Chapter 18 of our Short Travel Stories tells a really sad reality in Thailand: mistreating elephants. Beware of tourist traps, and please avoid doing like the author of this tale, whom didn’t know what was going on and ended up being part of a tourist trap.
Chapter 18: Mistreating Elephants In Thailand
The Dutch guy (whose name is Mark), the two Welsh brothers, whose names are Adrian (the short one) and Andy (the big one) and myself decided to book a night bus to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We paid 650 baht each (19 USD or 25 AUD), and took the ten-hour bus.
The buses were decent so we managed to get some sleep, even though at 2 am they decided to stop for dinner, turn on all the lights and wake up everybody to get down, basically forcing you to eat.
We arrived pretty early in Chiang Mai, found a hostel and stored our bags before the check-in. We had booked a an elephant tour at 10 am, so we had a couple of hours before they picked us up, and we went for breakfast at the hostel’s restaurant.
There I met this gorgeous Mexican girl with whom I seemed to have a nice connection. “Great” I thought, I was staying there for three nights and had time to meet her. Destiny was being kind; I was starting the day with the right foot.
However, I jumped too early into conclusions. When I came u with the classic question: “How long are you staying here for?” she replied: “I’m leaving today”. Oh. And there I saw all my hopes being crushed, and that right foot I started the day with, taking a step back to point zero.
When they picked us up I forgot all about the girl, I could only think about the excitement of seeing elephants for the first time.
We got to the place, a huge piece of land, with a restaurant at the entrance, a river you had to cross to get to where the elephants were. They kept them in a tiny area surrounded by a fence, as if they were cattle or chicken. That was weird.
However, there was one waiting for us outside of the fenced area. He was sort of greeting us, welcoming us by agitating his trunk, and it was even smiling. That calmed down, until Adrian told us to look at his feet. One of them was chained to a post.
What the fuck was this place? I thought we were coming to bathe them and play with them, not treat them like slaves.
The guide came and told us we were gonna ride them through a field, then a river, and then we would feed them. While we waited to get on them, we saw some families coming back. The looks on the faces of the poor elephants was shocking. They looked depressed, dirty, mistreated. They transmitted sadness but the kind of sadness that only beings without a reason to live have, a feeling of being forlorn.
Adrian refused to ride them, he preferred to lose the money he had paid.
Mark, Andy and myself all rid them. I figured I had already paid, I was on a budget, so I had to make the best out of what I had paid. Did I? How naïve was I. Just two seconds after sitting on the back of one of them my conscience started killing me.
Then, the elephant was walking slowly, so the guide, who was sitting on his neck, hit him on the forehead with a stick. I felt as if he had hit me. My conscience took a go at me even harder, and I felt a hole in my stomach sucking all my energy away.
I took some pictures, but then put the camera away. I didn’t want to document such a violation of animal rights, such an injustice. I was ashamed of myself for contributing to a business full of hostility and savagery.
When we finally made it back to the starting point, we got down and the guides started hitting the elephants to make them go into the fenced area, into their jail. Inside they didn’t even move. They were depressed, devastated, with their souls broken by fucking humans that were making money out of abuse.
What about us? It was us who fell into the tourist trap for not informing ourselves preciously, and who decided to ride them even after seeing the conditions they were in, because we only want a stupid picture to get more likes in Facebook and Instagram. Sometimes we forget that we travel to discover, learn and improve, instead we forget that and do it for the pictures, to show-off to our friends and fill our egos with 15 seconds of “fame”. How superficial can we be. How disgusting I felt.
I admired Adrian for refusing to ride them. Yes, he had paid, but he had the decency to refuse, and lose his money rather than hop onto the animal and make him suffer even more.
I felt like a cheap bastard, because I preferred to “protect my investment”. An investment? I’d rather say a waste of money. It would’ve been better to waste it, because it wasn’t about the money, it was about myself participating in such an act of human stupidity and injustice.
I fell in the tourist trap for not informing myself properly, and I contributed to something that went completely against all my moral values. That’s the lesson I learnt that day.