No matter how many hours you spend researching and planning a trip, there’s bound to be an unavoidable regret or two. Riding elephants in Ko Phangan was not one of those. I regret doing it, obviously (as the title of this post clearly indicates). But what’s worse, is it was completely avoidable.
This is a travel regret brought on by a lack of research. A mistake you won’t see me eager to repeat anytime soon. After making so many regrettable blunders in Thailand, I switched up my travel game. I borderline over-research now.
Still, unfortunate surprises happen. The elephant “sanctuary” we visited in Bali last November, for example, was not what I was lead to believe. Which resulted in another travel regret involving elephants to add to the list. More on that soon, though.
If I had known in Thailand what I know now about the elephant tourism industry, I would have abstained from this activity altogether.
I know that riding elephants is near the top of many people’s Thailand bucket lists. It was the very top of mine. And our day spent feeding, riding, and goofing around with elephants was one of the highlights of my whole life. Seeing these animals up close and personal was so magical I can’t even explain.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about activities involving elephants. Paying 500 baht (the equivalent of $15 CAD at the time) pretty much guarantees you’re going to a sketchy establishment. Going somewhere that uses bullhooks, or offers rides is sketchy. If they put on a circus-like show where elephants do tricks on command, it’s (you guessed it) sketchy!
Most people who ride elephants aren’t even aware of the horrific training methods. They don’t realize that they are beaten and threatened into submission with bullhooks. I certainly had no idea! I mean, who would want to harm an elephant??
To caution you on the reality of elephant tourism in Thailand, and help you make an informed decision about which companies to consider, and what types of activities to participate in, please check out some of the super helpful and informative articles below.
Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants In Thailand – By Expert Vagabond
Why Elephant Riding Should Be Removed From Your List – By World Nomads
Please Don’t Ride The Elephants – By A Dangerous Business
The Truth About Riding Elephants – By D Travels ‘Round
Looking at my old photos always makes me smile when I remember how kind and playful these giant animals were. I would have taken one home with me in a heartbeat, had it not put me waaaay over my luggage weight limit.
And then I catch a glimpse of the barbaric bullhooks hanging from their ears, on in the hands of one of the owners, and I instantly feel sick.
To be honest, I don’t even think I noticed them at the time. I was so caught up in the excitement that my vision tunneled out the instruments of torture completely.
I regret not doing the proper research beforehand. I regret not going to an elephant sanctuary up in Chiang Mai to interact with these beautiful creatures one on one in a positive and protective environment. I regret being a part of the elephant tourism problem, not the solution.
Please don’t let riding elephants in Ko Phangan (or in other non-legit places in Thailand, really) be a regret of yours too!
**Some of the photos in this post were taken by my good friend, and travel partner, “Pants”