Ethical Travel and the Dark Side of Tourism: Avoid Elephant Rides and Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand

My husband and I recently left Japan and took a one-month trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand before ending up in Singapore before returning to Osaka, then back to the USA. I have so much to digest of our trip! And the amazing effects of my three-year journey to Japan. Visiting this entire region has changed my life, and as I sit to write this in my Orlando home once again, I shall update this blogs with my reflections and passions for this amazing region of the world!

Elephant abuse at Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Elephant abuse at Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Poor thing standing on concrete and chained up! Say no to animal abuse!

One thing I must say immediately is for tourists and the world to understand the plight of the elephant. This amazing creature, shy, social, and gentle, is the national symbol of Thailand, the image of Asia and a many stuffed animal or animated character.

Elephants chained up, standing on hard concrete and saddled to give tourists rides at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand I observed swaying and distressed.

Elephants chained up, standing on hard concrete and saddled to give tourists rides at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand I observed swaying and distressed.

I got up close and personal, however, to the dark side of tourism’s abuse of the elephant when we inadvertently ended up at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand, where elephants are being used to give tourists rides in the booming tourist regions of Thailand.  I believe there are no accidents: these animals brought me there to witness the abuse and horror that humans are inflicting on these amazing creatures and humans alike that need protection.

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Karen Long Neck women exploited and a backdrop with animals for a pool table at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

We had booked a tour with the Mingta Travel Agency while in Chiang Mai to see the White Temple, and we said we didn’t want to go on the Karen Long Neck “option,” for ethical reasons, as these women are refugees and while they need to earn a living, we thought to pass this touristy option. However, we ended up at the camp anyways, as you had to wait in the area as others paid to get in.

As I wandered the park, I witnessed the horror I can’t get out of my mind. Elephants saddled up for rides but chained up and swaying back and forth. I felt this wasn’t normal, and sure enough, other elephants chained up on concrete waiting to be fed a banana by tourists were swaying while not eating. The psychotic look in its eye disturbed me. I took video and photos. The park soon took the elephants away.

Karen Long Neck women exploited as a sideshow along side crocodiles and elephants at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Karen Long Neck women exploited as a sideshow along side crocodiles and elephants at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

What was more horrible was that the Long Neck Women were a show along side elephant and crocodile shows! I thought the women would at least be in their own environment, their own village, such as the Hmong Tribes were, but NO, they were a side show! An Asian woman who didn’t speak English came back shaking her head, she showed me a picture of Italian tourists posing with the young girls who wear brass bracelets around their necks. Refugees from Myanmar, these woman are obviously used for show as well, as this is their tradition, however, since it is displaced and now just for show, the ethical issues make this a horror show, not a cultural expedition.

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Karen Long Neck women statue. Originally from Myanmar, these refugees earn money taking pictures with tourists.

When I returned to our hotel, I notified the manager about the elephant park and rides and asked them to stop recommending them. I asked where to report the park, and she called a sanctuary, who said to contact Reuters news. So I did! And got on Twitter and tagged Reuters as well as wrote bad reviews for the park and tour agency!

Those poor elephants! I read on The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website that swaying is a form of “zoochosis.” PETA writes: A video of two abused elephants, Viola and Kelly, swaying repetitively while on display at the Circus World Museum is being spun as “dancing.” But these elephants aren’t dancing—they’re almost certainly exhibiting symptoms of “zoochosis,” a captivity-induced mental illness.

Elephants such as Viola and Kelly are kept chained almost constantly when they’re not performing for the circus, live in fear of being stabbed with bullhooks, and are denied everything that’s natural and important to them—and many of them eventually develop this neurotic behavior.

Tragic the neurotic swaying of these chained up elephants at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Even more tragic the refugee women of the Karen Long Neck tribe are listened at this park among the crocodile and elephant entertainment! Please do not support elephant entertainment in Thailand. Only go with reputable sanctuaries. These beautiful animals, the national symbol of Thailand, abused and deprived of movement and resort to swaying to relieve their boredom chained up all the time.

Tragic the neurotic swaying of these chained up elephants at the Chang Puak Camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Even more tragic the refugee women of the Karen Long Neck tribe are listened at this park among the crocodile and elephant entertainment! Please do not support elephant entertainment in Thailand. Only go with reputable sanctuaries. These beautiful animals, the national symbol of Thailand, abused and deprived of movement and resort to swaying to relieve their boredom chained up all the time.

Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals who thrive in the company of their extended families. Births are joyous celebrations, and the deaths of loved ones are mourned. Youngsters are nurtured by everyone: Aunts babysit, grandmothers mentor, and siblings roughhouse and play with one another. Elephants experience the same joys and sorrows that we do. Experts note that this repetitive, obsessive behavior is never seen in wild elephants.

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Don’t sell out nature! Avoid abusive tours and patronize only ethical tour agencies and services! Seen at the Airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand

With no joy or comfort and nothing to do, Viola and Kelly, both of whom have suffered for years in the notoriously abusive Carson & Barnes Circus, sway in an effort to cope with their profound deprivation. Dancing is the last thing on their minds.

Traveling on to Siem, Reap, Cambodia,  I read in the Khmer Times that Angkor Wat was ending elephant rides, and moving elephants to the Bos Thom community forest in Siem Reap province’s Sout Nikom district in a bid to stop the animals from being used to ferry tourists around.

To promote the well-being of the animals and allow them to live in their natural environment, the Elephant Management Association, in cooperation with the Apsara Authority, is gradually transporting elephants out of the Angkor area.

“The elephant is a big animal, but it is also gentle and we don’t want to see the animals being used for tourism activities anymore,” said Long Kosal, Apsara Authority spokesman. “We want them to live in their natural surroundings.”

Karen Long Neck women, you can find them near the crocodile show and the toilet. HORRIFIC!

Karen Long Neck women, you can find them near the crocodile show and the toilet. HORRIFIC!

I was grateful that countries like Cambodia were realizing the ethical thing to do: protect our elephants! Researching elephant rides here in Orlando, I found Mia Taylor’s article in Travel Pulse about elephants dying of exhaustion carrying tourists, most recently one in Sri Lanka.

I am grateful to everyone who thinks about ethical tourism and asks tours agencies to avoid promoting elephant rides. Choose elephant sanctuaries and places where there is no riding nor touching and elephants can move freely. Here is an elephant friendly tour list from World Animal Protection for places in Thailand, Cambodia and Nepal.

Please tell everyone to avoid elephant rides, protect elephants, and please sign this petition to ask the Government of Thailand to protect elephants! The Thai government needs to create and enforce laws to protect these suffering animals. Until then, people of good heart and sense need to boycott any facility that so blatantly and cruelly mistreats animals –and any country that turns a blind eye to it, day after day. Let’s shut this cruel park down and liberate the animals and humans alike!

Connect to nature. The nature that is you! And a nature that is free, wild and protected and respected! If you see something, like abuse or animals, children or people, say something! Thank you! The elephants and humanity do too!

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