Responsible Tourism: It is Not About Your Bikini

I was visiting Kuang Si Waterfall, about one-hour drive from Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is  a touristic city of People’s Democratic Republic of Lao. It is also a UNESCO Heritage Site.

In any guide to Luang Prabang, you will find Kuang Si Waterfall as a must visit destination. It is also an area for the Center to Rescue the Asiatic Black Bears. There are several cascaded waterfalls and ponds. The ponds in the  waterfalls are attractive for sight seeing and swimming.   Some ponds are open for swimming.

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Pond by Kuang Si Waterfall, Siem Reap, Cambodia

I am not going to write about how wonderful and attractive the waterfalls and the forest are. I  particularly like to comment on the tourists in Kuang Si Waterfall as well as in other places.

In the entrance to the waterfall, it’s already notified that swimming should not be in bikini.  To my surprise, in the ponds all girls were wearing bikinis.  I am not sure if these girls read the notification or they just didn’t care.  The visitors of the Waterfall were tourists or foreigners. I didn’t see any locals. Despite the lack of local visitors, these tourists should have respected the rule. Near the pond, a young  couple was kissing  in the presence of some visitors who busily  photographed and tested  the pond’s waters. The couple seemed to be high so they didn’t care.

Every country has do’s and don’ts that every visitor should put into consideration. It is normal. You are a guest so you follow the rule of the hosted country.  Not all tourists are wise no matter how often they travel abroad.  And not all tourists care about the local culture.  Having lived in Bali many years ago,  I know this kind of tourists well

I like kissing

I am writing this article based on  tourists that I have seen  in Indonesia and other Asian countries. First of all, there are tourists that think they are the kings because they pay. As the one who pays, many of them demand service like a king.  These tourists usually compare everything with the condition and situation in their country. Everything should be exactly or somewhat exactly similar with in their own country. For example, the facility, food, service or infrastructure. These tourists cannot adapt to countries whose culture  and social environment are  different from theirs. Many of them fail to deal with the cultural aspect.

To show affection in public  such as  kissing your partners  is disrespectful in some South East Asian countries. South East Asian people tend to be  reserved. Asian culture is different from the Western culture that demands people to express themselves.   People who use to express themselves may find this  ‘rule’ inconvenient or uncomfortable.  As such, no matter the regulation is, they don’t give it a damn.  For people in South America for example, it is normal to kiss their partner in public. In one point, Lima, Peru,  astonished me. Many couples were passionately kissing in public parks. I don’t talk about a smooch, but passionate kiss. It was my first visit to a South American country few years ago. In Germany, kissing in public is like drinking coca cola. People can do it anywhere, anytime and other people don’t care. In Berlin, in a cramped elevator, I saw a couple just kissing. It is not a big deal for the people,  since you have to express yourself.

It is not about your bikini

Many tourists behave as they want. They do not respect the local culture, for example in terms the way the locals dress.  In Western culture, showing body parts is a kind of self expression: it is my body, I control my body. As such, they dress as they wish. It is fine to do it in their own country. But not in other country where showing body parts is  impolite and disrespectful. The hot and humid weather may be part of the reason why these tourists dress least. I remember when I traveled from cold Germany to Indonesia. Gee, I could not tolerate the hot weather. Yet, there are a lot of comfortable and cotton made dresses that you can wear in tropical countries.

In my recent visit in Luang Prabang, Laos I saw many female tourists with clothes that reveal their private parts. I am talking about bosom and thighs.  Luang Prabang is a spiritual center of Laos.  The city houses many beautiful temples and  Bhuddist monasteries. You can frequently see monks walking in the street.   In fact, in Laos’ dos and don’ts , there is a point where visitors need to dress properly, not only in the temples but also in general places. The state will not prosecute you for what you wear.  The local people may not say something to you either, but in fact they talk about you.  Just staying a few days in Luang Prabang, I noticed that the women wear skirts just below their knees. The skirt doesn’t cover the leg long but the knee.

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Lao weaved fabric, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap

Three years ago when I was in a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand I saw some girls that wore shorts entering the temple.  That is rude. In my view, they do not know what a temple is.

In touristic area where local people use to see  tourists, it is not a big deal to wear shorts and you-can-see t-shirts.  There are some South Asian cities where wearing shorts and  tank top is tolerable. For example in cities like Manila, Bangkok, Ha Noi and Singapore. In  Jakarta, in touristic area such as Jalan Jaksa it may not be a problem. But for most people it is not comfortable to  see.

Few years ago, people in Muslim populated place like  Gili Islands, Indonesia, were not used to see women in bikinis on the beach. The local people even swim with their everyday dresses. Some tourists complained why people stared at them while they sun bathed on beach in Gili. No wonder, because the locals were not used to see women in bikini so they were curious of it.  But now, the local people may have used at seeing bikini women in their beach.

Many tourists prefer Bali because  it is not problem at all to wear bikini on the beach or in streets in Kuta. When I lived in Bali about 15 years ago, I saw  many Western girls sun bathed bare breast  in Seminyak Beach. Well, culturally speaking, women in Bali used to be bare breast.

Some places in Indonesia remain unopened for external tourists . The local people think that tourists threaten their culture and corrupt the mentality of their people. It is a generalization. But, simple people always think based on what they see.

I don’t talk about morality when I talk about bikini and the dress we wear, but it is about being a responsible tourist.

Responsible Tourist

In recent years, we have heard about the term of responsible tourism. Responsible tourist complies with the principle of social and economic justice of the country she or he visits. Besides,  she or he also respects the environment and culture of the place. How many  tourists are responsible tourists?

Speaking of my country, Indonesia, I must say there are no responsible tourists.  If you climb mountains like Mt. Gede in West Java,  you will see trashes all over, the plastics, cans and papers. Even those who call themselves mountain climbers leave their ‘legacy’ on the mountain. I was even more shocking to see the carpet of trashes in Maling Kundang Beach, West Sumatera. The locals just throw everything everywhere. I also didn’t see any trash bins on the beach. For environmental awareness, Indonesian tourist is worst.

In tourist destinations, tourists are crazy with  taking pictures of themselves. With the stick for mobile phone to take selfies, sometimes it is hysterical.  People sometimes  get too excited to take a group selfie.  When I was in Angkor Vat, in the sacred site, I was hoping the visitors have a little respect of the site. Instead, many of them were focusing on taking group selfies  and making noise in this sacred site. I saw Chinese tourists treated Bhudda image just like an ordinary  statue in the  park when they were taking the pictures next to this image. It is disheartening to see how these tourists behave.

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Bhudda image, Angkor Vat, Cambodia

If you travel to other place but you cannot adapt to the local culture, it means you only  move your body physically from one place to other place.  You may be able to show your photo album to your family or your facebook friends, then what? Do you learn something from the place you visit?

It is not easy to be a responsible tourist. It is about yourself, your awareness and knowledge about the places you are visiting.

@Siem Reap, Cambodia, June 2, 2016

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