Notep is a famous Thai artist, musician, environmentalist and freediver who has dedicated her time recently to encouraging eco tourism in her beloved Ko Tao and Chiang Mai. Here, she offers her sustainable travel guide to Thailand – where to visit, stay, shop and swim in the cleanest, greenest, most regenerative manner. Bookmark this page for your next trip to or around the Kingdom of Smiles.
ORIGINALLY FROM THE ANCIENT CAPITAL of Chiang Mai, Notep discovered her love of travel and exploration on an exchange program to Rimini, Italy, in 11th grade. “In this small town in the middle of Italy, I realized how much I love learning about new cultures and getting myself out of my comfort zone and seeing new things,” she says.
An artist, musician and environmental conservationist, she’s dedicated to helping others do the same, in a responsible and mindful manner. “All of my work focuses on connecting people back to themselves and nature,” Notep says. “My life’s passion is to spread this positive energy and truth about how humans, instead of going away from nature to technology and to the concrete jungle, we should come back to nature, appreciate nature again, because it’s what really matters and it makes us so much more happy when we are with nature. It’s the truth.”
Here, Notep shares with T+L her guide to sustainable, regenerative, low-impact travel in Thailand:
Five favorite destinations in Thailand?
1) My favorite place is definitely Chiang Mai because it’s where I grew up. It’s where my family is based. I have a lovely home here with my dogs and every time I come back it’s like I’m coming back to my sanctuary, my comfort place. Chiang Mai is so cozy, everyone is so nice here. There are so many good food, cafes, art galleries, so many things going on that are on a small scale so it’s very well thought-through. I feel like people can make small-scale places better, as opposed to industrial size. It’s full of passion and it has so much charm.
2) Ko Tao. Again, it’s also a small place: everything is on a small scale as well. It’s like the perfect size and there’s this energy in Ko Tao. When everyone goes there, they feel more relaxed, they feel more at peace with themselves – and I feel like Ko Tao actually makes people nicer somehow, it removes the ego. It could be because the journey to Ko Tao is so long and it’s not easy. And the nature is beautiful there and the people in the community are also very open minded and nice.
3) Bangkok has its charm even though it’s so busy. It has so many hidden gems that if you explore you get to know it more and more. Instead of going to big shopping malls, you should go to these small places that are really charming. You can find anything and everything in Bangkok, and, most of all, everything is so cheap compared to the rest of the world.
4) I really like Chiang Dao. It’s close to Chiang Mai, about an hour drive from the city. The nature is beautiful, there are a lot of tribes doing a lot of interesting things.
5) Finally, Ko Surin because it’s very protected and you can only go there a couple of months per year. And so the corals are beautiful. I love how there are no big hotels in Ko Surin, only small bungalows or camping. So that’s really cool.
Where can we meet local artisans and shop for beautiful handmade goods?
Notep: One of my favorite artisan spots is Kalm Village in Chiang Mai. Kalm Village really supports the local community and the local craftsmanship. They host a lot of exhibitions on textiles and craftsmanship, and I think the selection of their creations is amazing. They also have shops there that are really cool. They have restaurants and they have ongoing exhibitions all the time.
You have your own organic and upcycling-focused product line. What are other ‘noteworthy’ options for sustainable shopping in Thailand?
Notep: I suggest checking out these small businesses and collectives:
Precious Plastic Bangkok
Plas Tao, in Ko Tao
Melt District in Chiang Mai
Bope, in Chiang Mai
Fashion Revolution Thailand
Sustainable hotel pick
Notep: I recommend Mala Dhara in Chiang Mai. It’s in Sansai, a beautiful, small resort that’s family-run and really simple. The food is great – it’s vegan, they have their own rice fields and Buffalo and they harvest their own vegetables, and they also host a lot of wellness retreats there. The owner is an amazing lady and a really good friend of mine, Ploy.
What can visitors to Thailand do to make sure that travel is as sustainable, regenerative or low-impact as possible?
Be mindful of what you do.
Respect the locals. And respect the culture.
Leave nothing behind.
Consume mindfully and consciously.
Try traveling by train instead of plane – and trains are also really fun in Thailand.
Try to say no to as much single use plastic as possible.
Food-wise, try to eat at places where you know where the food comes from. For example, if you go to Chiang Mai, you probably want to eat local food. This is not the place for seafood because Chiang Mai doesn’t have an ocean. So they would have to import fish from another place. If you go to the sea then, yes, you can eat seafood and not something else from another place.
Shopping-wise, try to buy things that are local, support the locals – I think that’s the most sustainable thing.
On any trip you always pack…
Notep: Reef-safe sunscreen. And I always pack my oil – Notep Beach Glow Oil – because it can be used in my skin and my hair, before and after every activity that I do. It’s organic, reef-safe, and environmentally friendly.
How did you get into freediving? And why do you love it?
Notep: Like a lot of Thais, I got into freediving during covid, and I love it because it’s a meditation, a meditation where you don’t have to sit still. And it’s a meditation where you really connect back to yourself through your breath. Because when you’re down there, you’re basically on your own with nothing. It’s you, your lungs, and nature, and it’s so amazing how the water just hugs you. You feel so free.
And with freediving, the more mindful you are, the more relaxed. The more in a meditative state you are, the better you will be underwater. So, I really love that and every time I go into the water, I just feel so connected and I feel like I’m going home.
Article sponsored by Tourism Authority of Thailand.