Chiang Mai, Thailand

(July 19) Prepare yourself for a million pictures of elephants ☺️☺️☺️

So I'll spare you the gross details but after a month of being away and eating everything imaginable I guess it was only a matter of time before I got sick. I was up most of last night, felt super nauseous this morning. I've been telling Eric for the past few days that I just haven't felt completely right so I think it's been building for a bit. Maybe something I ate or something I picked up a few days ago. So this morning we were running really late to go on our elephant trip and he was like are you sure you still want to go?? And of course because I am stubborn and don't want something annoying like my stomach to stop me from seeing elephants I said yes I do. 

So we had an hour and a half bus ride to Elephant Nature Park. I chose this park specifically because I knew they treated elephants really well - it's a sanctuary. What I didn't expect was that we watched a video on the way down of the ways elephants get treated elsewhere. I know most people know the circus is bad for animals, but how bad? The elephants are treated absolutely awfully; chained up in order to break their spirit so they will "perform" and do what the trainers want. 

The thing is, elephants have feelings like people. They feel love, they have close friends, they get jealous and depressed. They have the most amazing social lives with other elephants. They form families, even with elephants they aren't related to. The one picture of the two elephants close together is two girl elephants who are dating!!! They locked trunks and "kissed" and I was too busy being absolutely astonished so I missed the photo opportunity. They literally cry tears and we saw one crying because she was happy that we were feeding her. 

Trainers purposely ruin an elephant's mental health so that they can force them to do things they naturally wouldn't - this includes everything from painting, to playing soccer, to being ridden on. None of those things are healthy for an elephant. Riding elephants isn't illegal in Thailand because so much money is made from it. But it is HORRIBLE for the elephants. I talked to two people before I came who were like "oh you can ride elephants there!" And I said I heard that's bad for them and they shrugged and were like "yeah but you can still do it."

We saw people riding elephants in other parks we passed and not only does it affect the elephants mentally, but it injures them physically too. They aren't built to carry weight on their backs. This is a shitty thing to do; it's not "cool." Don't EVER do it. 

Our guide's name was Noi and I loved her. She told me that the elephants are not given to the park, as I had kind of imagined in my happy ideal world. People from the park use the money we pay to do tours and they go around to circuses and other entertainment companies (there are many in Thailand) and buy the elephants that are injured and need help. Because these companies still force injured elephants to work. 

This elephant Eric and I are standing with, like many of the elephants there, is blind. She's 80 years old!!! Elephants can become blind for a number of reasons. One of them is being forced to walk in the street and having car lights flash in their eyes. Another elephant we were with had a broken leg from a car hitting her (before she came to the park.) Many of them had scars from being beaten. 

Noi explained to us how elephants all love the baby elephants so much that they fight to steal the baby away from the other elephants. So when a baby is young, it's kept in a secluded area with its family until it gets stronger. The baby in the picture is only 3 months old. You can't really see, but there were 3 other elephants with her. The mother, the sister, and the elephant the family had appointed as the nanny. I'm not kidding. This nanny elephant came alone to the park 8 years ago and had no family to belong to. She had/has a lot of mental issues but started to want to care for all the babies. She's been the nanny to a few different baby elephants now. This family accepted her into their family. 

I literally am typing this and still cannot get over the cuteness factor of all of it. 

I will say though that all is not as amazing as it seems at a place like this. We were all on the bus and were waiting outside Noi's house for all of 5 minutes while we picked her up. I'm not sure if that's how it usually works or if she should have been at the office. When she got on the bus she apologized for being late and started to explain about how her baby was sick and her eyes got all teary and I might have been the only one who really noticed because I was sitting up front. I immediately had this gut reaction of wanting to be like, "go back inside and be with your baby. You don't have to give a tour today." But I told her it was okay and that we didn't mind. 

Maybe it was because of my expression that she came up to me later while we were walking and apologized again for being late. I told her that no one even noticed she was late because we didn't know how the tour worked. But she told me that the company will tell her she can't work now for 3, 5, or sometimes even 7 days to punish her for being late. She told me that the company is nice to elephants but it isn't nice to its employees. She's been working there for 8 years, and she wants to stay because it's so close to her home and it would be hard to start somewhere new and she needs the money so her baby can go to school. So she said she closes her eyes to a lot of things. She kept saying things and then telling me to "shh" as we walked by other people from the park. Later on she showed me the picture of her baby boy who was in the hospital last night. He had an oxygen mask on his face. He's been having health issues the past few weeks and she doesn't know what's wrong, and last night it started up again. She also has a 10 year old daughter. She started tearing up again as she told me and I hugged her. 

It was just a bit of a reality check for me to know that even a place that seems so happy, is so kind to animals, still might not really be that great. I imagine this is because of the tourism industry; how much it relies on tourists to survive. And so maybe this leads to worse conditions for the employees, who are Thai. I don't know. Just something else to think about. 

My stomach is still a mess and after reading things online it seems it'll probably stay this way for a few more days. It could definitely be worse - other than running to the bathroom every so often and feeling pretty wiped out and sometimes nauseous I'm really fine. I basically napped from the time we got back until now so I feel a little bad for Eric, although apparently he went out on his own for a bit while I was sleeping (I didn't notice.)

I think that if everything works out, tomorrow will be our last day in Chiang Mai and we'll take an overnight bus somewhere else tomorrow night. Have to figure it out in the morning