Elephant Rides in Thailand Are Bad… For Real

Elephant Rides in Thailand Are Bad… For Real

I must preface this post by admitting that, yes, I have been on elephant rides. At the time I was utterly convinced it was fine and that the elephant was more than happy to carry me. That was a year ago and I was definitely wrong.

My experience with elephant rides

I happened to be in Thailand in March 2012 and one of the things I had planned was, of course, to ride an elephant. I’d been romanced by the idea such that I believed these beautiful creatures would actually enjoy the experience with me. “I’m having a blast, Joe!” The elephant would say, and I’d reply “Indeed… Onward!”

My brain was clearly malfunctioning, but I know that other people convince themselves in much the same way.

To cut a medium-length story to blog post size, I arrived where the elephants were kept, climbed aboard and off we went. It was all downhill from there (metaphorically speaking).

There was a small, irritable Thai man sat on the elephant’s head and he had a wooden stick which at one end had a metal spike and hook – I’m no Freud, but it’s my understanding that rage and sharp objects tend not to mix positively. The man prodded and poked the poor, grey beast as it moved reluctantly through the jungle, and I imagined that the elephant was filled with resentment.

It was clear from its groans that the animal did not want to cooperate, but was forced into doing so knowing that, should it refuse, it would receive a painful blow to the forehead from the spiked tool.

I wanted to get off.

This was not at all the way I’d imagined it, but then these things rarely are. I hated every second of it, but then realised that however much I disliked the experience, my suffering paled in comparison to the suffering of the elephant.

Let me next explain how to catch an elephant.

First you must break the elephant’s spirit using a centuries old method known as ‘Phajaan’. Information varies from source to source as to the exact process, but we know that when an elephant is around 4 years of age it’s forcibly removed from its mother (forever breaking their natural bond), caged and then immobilised with ropes and chains. The ‘trainers’ proceed beat the schnitzel out of the elephant with heavy, sharp things till it becomes forever submissive to human beings. I’m told that the most effective area to attack is the inner ears and eyes, as they’re the most painful.

Here’s a shocking ‘PETA-esque’ video of Phajaan in action – Bear in mind that, as far as we know, every domesticated elephant in Thailand has experienced this

After a few weeks of torture you have a tame elephant that you can ‘use’ for… well, whatever you want really.

The elephants are either kept, or sold off to new owners who use them to make money through offering rides and putting on shows – they can even be trained to paint pictures, which I find terrifying.

To me this process is heartless – intentional or not.

I understand that one shouldn’t judge the people that participate in this process, as I’ve no idea what their motivations are or what sort of strange path led them to this sort of life, but ultimately there needs to be local and accessible education that animals aren’t for people.

As a ‘higher’ species we should take it upon ourselves to discuss this sort of thing – in many parts of the developed world we already know better, plus it’s really shitty karma. Even Lonely Planet haven’t got the message yet.

Am I a hypocrite for eating farmed meats? Probably. Am I a hypocrite for having a pet dog? Probably. But I believe that taking small steps is better than taking no steps, provided that they’re steps in the right direction.

So, what I’m saying is: elephant rides in Thailand are bad… for reals.


…And now, a funny cat: