This is my last post on Thailand. What can I say or what have you seen? Obviously, our trip to Thailand was very, very good. I must confess, though, that one part of our trip was very, very depressing. Probably not a word you — nor I — associate with a country like Thailand. But depressing most accurately sums up our thirty minute elephant ride.
Elephant riding or “trekking” is a big tourist to-do in Thailand. There are multiple companies offering treks around the hills of Phuket on these big, beautiful beasts. The brochures these companies have put together tantalize you with their glossy pictures showing healthy looking elephants with their happy go-lucky handlers sitting freely atop their heads and tourists strapped semi-securely on their backs. We could’ve chosen the company specializing in elephant treks to the Big Buddha or another that touted the four-hour eco-friendly trek. We should’ve gone with that one. It would’ve made me feel better about my indulgent need to sit on top of an elephant, pretending to be Mowgli (the girl version), exploring the Thai jungle. But we didn’t.
We opted for the one that kept monkeys chained to railings and locked up inside dingy cages.
The one that chained a baby elephant’s front legs together so that it “wouldn’t run away,” in the words of our elephant handler, who happened to be a very nice man in comparison to the others we saw.
The one that had a very small, circular outdoor area for the seven elephants we saw with a big hill of elephant dung piled right next to it.
And the one that employed a guy that seemed to get off on using his rustic farm tool as a torture device on his elephant’s trunk.
Again, our handler was gentle with his elephant named Bow, who happened to be a pretty nice dude himself.
I don’t know if there are any travelers out there who had a more humane and thus more enjoyable elephant trek in Thailand. I hope so. But I had visions of Sarah McLachlan’s SPCA commercials running through my mind during ours. Especially since I knew from first hand experience how good elephants have it elsewhere — like in the wild where they belong.