife with war. Skip forward to 2018 when, according to Our World Data, every fourth tourist arrived in Asia.

Then 2020 happened.

“Tourism is all quiet. It’s tough,” says Samart Srisoda, a Thai tour guide who works for G Adventures in South East Asia.

Beautiful beaches and seas off the island of Ko Samui. (Photo by Emily Meyer)

Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Asia, with millions of people employed in the industry. However, with COVID-19 forcing borders to close, tourism – and the money it generated – has come to a halt.

“I can keep my house for eight more months,” says Srisoda. “Then, if I have no job, I have to let it go.”

Samart Srisoda enjoys exploring Bayon Temple in Cambodia. (Photo by Emily Meyer)

“I teach English for free here in the city on weekends. I have lots of free time, so I just want to be useful,” says Srisoda.

Srisoda has worked in the tourism industry since 2002 and owns an ecolodge in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which he says has been very quiet since the pandemic began.

Chiang Mai, found in the mountainous region of northern Thailand, is a beautiful old city home to hundreds of Buddhist temples. Just outside of the city, the famous temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep sits 300 steps atop a hill.

Doi Suthep on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. (Photo by Emily Meyer)

Before COVID-19, tourists and locals alike would flock to the stunning and intricate temples around Chiang Mia and other regions of Thailand to appreciate the architecture as well as to pray.

Thailand’s attraction isn’t just the temples and lush landscapes, but the rich culture and delicious food they share.

Thailand hosts some of the most incredible street food in the world. For a few dollars, Pad Thai, stir-fries, exotic fruits, soups, curries, and more are available for indulging.

Tammy Herman and her husband Gordon are Canadians who fell in love with Thailand and have been wintering there since 2013 when they retired. Due to COVID-19, they have had to forgo their yearly visit to their favourite country.

“We’ll miss the friends we made there, the culture, and of course the delicious food. There is an abundance of fresh fruits and veg. I make Thai food a lot at home now,” says Herman.

Herman still has many friends in Thailand who continue to struggle as the pandemic rages on. She says that because many businesses rely heavily on tourism, many have had to close down.

“My good friend in Thailand told me that he has never seen so many local people lined up for food and supply donations.”

The economy and the people of Thailand rely heavily on tourism; however, the environment has been suffering because of the mass-tourism the country has been experiencing over the past decade.

The standstill on tourism has proved positive for the environment, showing rapid recovery and regeneration of nature in just a few short months, begging the question, can there be a balance?

The seas in Phuket have cleared to their turquoise and crystal colours again. Sea turtles are nesting on beaches they haven’t visited in years. Blacktip reef sharks and bottlenose dolphins reappeared in areas around the coast. Endangered sea turtles lay their eggs in the highest numbers seen for 20 years.

“Tourism is a double-edged sword,” says Herman, who hopes this can be a lesson to tourists and governments alike to find a middle group to enjoying a beautiful country and respecting the precious nature that makes Thailand such a magical place.

Story by Emily Meyer

Featured Image: View of crystal seas of Thailand (Photo by Emily Meyer)

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Emily Meyer

Hi! I'm Emily Meyer. I live to travel! I have been to 46 countries, and have plans to visit many more! My favourite part about travelling is the food and the people!
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