Hello from Thailand!
I departed Saudi and headed to Bangkok on August 7th, on a pretty harmless flight from Oman Airlines. The flights were only about 9 hours, with a quick layover in Muscat, Oman. I arrived in Bangkok st about 6 PM and had a super easy time going through customs (free entry for US passports), then grabbed my first pad Thai of the trip in the airport, then found my shuttle to the hotel. My parents arranged a stay for two night right across the road from the airport at Novotel. It was sooo nice, and convenient. In the evening I looked around a bit at the fitness center, pool, and amazing gardens. It felt a lot like Indonesia with the lush gardens and calm fountains and pools everywhere. I love the vibes in these countries it is very relaxing. I was able to go to sleep by 8:00ish. The next morning I woke up super early to get picked up by a driver who was taking me three hours out of Bangkok to an elephant sanctuary. I would have otherwise done this in Chiangmai but my trip was limited on time so my parents will go there without me so I can return to Kaust and work on my research before I head to my conference in Australia.
There was a small issue with my driver finding me in the morning but with a few quick phone call it was all solved. The ride went through Bangkok and then South towards Cha-Am. It was super scenic along the way so I opted to stay awake. I arrived around 10:30ish and the tour was just getting started. The morning portion of the tour started off learning about the abuse that goes on with elephant in Thailand and much of Asia. Most elephants are used for “trekking” meaning carrying people and/or tourists. But elephants are huge undomesticated animals, and must go through a process of abuse in order to be used by humans. Many are caught in the wild, and when they are young they are tied down so they can’t move, and then are tortured with hooks and sharp sticks. The purpose of this is to break their spirit. Elephants are an extremely intelligent species, so you can imagine how much damage this will do to them for the rest of their life. Then, every time this animals “misbehaves”, they will be starved, beaten, or tied to a tree without any entertainment or interaction. Other animals are used as “begging animals” and taken around on the roads or painted in bright colors, for the owner to use and beg for money when people take photos. Elephants used for trekking carry around people on a platform on their back. Their anatomy does not allow for this heavy weight on their back, and you can see that many of their spines are extremely messed up from this experience. Some of the more “lazy” elephant trekking places never take the platform off, so their spines have to endure this heavy pressure 24 hours a day. Their spine will curve inward where there is supposed to be a jump, which messes their whole spinal column up. Many elephants develop lifelong issues and arthritis from the weight they carry. So if you go to Thailand or any Asian country, make sure you never ride and elephant and only go to sanctuaries that promise never to give rides. Many sanctuaries out there care for elephants but also allow tourists to ride them, which totally defeats the purpose.
Anyways, after meeting the first elephant, my heart melted at how beautiful and kind she was. Her spine was indented from years of trekking, and her ears were ripped from the hooks that trainers use to make the elephants behave. I just don’t understand how humans can be so cruel to other living animals.
The rest of the morning was spent on a tour of the rest of the wildlife sanctuary. They have over 500 animals, ranging from sloth bears, to gibbon monkeys, to crocodiles and peacocks. Apparently in Thailand, owning animals is a status symbol, so it’s common for people to buy monkeys and other critters as pets. But when they grow older and act out, people can’t handle the animals and bring them to temples and dump them there for the monks to take care of. Monks will try their best but eventually seek out sanctuaries to aid them. This is how Wildlife Friends Foundation gets most of their animals.
At noon we had a wonderful buffet breakfast With some delicious vegan options. The lunch place was right next to some elephant enclosures which was pretty cool. Then the rest of the afternoon was dedicated to elephants. I was able To feed some, which i has a blast with. We have them pineapple and watermelon. Next we helped bathe them, by rinsing them off and scrubbing them down. They had so many elephants, from elderly ones to babies. One of the highlights was seeing them swim to cool down, they just looked so happy and full of life. These elephants are living their best lives, despite a history of abuse. If they don’t want to go somewhere or do something, they aren’t forced. If they appear scared of humans they are put in a huge field away from where people go. And if they crave attention from humans they’re allowed to be visited by the tourists who visit daily.
At around 3:30 I hopped in my taxi and headed back to Bangkok. There was quite a bit of traffic once we got near the city, so I asked my driver to drop me off about 30 minutes before my hotel so I could explore downtown Bangkok in the evening. I didn’t have much time and wanted to see some highlights, so he dropped me off right at the grand palace. Unfortunately I couldn’t go inside because it was closed after five, but I walked around and eventually came across a water taxi along the river. I hopped in and paid like 12 cents to cross the river to a beautiful temple that was lit up. I was able to walk around and take photos and enjoy the view of the city. This temple is called Wat Arun (temple of dawn) which is right across the river from the famous reclining Buddha temple. For the rest of the evening I walked around and shopped, saw some smaller temples and statues, and grabbed a delicious dinner of vegetable spring rolls and tofu pad Thai. To get back to my hotel I took a motorbike to the subway station, and the subway brought me all the way to my hotel. It was super easy, cheap, and convenient.