Should Elephant Rides be Part of Your Time in Thailand?
Most elephants that are used for elephant rides on treks in Thailand are malnourished, overworked, and straining under the weight of carrying a bench with people on it multiple times a day. They are usually beaten and tortured into submission in order to make it possible for people to ride them. Remember that scene from “Water for Elephants” involving the angry circus master and a bullhook? It’s like that. Since most visitors are unaware of this, such as I was, they excitedly look forward to riding an elephant. It’s just one of those things most everyone does when visiting Thailand.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Elephants are incredibly interactive and smart. There are several reputable elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that treat elephants with love and care for them, many of whom are rescues. Though the majority of these places do not let you ride the elephant (and the ones that do keep the numbers very small and limited and it must be done bareback without a bench), you’ll probably find that interacting with an elephant in conditions that foster their growth and happiness is going to be much more memorable.
Diana Edelmann of D Travels Round detailed how fulfilling and inspiring simply being around elephants and watching them play can be in her blog post, Up-Close with Elephants: a Photo Essay of Life with a Herd.
In the first blog post I wrote about elephants in Thailand, I was ecstatic about an experience I didn’t know was wrong and riding the elephant was amazing for me. But there’s a good chance it wasn’t for the elephant – besides the dozen bananas I gave him – and though I can’t change my past actions, I can help educate people about the right way to interact with an elephant. And one day, hopefully, I can get back to Thailand as a volunteer for one of those sanctuaries and help in that way.