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Inspiring Stuff, Thailand, Travel

Why you should bathe baby elephants instead of riding adult ones.

Baby Elephant in Chiang Mai Thailand
So cute

Who would say no to the chance of a lifetime: playing with baby elephants.

Elephant group photo
My group for visiting the elephants.

There are many opportunities regarding elephants Thailand. You can do everything from simply looking at them to riding them. Elephants have been the national symbol for Thailand for ages. Holding great significance to the Thai people, elephants have long been used during battle, for various jobs (such as hauling logs), and as a type of tourism.

I opted to spend the day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for my elephant fix. There is no riding at this facility, only mud baths!

Why, you ask, did I not go somewhere where I could ride them?

Riding on the backs of Giants

When picturing elephants in Asia, the mind immediately goes to an image of people riding elephants through the jungle, the natural habitat of the Asian Elephant.

With tourism demands increasing, the need for more domesticated elephants grew and grew. To support the never ending need for Elfies (selfies with elephants), elephants quickly became a commodity. An elephants gestation period sitting around almost two years (21 months), breeding domesticated elephants was too slow going. Where else could one acquire elephants?

You guessed it – from the wild. You’re most likely familiar with the concept of poaching elephants for their ivory, with over 100,00 elephants being killed in just three years. A less known issue is the capturing of wild elephants to support the growing tourism industry. This has lead to a severe endangerment of wild Asian Elephants.

Elephants, like all wild animals, are not just going to be like “oh yeah, hey human, let me do whatever you want and just forget my eons of evolution and instincts!”. Elephants especially, never forget.

The most desired wild elephants are babies, having been taken from their mother as soon as possible and then confined to a cage or a hole in the ground to reduce movement.

The baby elephants are then starved, deprived of sleep, beaten with clubs, and pierced & tortured with bull-hooks (also known as ‘elephant-goads’) to break their spirit.

This process is called Phajaan or “the crush”. If you’re feeling morbid, here is a video of the process. I could not finish it. However, I did look at a picture.

img_3481
What type of person could hurt this little guy? The kind I want to kill with my bare hands.

As the elephants grow older, they continue to live their lives in slavery and fear. Even if the organization you are looking at claims to be ethical and treat the elephants well now, the domestication process was still the same. Bull-hooks are often still used behind the scenes to assert dominance, and as a control mechanism throughout the day.

Additionally, and I know it’s hard to believe because of their size, but the elephant spine is not meant to support the weight of humans, much less a bench with multiple people seated on it. Same goes for Zebras – just because they look like horses doesn’t mean they are for riding.

EVEN IF elephants had evolved to be ridden, many organizations make the elephants work long hours without breaks so that they can make more money. Humans nor animals should ever be subject to this.

What makes Elephant Jungle Sanctuary different?

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a family run business that prides themselves on acquiring elephants from organizations that previously used elephants for riding. Often times, the elephants have served decades as riding elephants (elephants can live to be 100+!), and are no longer able to work. This is usually the only way to free the elephants from their slavery. Every now and then though, a compassionate success story does shine through – but this is hardly a normal occurrence.

About an hour and a half from Chiang Mai, the sanctuary has 6 different camps with different groups of elephants. I was picked up from my hostel and driven out to our camp – camp number 6 (the best, obviously).

During my day at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, (which cost me 50 USD) I was educated about the history of the elephants, in addition to information about why the activities that we will be doing are different – they are not only ethical, but helpful to the elephants.

My day with the elephants included meeting the babies, feeding bananas to the adults, and giving everybody mud baths! Did you know that elephants can only sweat through their toes? This can make it very hard to cool off, which is where mud baths come in. The mud assists with wicking away excess moisture and provides a cooling element.

After bathing the elephants in mud, we moved to the rinsing pool where they are rinsed off with natural running water. This further aids the cooling process and makes sure that any remains of possible elephant feces have been washed off. Yes, the elephants sometimes poop in the mud pool. Everybody poops, guys.

 

I have to say, I had some concerns about the elephants being forced to take these baths and get in the mud, but the goofs were playing it in before the group ever got to that part of the itinerary. It is obvious that elephants have emotions, just like us.

img_3452
Bashful elephant.

I also had concerns about the same group being forced to bath multiple times a day.When I worked in the service industry, my hands would become chapped from washing them so much. It seems logical elephants would suffer from similar conditions. After speaking the the volunteers, I learned that each group only has one bath per day. Boasting a herd of over 50 elephants, there is plenty of dry skin to go around!

After the feeding, playing and rinsing we were served a delicious Thai lunch and the chance to talk to the volunteers. I asked them all kinds of questions about their time here, the elephants, what other industries are like in Thailand and how I can help. I’m considering coming back here for a week later in my trip to volunteer.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary supports a happy and healthy lifestyle for the elephants. Think of it as a retirement community. The elephants are gently guided, respected and loved. I had a wonderful experience here – and the photos were free!

Despite the upbeat and happy environment of the sanctuary, and the playful nature of the elephants, if you look into their eyes closely, you can see that they will never forget the previous pain and anguish they suffered.

How can I help?

Weighing in at multiple tons (around  200 lbs at birth), adult elephants can consume up to 300 lbs of food per day! That’s like one of me plus an average sized adult!

You know what I’m about to say don’t you? Money makes the world go round. Donations will make the highest impact.

I encourage you to donate to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary since I can personally vouch for their intentions. However, there are many other organizations that are just as legit that could use your dollars.

I want to help, but I can’t make a donation!

As someone who always seems to be on a budget, I totally understand! Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways you can help these beautiful and intelligent animals. <3

  • Share this post!!!! Please for the love of God, sharing is caring. You never know who might have a special place for elephants in their heart, or who might be feeling generous for the day.
  • Spread the word about elephant mistreatment. If you know someone who is going to travel to Thailand, mention your newfound knowledge. If you ever hear someone say “I’d love to ride an elephant!” gently try to educate them. Most of the time, they simply do not know much of the information I’ve shared with you today. Hell, I almost rode an elephant myself because I saw pictures of a friend doing it when he visited Vietnam. I admit, it looked fun!
  • Do not ride elephants if you ever have the opportunity. Back home in the states, this goes for the circus, festivals and various carnival attractions. I will try to have an open mind and not judge you if you do it everyone has their own ethics I guess.
  • Volunteer to help animals in your hometown. Elephants aren’t the only ones who need our help!

I know this was a bit of a bitter-sweet post folks. Before you go, I have one last note about animal tourism, specifically tigers because they are still very under represented.

Want to follow me on my travels and learn about being a responsible tourist?

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xoxo <3

Inspiring Stuff, Thailand, Travel

Dear Bangkok,

Today was my first day with you, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I got off the plane, I could immediately feel the heat and humidity. I had heard that it would be hot as balls here, and coming from Chicago, I knew it would be a bit of an adjustment. I wasn’t prepared for drinking two huge bottles of water and still not peeing clear!


After landing, we went through customs, which was a breeze. They didn’t even charge me the $50 for my visa! I picked up my bag in your huuuuuge airport and immediately changed into shorts. Whew, such relief.

Coming from the airport, I took a metered Taxi cab. He had some trouble finding my hostel. We ended up asking two homeless guys in the area and they were incredibly nice and helpful to him and directed us to the proper area. I paid 300 Baht for the ride – so cheap! That’s about $7-9 USD for those of you back home in the states. In Chicago, I’ve never paid less than $30 to a cab driver for an airport run.

new road guest house
new road guest house

Arriving at the hostel, I was struck by it’s beauty. It was back off the road a ways (which is the way you seem to like it) in our own little alcove. I was happy to see that there was a local dog hanging around the area whom I sat and pet for a bit. He was dirty and boney.

My doggie friend
My doggie friend

 

I checked in and was kindly directed to my room on the 3rd floor. Apparently I just like to torture myself with rooms on higher floors.

My room is quaint, simple, and suits my needs perfectly. $18 for 4 nights, is a steal! Well played Bangkok. I immediately crashed from the 15 hours of flying and woke up at 6 am.

Coming back to the lobby, I charged my phone and had breakfast.

Breakfast buffet
Breakfast buffet

Then I went exploring.


My dog friend from the hostel followed me. I liked it – I thought maybe the love I’d given him meant we had a bond. We walked for a few miles and came across a street food vender selling some grilled chicken (it’s all chicken, right Bangkok?) and the dog started crying. Bless his soul he was hungry and wanted me to buy him food.

I didn’t. In fact, I immediately hailed a tuk tuk and zipped off with me crying a little because I felt like a horrible person. In my head I know I can’t save them all – or even one.


That’s a terrible feeling Bangkok. I don’t think it’s you, I think it’s a not-the-united-states thing. I’m going to have to toughen up that side of me.

I had the tuk tuk take me to the skytrain where I boarded to visit Chatachuk market. I met a Swedish lady who doesn’t like Chinese people while waiting for the train. I almost got on the wrong one until a Thai man grabbed me and said “this train doesn’t go to market!”. He had heard me talked to the Swedish lady. He was heading to Chatachuk as well where he owns a shop. We traveled together the whole way and then parted. We did a Wai together and I began my task of exploring the market.


Here I tried to avoid the “pet” section. I did come across it temporarily but had to leave when I saw dogs in cages that were no more than 2 ft hight. The dogs couldn’t even stand. No pictures of this because I want to forget it. I want to forget the caged animals and baby turtles locked alive in necklaces that will one day be their coffins. Bangkok, I heard that the market is sometimes used for selling illegally imported animals and cock fights, I wish I could convenience you there was a better way.


The market was an interesting experience for sure. It really was the biggest thing I’ve ever been to! So far, this is the only part of your city I think my mother would like. I was offered many 1 hour massages for 250 Baht ($8 USD) which I will be doing!


I had fun bartering with a shop owner for a pair of swishy pants I thought would fit me. They do around the waist…just not the thighs. Bangkok, do you have a butt? Apparently you, nor any of your citizens, do!

Oh your citizens. Bangkok, your people are so nice. You should be proud. All of the Thai women smile at me and then men wave respectfully. They are incredibly kind and helpful. I have asked many for directions and they all try to help me. One of them even helped teach me some basic Thai. I’m focusing on thank you – “Kop Khun Kai” and I try to say it often. Your citizens are so surprised and tickled when I say it.


In the US we are told as children to go to police officers if you need help. I got very lost earlier today and with the sun beating down on me, I asked a policeman for directions. He pointed me in the right direction but told me it was a very, very long walk from where we were.

I went to a nearby street and hailed a tuk tuk and showed him on the map where I wanted to go. The policeman saw me talking with the tuk tuk driver and came over and explained to the driver in Thai how to get where I wanted to go.

Bangkok, for having so many tuk tuks and taxis, they are surprisingly confused about navigating the city – Chicago cabbies shame them.

The policeman and the tuk tuk driver talked for a bit, and the policeman give me the thumbs up to get in the tuk tuk. Feeling confident, we zoomed back to the hostel (no, that’s not how I got my name)!

on the skytrain
on the skytrain
on the skytrain
on the skytrain

I learned yesterday that the Skytrain will sometimes stop to make sure it is not above the royal family if the King is traveling on the ground.

info board at the hostel
info board at the hostel

I admire and commend the pride that you take in your King. I have never felt prideful about my president. It’s cool we have an African-American president – that’s a big step for the United States as a whole, but that’s what I’m taking pride in…not Obama himself.

Bangkok, your city is beautiful. While the homes can sometimes look a..uh, bit…dilapidated, everyone seems very happy in them.

I love how much you love pink.

pink cabs
pink cabs

The monks here are also extremely kind. I ran into several while out and about today. I can tell that they are honored wherever they go. I think if I were in trouble, hungry, or homeless I would go to a temple and feel comfortable seeking help from the monks – even though I struggle sometimes asking for help.

After the market and some random exploring, I returned home to the hostel to take a nap. I woke up at midnight which is when I’m writing this post. I’m getting hungry! I’m going to go back to bed for a bit and get ready to take on another day. I’ll be having Durian today (on camera), along with some sushi. I can’t wait! Bangkok, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you smell of delicious food!


Thank you for welcoming me Bangkok, I look forward to getting to know you better.

xoxo <3

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xoxo <3