We all want to be good people at the end of the day but sometimes ignorance just gets in the way. When I made the decision to go to Thailand I wanted to be very aware of my impact as a traveler. I think every choice you make does have a butterfly effect.
Deciding Where to Go
I have family in the Philippines. When I first talked about going there after Spain was done, I figured I’d travel somewhere in between. I was really set on somewhere else in Asia because I’d only been to the Philippines and I’d seen a lot of Europe. Plus, Europe is much more expensive than just going to Thailand. And they only places I haven’t been are in the North (which is really expensive) or the far east (which doesn’t have a lot of flights to Asia).
So I’d been researching Thailand for a while. I figured it was a good spot in between Spain and the Philippines. I’d heard it was one of the safer countries to travel through. A lot of bloggers recommended either the tribe people experience, elephant experience or island hopping.
Now I didn’t want to do island hopping because it’s usually a bunch of tourists getting wasted and I wanted something a little more authentic.
Elephants Have Feelings Too
Now to my giant dilemma that has been giving me a headache. First, I was set on the elephant experience. I even found a list of places that were supposedly ethical. I thought a guide from Lonely Planet was the best resources. I even tried to book in Kanachamburi. Then they took too long to reply to my booking.
And then I looked at their photos on TripAdvisor. Now I’d already seen their promo video and other things. It was recommended by Lonely Planet and a few other blogs as an ethical alternative. I was sold on the idea of taking the elephants out for a stroll, feeding them and giving them a bath. Sounds fine, Right? Then I go to their TripAdvisor and realize they are using unethical metal saddles that cause welts on the elephant’s back. I thought this place had a zero tolerance for riding elephants but in fact they use the worst kind of method to ride them. Now they say, they ride the elephants minimally as a part of their training to keep them domesticated and used to humans but I don’t buy it. I think no one needs to ride an elephant and if you do you do not do it in a giant metal thingy ma bob that digs into their neck. This is an elephant, not Lady Gaga, they probably don’t enjoy those accessories. And the mere fact they are around humans should be enough to domeosticate them. I don’t ride my dog but he’s perfectly domesticated.
Now I’m thinking maybe there just isn’t a way to do this experience that doesn’t impact the animals. I thought if I was only committing to caring for elephants then I wouldn’t be a part of the problem. But these places give a sense of security and pretend they are ethical while exploiting the animals for rides and entertainment.
However on the other side, these places work with a giant, expensive, endangered animals Of course it costs money to keep these animals out of cages and circuses and in forests where they belong. In they end are giving them a much better life than they would have outside the sanctuary, does the means justify the end? I don’t know. I don’t want to ride a goddamn elephants. I just want to pet and feed it like a deer in a forest or a dog on the street. I’m not trying to ride this thing. I just want to hang out with animals in an ethical way. But perhaps, I’m just too much of an idealist.
SO I guess what to look out for:
- Metal saddles, it is more comfortable for the elephant if you ride them without a metal saddle on their neck.
- Do not go to places that use baby elephants in the interaction. Many poachers steal baby elephants because morons like us will pay anything to hug a baby whatever. Babies need to be with their mom’s.
- Look for places that just do not offer riding at all. Make sure they stress it is a volunteering experience and the animals are being cared for not being harmed. Riding any elephant means they have been “broken” meaning they have been abused or disciplined to create that behavior so any riding of any elephant is unethical. If you want to watch how they break the elephants watch this Smithsonian video and tell me if it´s worth it.
I´m sure there are good places but I´ve decided to do away with the whole idea as a whole.
Humans all have a right to education
I decided to do a Hill Tribe tour. It was on sale and it was by G Adventure which prides them self on culturally authentic experiences that limit damage to the environment. On their website they say And “when you travel with us, you support local communities and help make the world a little bit better for everyone.” I had been considering them as a tour option for a while because of this.
A few bloggers raved about being able to see the villages and live with the locals in huts, cooking with them, and going on extensive hikes. Everyone said it was a great off the beaten track cultural experience.
Then I get a message from a friend on Facebook that informed me the Thai government actually forbids these tribespeople from getting education and receiving citizenship so they can be used as tourist attractions! I double checked these facts with more blog posts and information that confirmed this was true. And then my thought was, “What the f***?!” I just can’t win.
I personally emailed G Adventure asking for my money back. But G Adventure assured me they pay the tribes people handsomely. They use their tour to help them create real income instead of going to a “Karan Village” and having a Thai your company taking majority of the money and the villagers only making profit from selling items. they also told me I can´t have a refund but I´ll make the best of the situation.
It´s good to do your research but at the end of the day you have to choose between the best of two evils and look at where your impact is going to greatest.
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