After our disappointing experience at the Floating Market, we were out of money, and the temperature outside was nearly 40°C (or 104°F for you Imperials). J and I forgot to bring water and snacks, and we still had several hours before we had to catch our train to Chiang Mai. We asked our driver if there was a 7-11 close by for us to get money and other much needed items. and in 5 minutes we were pulling into the parking lot. According to the 7-11 corporate website, there are 8,334 stores in Thailand. It is crazy popular and you can buy just about anything there. Saved our butts a few times.
Once we had our essentials (and our driver knew we had more money), he suggested we go to a show. Conveniently, located nearby, was a place that put on monkey shows, elephant rides, a crocodile show, and even had a firing range. Apparently we were delirious from the heat because J and I agreed that sounded like a great idea. In my head I was picturing a free range animal park where you can feed bananas to monkeys as they climb up your arm and sit on your shoulder. Unfortunately, I was grossly mistaken.
As soon as we paid for our “monkey show” and walked back to the theatre area, we realized the huge error in our ways. We were in a place that the guidebooks did get right…..roadside animal attractions where the animals receive questionable treatment and are forced to perform show after show, day after day.
We were horrified. But, we had already paid our money, and our driver was busy getting his free massage for bringing us here, so we were stuck. I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but as I walked past the small elephant chained to the ground, the look in his eye was unmistakable. That creature was in pure misery and it was heartbreaking. J asked me if I was ok and I don’t think I really answered him.
We walked to the back, chose a spot, and waited for the show to begin. It was really awful. The monkeys were dressed in costumes and had a set routine. There was even a DJ. People were encouraged (for an extra fee of course) to go over and get their pictures taken with the monkeys. At one point, one of the monkeys didn’t want to perform anymore and she was dragged off stage and replaced by another act. I actually have video of the show but I can’t figure out how to upload it, so if I do, I’ll put that up too.
The hardest part was knowing that this was one place of many all over the country and this is part of the culture. This is how these people feed their families. As a Westerner, it was really hard to see this going on, but even though I feel strongly about animal rights, I know that if people like me didn’t pay to see these shows, they would slowly stop existing. There are definitely ways they could improve the treatment and environment of the animals and everyone would be much better off. People wouldn’t want to avoid these places because of their reputations, the Thai families would make more money, and the animals wouldn’t have such a sad existence.
This is also a part of travelling to different countries. We learned early on that what is acceptable in Thailand, is different from what is acceptable in Canada. It’s experiences like these that open s your eyes and allows you to see beyond the bubble that most people live in. Experiencing another culture is the whole point of travel, and you have to take the good with the bad. It’s part of what helps you appreciate your own country when you return home.
There are a few things I would do differently if I could go back and do this trip again. This is definitely one of them. Please do not make the same mistake we did and avoid these places at all costs. If your friendly driver suggests it and really talks it up like you’re going to miss out on something big, just smile and tell him you’re not interested. We wish we had.