Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
I pursued a travel enrichment grant through the CIIS in order to explore different environmental conservation techniques in Thailand. Prior to visiting Thailand I knew very little about Thai culture and environment. I hoped to visit the unique tropical rainforests and learn about how national parks are managed and how they are perceived by visitors. By receiving the grant, I was able to travel to several national parks in Thailand throughout the semester. Through exploring these national parks, I became intrigued by their outreach and education as well as their accessibility to foreigners. I found myself comparing and contrasting these parks to parks I had visited in the United States, and found many points of interest between them.
The first national park I visited in Thailand was Khun Tan National Park, located southeast of the city I was based in, Chiang Mai. This park was established in 1975 and is located in northwestern Thailand. During our time at the park, we came upon dozens of other visitors, yet they were all Thai. This being my first Thai national park, I had expected that it would have been more of a tourist attraction. Yet with the rural setting and limited accessibility, it wasn’t as appealing to foreigners. I found that the trails were poorly marked and although there were many other visitors, my group was the only group on foot. Paved roads were found almost all the way to the summit and visitors were brought up by vehicle. I was surprised that no other groups chose to use the natural trails. Although some national parks in the United States use forms of transportation, the main method of exploration is by foot. I feel that a park visitor gains more from walking and can understand more about the environment in which they are exploring. Better-marked trails may facilitate more frequent visitors and encourage visitors to discover the natural beauty of the area on foot. There was a small welcome center that provided little information about what was in the park. I felt there was room for improvement to make this park more accessible and more effective in reaching out to their visitors.
Another park I visited was Khao Yai Naitonal Park. This park was vastly different than the first park I saw. Khao Yai is the third largest and most visited national park in Thailand. Its proximity to Bangkok and its plethora of diverse species makes this one of the most popular spots in the country. The park is home to 3,000 plant species, over 300 bird species, and plenty of mammals as well including wild elephants and monkeys. The services offered by the park are plentiful, and include guided hikes with a park ranger and night tours. The welcome center was extremely impressive. The educational and informational material offered at Khao Yai was extensive. It was obvious that a great deal of money had been invested in making the park accessible to foreigners and Thais alike. I was impressed with the different conservation efforts that took place there and the educational information offered. I found this park to be similar in its level of development to the national parks of the United States. Khao Yai was effective in educating the visitor on their conservation efforts and challenges they face.
My experiences in Thai national parks opened my eyes to international conservation efforts. I was intrigued by how the parks displayed themselves to visitors and how those visitors received information. I would be interested in visiting these parks again, hopefully with a translator, in order to learn more about the management of the park and the issues they face with attracting foreigners and Thais alike. This experience was extremely beneficial to my trajectory at St. Lawrence since it introduced me to an aspect of conservation biology that I hadn’t considered before. The management of national parks plays a significant role in conservation efforts worldwide and will continue to be important for years to come.