The thing we love most about traveling in a foreign place is the hours stretch out, time seems to slow down, stress fades away, and you feel like a kid again experiencing new things every day. You seem to remember every moment, smell, and taste. You pay attention to more and your soul is awakened!
Our most recent travels took us to Phuket, Thailand. This is the perfect destination to soak in the crystal blue water, burn your tongue on authentic street food, drink Chang beers while songs from the 90’s blare in the background, watch elephants roam free at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, get slobbery kisses from rescue dogs at Soi Dog Foundation, and dance your heart away in the back of a crowded club while the sun comes up.
While Phuket is a relaxing paradise, it is also host to many tourist traps. The walls and back seats of tourist agencies and taxis are plastered with photos of people cuddling sedated tigers and riding on elephants. Travelers visit these places, which claim to be ethical, though their practices are far from. Thankfully, with the help of the internet and social media more people are becoming educated about the proper treatment of animals and ethical tourism.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
We had the pleasure of spending the day at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, which is the first ethical sanctuary in Phuket. These rescued elephants roam on their own agenda, enjoy their newfound freedom, socialize with each other, and bathe freely in fresh water. Visitors are encouraged to observe from a distance and at the end of the tour we were given the opportunity to feed these gentle giants.
The cruel practice of conditioning the elephants who perform goes largely unseen by tourists. This brutal process is known as ‘crushing the spirit’. The elephants are kept in a tiny pen to prevent movement, with their legs tied tightly. They can be severely beaten with sharp objects, screamed at, and starved of food and water. Although many elephants spend their entire lives in captivity, an increasing number are being cared for by organizations that allow them to live in natural, big, open spaces with other elephants and with proper food and veterinary care. Ethical tourism is the only way forward for these captive creatures.
How do you know you are visiting an ethical sanctuary for elephants? Here are some tips!
1. A real sanctuary will limit contact with the elephants, with visitors observing them from a distance the majority of the time.
2. Avoid anywhere offering riding or allowing bathing sessions with elephants. It’s not natural for an elephant to be in the water all day with lots of people climbing all over them.
3. Looking on review sites and images online before visiting elephant camps.
4. Avoid any places that are using bull-hooks or chains, or lacking basic provisions
of water, food and shade.
5. Avoid any place that has elephants performing tricks.
Watching elephants getting to be elephants was an incredible moment that we will cherish forever.
Soi Dog Foundation
Another common sight in Thailand are the many dogs and cats roaming the streets. We have always been passionate about dogs and cats, helping any way we can, and treating them with love and affection. Unfortunately, many people do not share these sentiments, which leads to neglect, abuse, and torture by the hands of humans.
Thankfully, organizations like the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, Thailand exist.
Soi Dog welcomes volunteers from all over the world as they play a hugely important role in the socialization of the animals in their care, in preparation of them becoming adoptable. They offer different volunteer programs which is worth checking out! We learned all about the facility, the dog meat trade, and of course got smothered in puppy kisses and kitty cuddles.
The foundation works to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Asia. Not only do they campaign for animal welfare by working with the Asia Canine Protection Alliance, but they are actively fighting the Asian dog meat trade. The images of these suffering dogs were heartbreaking, but it gave us peace of mind knowing places like Soi Dog foundation are fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves and promoting ethical tourism.
We all have different customs, beliefs, and religions, but we all bleed red. It is the cruelty, torture, and the unnecessary pain inflicted on any animal that needs to stop because all lives matter. Animals are sentient beings able to experience emotions such as fear, pain, joy, and contentment. There are documented stories of animals doing things that we find extraordinary, but it just comes naturally to them. Elephants guarding people who need help, humpback whales protecting seals from killer whales, and dogs knowing when their human companions are sad. Empathy is an emotion we share with animals, and we all need to do our part in making an effort to treat all living things with kindness. We can easily do this by making sure that we participate in ethical tourism.
Compassion can guide us to acts of kindness, and who doesn’t want to live in a kind world?