We have all stood gob-smacked in the check-out line at supermarkets watching the double and treble bagging of everything that is already shrink-wrapped in plastic. We have all seen cascades of garbage thrown from windows of speeding pick-up trucks. Here in Phuket, we all know about the polluted beaches, dying coral and fume-belching tour buses.
Are Thai people deliberately destructive toward their once-beautiful environment that nurtures and supports them? Dependent as they are to such a large degree upon agriculture and tourism you would think that Thais would be super-vigilant in preserving the environment upon which they depend economically and nutritionally.
In truth, Thai people are not willfully destructive of their environment, they are simply uninformed. No-one takes the trouble to tell Thai youngsters as part of their schooling the facts about environmental conservation and so, almost by default, they throw away garbage without thinking about it.
Thai youngsters are simply not taught the incredible value and importance of preserving the very environment upon which their lives literally depend, but an inspirational American based in the beautiful rain forest of Khao Sok National Park, three hours’ drive north of Phuket, is doing something incredibly valuable to try and address this shocking situation.
His name is Dick Sandler and he’s the owner of Our Jungle House eco-tourism resort and he has recently opened Our Jungle Camp next door as a free educative facility expressly designed to teach Thai youngsters about the beauty and importance of their environment.
Dick came to Thailand in 1966 and lived on a raft house in Kanchanaburi where he swam back and forth across the River Kwai for his morning exercise. When his friends visited they all wanted raft houses of their own, which led Sandler and friends to launch the province’s first riverside resort, unwittingly pioneering the eco-travel niche that subsequently became such a major part of the burgeoning tourism industry.
Says Sandler, “We were involved in eco-tourism before the term really even existed, growing our own food and organizing sustainable tours.” He also ensured that the locals benefitted from his visitors, which makes him something of a pioneer in community-based tourism (another branch of the eco-tourism tree).
Fluent in Thai and schooled in economics, this entrepreneur and self-confessed nature nut eventually took on consultancy work with the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, working on rural development projects which allowed him to explore the kingdom’s most remote islands, jungles and beaches.
With nature seemingly his soul purpose in life, Dick worked on rural development projects with the United Nations and this took him to the most remote parts of Thailand including Khao Sok. Dick started the groundbreaking, eco-minded resort ‘Our Jungle House’ first, which then led him to expand his natural empire to ‘Our Jungle Camp’.
I recently had the pleasure of staying at ‘Our Jungle Camp’,which is situated in a privately-owned forest allowing you to feel every movement of the living jungle. My tree-top wooden house overlooked a stunning clear stream and every morning I was woken by excitable monkeys, choruses of birds, the hooting of gibbons and buzzing of crickets. The feeling of total peace and tranquility is something you cannot ignore and the resort and camp provide many beautiful and natural activities to their guests such as washing elephants, river tubing, trips to the hot springs and over-night journeys to the floating lake houses. All of these are managed and expedited in ways that leave no damage to the environment.
However, the most significant part of ‘Our Jungle Camp’ is the free natural adventures that they provide for Thai youngsters who are invited from all over the country to experience and learn about nature and preserving their endangered Kingdom. Dick Sandler and his team attempt to redress the lack of teaching about the environment in the Thai school curriculum by doing so right in the rain forest at Our Jungle Camp.
The children are shown how to plant, care for, and harvest trees in ways which follow King Rama IX’s sustainability agricultural project thereby teaching the children skills for sustainability in their everyday life.
The Camp’s organic garden grows indigenous Thai herbs and spices and they teach the children what each herb and spice is and what they can be used for, from jungle medicine, to flavouring food, through to their various health benefits.
The children are also shown how to make arts and crafts such as bamboo weaving, flower collecting and painting and even how to make jams from the jungle that surrounds them.
The children learn to appreciate nature through nature trails, bird watching and tubing down the river, all of which I experienced and all of which are truly inspiring and life-enhancing.
Our Jungle Camp educates for sustainability, through community-based camps in the stunning natural environment of one of Thailand’s most important national parks and if you get the chance to visit, I cannot over-emphasise what a life-enhancing experience it is.
Our Jungle Camp – Khao Sok National Park
123/1 MOO 6, TAMBON KLONGSOK,
AMPUR PANOM, SURATTHANI
+66 (0) 88-577-6838