It’s often said that one of the side effects of traveling is the fact that you get to see other cultures and understand how they live, maybe appreciate a little bit more what you take for granted or see a world very different from your own. My story will be about the effects that I’ve seen on the beautiful destinations affected by heavy tourism and what I try to do to make a difference.
Probably the trip that opened my eyes, also the first (and only) exotic one was to Thailand. Flying across the globe to a country that I’ve only seen in pictures and also DIY, was a bit scary, but it was also the best way to see things below the surface.
As a kid, I’ve always loved animals, were part of my everyday life, from pets (3 fishes, 1 hamster, 3 cats, 3 dogs) to my hobby of horseback riding, I respected and loved every each and one of them, cannot imagine my life without them. Therefore, I was extremely happy that I would get to pet a tiger and even play with it. I have seen photos on Instagram and Facebook and I thought WOW! I am really going to have this amazing experience. Yet, when I started looking into the Tiger sanctuary stories and I’ve seen what really happens to those animals in order to tame them, I started crying. It is beyond anything that I have ever imagined, the cubs are taken from the moms very early, they are beaten and drugged in order for them to be unable to hurt the “public”. Even more, once the cubs are no longer cute and small, they are killed and their skin is sold for people to use it as rugs. Perhaps it is disturbing for everyone to read this, but it is the truth.
What is even worst, is that it all made sense when I got to think about it, the fact that tigers are actually hunting and killing people makes it clear that they are not pets, there is no chance in hell this can be natural. So, there is no such thing as the real sanctuaries, just a tourist trap where people give money to torture the poor animals. Clearly, I didn’t go to any of those temples, yet I saw that it was among the most desired trips and that even people who I know would not agree to what is happening behind the curtains are paying for it.
Since we are also on the topic, another popular trip is the one to the elephant sanctuary. I will not discuss the trekking since that is just cruel and can be seen right away, the cages are causing severe wounds and bleeding and the stick used to “make” the elephants walk is more like a hammer that is hurting the animal. Anyone who would go on trekking should be fined with 100k $ just because of their ignorance and stupidity. If you did that and I offend you, GOOD! You deserve it!
Getting back to the sanctuaries where you can wash elephants, the story is a toughing one, all the animals were saved or inherited and now they are just pampering them (blah blah blah). Well, let’s get back to what I’ve said in the first part, is it natural for humans to go into the wild and wash elephants? If not, then you can imagine that animal has little to no interest in having a bunch of people around them, touching, petting and washing them. Another thing that needs to be keep in mind, is that the same story as with the tigers is present with the elephants, even if the Asian one is not as aggressive as the African one, it’s still a huge animal that can easily kill a human, therefore most of them are once again tamed and drugged.
The fact that those two trips are the most requested by tourists created a big industry that is feed with the pain of the animals. If the authorities are ignorant of the issue or they just like the cash that is coming from them it’s uncertain, the sure thing is that as long as the request is out there, the offer will be also present, so what I’ve learned is that every time I found myself attracted to any experience that envolves animals I do my homework.
Even if this was not part of my trip to Thai, it was another experience that I wanted badly, swim with the dolphins. Again with a little bit of research, the sad truth will emerge and that is the fact that dolphins are captured from the wild and trained to play nice with people, pose and so on. Luckily, this type of experience can be had in the wild, this year I had the pleasure to swim with a wild dolphin that came out to play, I was not able to touch it, yet it was amazing to see it up close.
The golden rule when it comes to experiences that involve animals is to ask ourselves if this is natural for them, if it can be harmful or if it deprives the animal of its freedom. If the answer is no, then it’s ok, if you have any doubts look it up and try to avoid feeding those despicable industries.
Leaving the animals aside, another thing that shocked me was the amount of plastic that is thrown in the water, forest or streets by heavy tourism. If you think that you are not the cause of the issues, have a look at the amount of plastic that you use. When I was there I got a plastic bag for EVERYTHING, if I bought a dring, they will give me a bag for it, a banana would also get a bag, if you had multiple items from the supermarket then you would get more and more. Everything was single-use, and they were always giving them to you even when you told them that you didn’t want them. If I were to be honest, even if we gave our best, after the 14 days we spend there, there was a pile of plastic that we created, even if we put it in the trash, most likely it ended up in the forest or water.
I live in Romania and we can see signs of plastic thrown in the forest, water and so on also, but its nothing compared to what I’ve seen in Thailand. Probably the only place where I’ve seen worst is in the Sahara desert, where mountains of trash can be spotted everywhere, yet to see that much plastic in the forest, where everything is part of an ecosystem hurts. After my trip there I made it my religion to make sure I use as less plastic as possible, reuse what I have and avoid single-use items. If I am successful every single time? No, but I do try. Also, ever since I retured I also tried to post my experience on travel groups so that more and more people are aware of the impact they are having on our planet, related to animals or the waste that they are creating.
Making a difference is possible only by using your own example. Awareness can help other travelers avoid traps and misleading information, so I try to use my own story to show people what we are doing only by being ignorant. The experiences that I had in Thailand were amazing and the fact that I managed to avoid those places is just a first step, I highly encourage everyone to visit this amazing place (plane tickets can be searched through Momondo) and make a difference.
This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo