Elephant Riding, The Conscious Way

Before my trip to Southeast Asia, like many others, I knew I wanted to sit atop a glorious giant in all its exotic splendor.  However, I knew the reality of this popular tourism activity is widely rooted in some serious animal cruelty.  If I was going to do it, it could only be in a right and beneficial way.  Thankfully, I found Elephant Village in Luang Prabang, Laos. I was able to learn, care for, ride, and feel good about my experience and sharing it with others.

I did my research.  Elephant Village was by far the most expensive elephant riding organization I had seen, but for good reason.  These animals had been rescued from logging work and cared for in one of very few places that provided an elephant hospital and an on site elephant vet.  These creatures were only available to the public until around noon, bathed, then lead into the jungle within the perimiter of the sanctuary which was very vast. They all had days off and because the cost of spending the day with them was so high, it ensured a stress free environment with fewer people.  The day I went, there were only two other women in my group and we enjoyed a peaceful and personal day with the elephants.

The cost was  almost $100.  That was by far the most expensive part of my entire trip, and some serious $$ for Southeast Asia.  Although I was on a backpacker’s budget, this was the only big splurge I allowed myself.  This money went into feeding and maintaining the elephants as well as educating locals about the impact of slash and burn and teaching them other skills and alternatives on how to earn a living.  Elephant Village even denied the leasing of the land to the government to establish a tourism project!  How cool is that?!  I saw how dedicated they were to the land, community, and elephants, which meant a lot in deciding where I put my dollars. 

All in all, it was a memorable experience. I wouldn’t say to anybody, ‘Don’t ride elephants!’  The important point is to find an organization that cares and is not perpetuating animal cruelty.  There were many places that were ‘no ride’ which I think is great, but I had the opportunity to ride with a clear conscious and know that I was contributing to something positive.  It’s not so much what you do, but how you do it!

Koh Rong Gone Wrong

Talk about paradise lost.  Being here and witnessing all the building, consuming, and trash strewn beaches has been eye opening.  This has been the first time I really, really felt bad for being a tourist.

Last night I climbed to Sky Bar with a friend I made in Siem Reap.  We had to escape the main beach strip where sewage wafts through the air almost everywhere.  It’s a hike to get there, but worth it.  Clean and relaxed, they take the plastic off your water bottle before handing it to you and serve you glass mugs instead of plastic.  These little things make a difference!

As we listened to what my friend said was ‘solid house,’ I couldn’t bring myself to move.

“I’m depressed.”  I let this paradise gone wrong ruin my night.

We talked to the bartender about beach cleanup and what conservation measures were being taken.  Apparently there’s a beach cleanup once a week, but it all just builds up again.  I couldn’t believe all the beach trash was an accumulation of just 1 week!

“The problem is education.” Said Camille, the bartender at Sky Bar.

Yes, we agreed.  We learned as children the importance of recycling.  Captain Planet anyone?  Beyond this however,  most businesses use styrofoam platters, plastic cups and utensils.

I just wanted to yell, ‘Did everyone forget we’re on a f****** beach?!’

I’m calling out all the hippies that come here, all the travelers looking for beauty, the people trying to get away from it all, and all the educated people that come here to start a business- THIS IS NOT OK.

I genuinely hope this blog post, out of all of them, gets read.  It’s not because I hate this place, it’s because I love it.  I love the beautiful children here, and the well fed dogs.  I love the clear blue water and the ferry boats docked on the pier.  It’s a colorful island.

I know I will never come back to Koh Rong unless I intend to make a serious effort to save it.  I hope the same for those that have felt similarly about this paradise.