The Eco-Way to Travel

By Sam Braybon 2021-11-01 19:53:41

These pioneers are getting it right

When it comes to thinking about travel and the environment, there aren’t any easy answers. Deep down, we surely all know that pretty much every element of any trip we take, whether by plane, car or even train, is going to have some kind of impact on the planet. Huge hotels and resorts often seek to ease consumer conscience by flaunting their green credentials at every possible marketing opportunity. But after arriving to find crates of imported mineral water that has been shipped across the globe or vast buffets full of wasted food, these already vague promises often seem flimsier than a single use toothbrush, to say the least. 

Assuming that none of us are about to stop traveling entirely, this is one of life’s great pleasures after all ,it’s our responsibility to ensure that the places in which we spend our money are properly committed to the green values that they claim to represent. On our travels through China, we’ve often found that it’s the small, independent businesses run by passionate individuals that are really putting in the leg work on this front, and it’s to these places that we’re naturally drawn. 

We’ve put together a quick list of three guesthouses in very different corners of China, each of which we know seriously put their money where their mouths are when it comes to tangible environmental values. We’ve found that owners and staff at places like these are almost always happy to talk curious guests through the creative ways in which they seek to minimize their impact or improve life in the local community, so you and your kids will really get an impression of the real-life impact they’re having. A rare opportunity for those of us that live in megacities like Shanghai where we’re almost totally disconnected from such issues. 


Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, Yangshuo, Guangxi

Opened in 2000, this country inn was years ahead of the trend for simple but cosy boutique accommodation in China. There’s a reason why this place is so popular, it’s in an epic location on the banks of the Yulong River providing the ultimate breakfast view over the area’s famous karst. 

But as we’ve returned to the resort over the years, it’s the impressive commitment to core values, both social and environmental, that has really left an impression on us. As part of an effort to minimize waste for example, the hotel offers no bottled water or disposable items at all (with the exception of toilet paper) and has an industrial level water filtration system with stations around the property so that guests can refill reusable bottles. 


The food is excellent here too, and many of the ingredients used, from chicken and fish to others are raised or grown on site, with others being sourced from family-owned farms within a 10 kilometre radius of the resort. 

Their latest project, expected in 2022, is a waterfall pool that draws naturally clean and cool water from the underground filtration system, allowing families to splash about without the chemicals that most pools require. A good reason for us to return!


Yourantai, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan

In most traveller’s minds, tropical Xishuangbanna holds the promise of vast rainforests where elephants run wild and forgotten villages lie in wait. As wonderful as the area is, the truth is sometimes a little less idyllic than that. Swathes of the countryside have been taken over by rubber plantations, whilst the area’s once sleepy main city, Jinghong, has expanded wildly in recent years with luxury resorts and huge apartment compounds. 

Yourantai is a special place that seeks to counter some of those changes. Perched on a hill with a sweeping view over the Mekong River on the edge of Jinghong, owner Gerard purchased this former rubber plantation back in 2002 and set about rewilding it. Now, this patch of forest is home to over 300 varieties of plants, many grown from seedlings collected by staff on rainforest walks or donated by local biologists, and now supports populations of butterflies, rare wild bees and other wildlife. 


Originally planned as a private residence, the place was too special not to share. So Gerard had five independent houses constructed throughout the site using almost nothing but salvaged wood. Any natural waste from the buildings was used to help replenish the nutrients in the soil that had been damaged during its days as a rubber farm. These structures were designed in the local Dai nationality style and now form the basis of what is certainly the area’s most intimate and unique guesthouse.


Khampa Nomad Ecolodge, Tagong, Sichuan

Way up in Garze, a Tibetan area of Western Sichuan, Angela and her local husband designed and oversaw the construction of this four-bedroom ecolodge themselves with the help of local craftspeople who took care of the traditional stone and woodwork. The lodge is designed to be almost entirely self-sufficient: clean water is drawn from a mountain spring and all electricity is provided entirely by solar and wind power. This is nomad country, and the family cuisine served here focuses on locally raised yak meat, dairy and wild plants. 


If you are interested in trekking, this is the place to come. The team at the lodge can arrange a variety of hikes on foot or by horse that are guided by local nomads who’ll introduce you to the local way of life, with the opportunity to stay overnight in their tents. They can also arrange bike trips, tours to some of the area’s best temples or art workshops, all designed to facilitate interaction with locals, and allow visitors to understand the vitality of the nomadic culture that is at the centre of life here.