… And Elephant Rides

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I am faced with the decision of whether or not to ride Elephants in Thailand. 


July 5, 2015

My biggest dilema when coming to Thailand was the inward debate that I had with myself on whether or not I should ride an elephant.

When it comes to traveling in Thailand, elephant riding is one of the first things that pops into peoples’ heads. One of the most common questions that I got pre-trip was, “are you going to ride an elephant?”

The question is much heavier than it seems, though. There is no 100% cruelty free way of riding an elephant. Just the additional weight of a human on an elephant’s back puts a lot of strain on the animal’s spine and legs. And that’s without the addition of a palaquin. There are also varying methods of torture that go in to training an elephant to give humans rides. I’d be contributing to a tourism facet that potentially is hurting an endangered species.

On the other hand (or paw, or hoof, or whatever the heck elephant feet are called), elephant riding is a fundamental aspect of Thai culture that goes back centuries. Also, you’re riding a freaking elephant. How cool is that? Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. Rides were also only 150baht (around 5 US dollars). Besides, I had already booked a day with Elephant Nature Park, so I would be contributing ~$200 to the positive cause. 

For me, the idea of missing out on such an awe-inspiring experience was unthinkable. For the majority of my trip, as well as the time leading up to the trip, I was pretty sure that I would give in to my own desires and ride on one of these beauties.

The biggest reason for this was that I was terrified of living the remainder of my life with a soul-crushing regret.

I was living in Thailand with one sole purpose: experience everything.

To not experience an elephant ride would be to deny the self that I was becoming while abroad.

The day soon came where we had the opportunity to ride elephants.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to ride on a majestic and beautiful creature, to experience the excitement and the wonder of something so exotic and rare.

We had arrived at the elephant spot. The sun beat down hard, and I was feeling nauseaus from the heat and my lack of sleep. We could see elephants lining up at a wooden deck, holding passengers two at a time. Seeing the elephants up close for the first time made my heart beat fast.

Our professors began to collect money from us, and had an ongoing list of who wanted out.

Suddenly, with less than a minute to spare before the lists were finalized, I made the split-second decision not to ride. I still couldn’t tell you what thoughts went through my head that made me change my mind.

As my classmates paired up to ride, myself and a few others went to the stables, wondering how close we could get before being told that we had to pay.

Nobody stopped us. We were allowed to interact with the elephants as much as we liked. Three elephants were chained up under a large shade structure. One of my professors asked some of the workers about the elephants, and discovered that the largest female’s name was Brad.

We stepped up to her, and she reached her trunk out to us, hoping that we had bought some of the 60¢ bananas to feed her. She was very calm and very friendly, despite being chained.

Brad, the lovely Elephant

Brad, the lovely Elephant

I immediately started to tear up, and soon was full-on sobbing. Just being in her presence was very overwhelming. A single tear rolled down from her left eye, and although it was probably because of irritation from bugs, the tiny detail made me cry harder. She wiped her nose on my arm, dampening it with elephant snot. She was absolutely beautiful.

Interacting with the elephants instead of riding

Interacting with the elephants instead of riding

I wasn’t really sure what triggered me to cry other than her presence. It wasn’t that I was sad for her chains and injuries, although that was definitely part of it. Just knowing that this creature contained unfathomable intelligence and empathy made me overwhelmed with emotion.

A lot of people rode the elephants, and it looked like an absolutely amazing time, and I hope that they keep the memories with them forever.

But me?

I have no regrets.

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