Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’


Should humans ride elephants?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Northern Thailand is awash with posters of elephants and happy smiling tourists sitting on top. Some ride bare back covered in mud, others are perched on comfy seats with umbrellas to shade them from the sun’s rays. Some of the cities have small or young elephants wandering the streets with their owner or handler (mahout), for a small fee you can feed the elephant and take a great picture for the photo album.

Elephant at Hua Hin Market

Elephant at Hua Hin Market

Recently in Thailand however, there has been quite a lot of media attention given to elephants, especially those that are worked in the cities. It is now illegal to bring an elephant into Bangkok, and in the smaller cities the practices is strongly discouraged or also outlawed.

chiang mai elephant poster

chiang mai elephant poster

The elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai, elephant nature park, takes or buys old or unwanted elephants so they can rehabilitate them. They believe that most of the uses of elephants are either unnatural or cruel.

Whilst I agree that animals should be treated well and have good living conditions I was intrigued by some of their ideas. Not using elephants for logging or trekking? We ride horses and have used animals for centuries to aid humans in all manner of activities from transport and heavy lifting to communication.

Mahout and elephant crossing the road

Mahout and elephant crossing the road

My feelings were if the elephant was being treated well and had good living conditions it was not so bad. But how do you know if they are being treated well and who decides what is right and wrong? We all have our own ideas of what is good or bad, depending on our own feelings, most of which has been derived from our experiences of life, our culture and religion. Some of us eat pork/beef, some of us don’t, some of us eat meat and some don’t. Other believe animals testing is wrong others disagree. Are the needs of humans, whether it be medical, sustenance or pleasure higher than that of animals and if so do all animals count? This is not a black and white situation, remember depending on who you speak to and where they are in the world, you will get different answers.

elephant rides

elephant rides

The opportunity arose for me to go on an elephant ride. As we approached, two giant, foreboding yet majestic elephants towered above me. I longed to be able to experience something new and exciting. I asked some questions about the elephants welfare and got some answers, but really due to the language barrier I was still not sure or convinced this was a good idea for me or the elephant.

I decided to ponder my quandary over some noodle soup. I was of the opinion that elephant riding was OK so long as the elephants lives were OK. Not being on speaking terms with the elephants I was really never going to be sure, but I decided I would go for it. At least I could then comment from experience.

We returned back to the elephants, despite having made up my mind I had yet to convince myself completely. So I observed for a little longer while my brain was working over time trying to process all the spiralling thoughts . As I did this I observed one of the mahouts practising his Bruce Lee kung fu kicks to the elephant’s penis, while the other guy was hitting the elephant in the head with a hammer, which drew blood, in order to get it to do what he wanted. This was too much for me We use crops on horses and this apparently does not hurt too much, but the claw end of a hammer and blood?

My thoughts were running in spirals again. If it took this much to control an elephant, maybe it is not meant to be. An elephant could kill a human, as a human could kill an ant. Surely if it takes this much, it is not worth it, elephants are just too big to control in a ‘humane’ way. So we should let them be. Stick to horses, I am comfortable with that.

Since this experience I have been looking more closely at the elephant posters. Some claiming their elephants have a good life, they only work four hours a day. Others have pictures of people sitting bare back on the shoulders of the elephant, hammers in hand.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on elephants and what is right and wrong. Maybe they have limited feeling in the head, but until I know more and perhaps have the time and money to see living conditions in more detail I am leaving the elephants for now. I am still intrigued but I don’t want my curiosity to be at the detriment of another animal.

Have you ridden an elephant if so where, how was it. Do you train, work or have experience working with elephants? What are your thoughts?

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Bangkok buses

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Riding buses in Bangkok is a bit like a ride at Alton Towers without actually going upside down. We tried out the No 47 , No 52 and No 15…

Cheap, spacious, clean, with built in air-con (windows) and they go as fast as they can at any and every opportunity!

A great way to see, hear and smell the city!

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New Thailand articles

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Check out the 4 articles we’ve just published about Railay in Thailand, there’s rock climbing, secret lagoons and sandy beaches…

http://www.bikeabout.co.uk/countries/thailand/railay_thailand.shtml

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Thailand – first few days cycling…

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

We have been nearly a week cycling in Thailand now and we are slowly getting back into the rhythm of things, having spent a month sailing from Penang in Malaysia to Railay, Krabi Thailand. Our legs and bums are remembering what life should be like and we are learning a new language too. We have climbed more hills in the past few days than in the whole of Malaysia, and Thai culture is beginning to become familiar.

To leave Railay beach we had to take a long tail boat as the peninsular is cut off from the main land by big mountains. It was a noisy and exciting ride in a boat that you know is designed to roll about but at any moment you think it will tip over when the next wave hits. We made it to dry land and my visions of the big red bags and bike sinking to the bottom of the sea disappeared.

Arriving at the small port in Krabi we fixed our punctures that we both had for some reason and loaded up the bikes. Our audience of locals smiled at us intrigued by what I presume were thoughts of what is all this stuff they are carrying. We managed to communicate that we were travelling to Chiang Mai, smiles broadened and we were told it was a long way. Some other tourists passed by and recommended a hotel up the road. We checked in showered and changed and hit the food market to sample the culinary delights of offer. The market was a great experience with some passionate chefs, exciting and delicious foods. The next day we stocked up on food and got some odd jobs done and generally wandered about.

Our first day from Krabi was a sensory overload, new trees, giant rock formations, different faces and expressions and smooth roads.

We slowly made our way north and stopped at the only place we found that said ‘inn’ in English. We realised that we had no idea what the Thai is for home stay or hotel as the Thai language has a different alphabet to English. We managed to get the message across that we wanted somewhere to stay for the night and we got set up in our clean and comfortable room.

The next day we set off from Ban Klang only with going North in mind. We left the main road and slowly climbed up our first hill in what seemed like ages, Ubud in Bali perhaps.

At the top there was a small temple and plenty of cars beeping. We later discovered (from what we can gather) that rather than being temples these sites are in memory of the people that have died here, accident hot spots. The beeps from the cars were the people saying hello to the spirits of the dead, and to prevent further accidents.

We freewheeled down passing more impressive outcrops of rock covered in trees. The landscape here is so green and lush and there seems to be varied species of trees compared to some of the monotony of Australian gum trees or Malaysians palm plantations. At the bottom of the hill we stopped at a small shop to by provisions, not knowing how populated the road ahead was, we wanted to be prepared. We asked if there was any accommodation nearby and were told that there was a resort about 2km away.

With our hand drawn map we set of in search of the resort, not knowing what to expect. We had turned down the offer of an escort from the shop owner, who said that it would be difficult to find. It is sometimes easier to make your own way and stop when you want to, as we found out later it would have been good to get the escort. After 2km no sign of the resort, we kept asking people and they kept saying a little further. After the third conversation we were escorted by a guy on a motorbike to the, I ♥Idin resort. It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland, arriving in the dark to a manicured resort with fairy lights in the trees, a stark contrast from the small houses and trees we had passed on the way. We felt like we were imposing, this was not a tourist resort and we were the only tourists there. But we were made welcome and shown to an institue tent that would be our home for the night. Tired we washed showered and eat before heading to sleep.


The morning sun encouraged us from our sleepy state; we took advantage of the shower again, packed and left. We had not felt right staying there somehow and were keen to move on. We cycled the 7km back to the main road for breakfast. Chicken rice and egg made us feel better, as we cycled north again our thoughts turned to our experiences of the past few days.

The bike is a wonderful place to think and you can lose hours pondering the simplest things or the meaning of life. I decided that we had had some negative experiences and were dwelling on them. Many of the Thai people we had met were reserved and somber. We were worrying if we were welcome here or if we were offending people in some unknown way. We were concentrating on these experiences rather than the smiles and help we had received. Were we reflecting this energy back onto the people we met? We decided to go in fresh and confident, smiley and happy try and speak Thai, if we get it wrong smile more and try again. We arrived at another resort and although we were hot and bothered we made the effort. We were rewarded with warm smiles and managed to convey our desire to camp in our tent. We enjoyed the evening and the thunderstorm that cooled us down immensely.

We woke a little late, the camping area was next to the restaurant area and the karaoke had kept us awake till 4am. Despite our frustration we had to remember that it was only a few people that had kept us awake and they probably had no idea that we were so close and wanted to get up early. As we left the staff were arriving, they greeted us and bade us farewell with more smiles and we set off again ready for our next experience.

We had planned to explore one of the National Parks, the guide book gave the place a good review and we were excited about tree house accommodation. Unfortunately we missed the desired turning but had arrived at junction where a side road and a different national park was 5km away. Stopping at the junction we checked the guide book, there was no mention of this place in the guide book and all we had was the sign that said waterfall and national park. Should we head north or turn right and see what happens. A few minutes later having turned right we were heading into the unknown, excited for what awaited us. Thoughts of wilderness and steep climbs into the cool mountains crossed my mind and I envisaged camping next to a river with my feet dipped into the cool water. 5km later the road ended we had arrived at the National Park.

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