Here I am riding a little pickup truck with four men and a little girl to the city of Chiang Mai to get sugar cane to feed elephants and I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy. This is a small car, we are basically sitting on top of each other, but we are all working together for a cause and that makes it absolutely worth it.
I’ve always been a big animal lover. There’s something about how instinctual and innocent animals are that makes me appreciate and respect them. I was the little girl rescuing cats and dogs, bringing them home in hopes my mom would say yes “Can I keep them, please? I’ll find them homes!”
Through the years, I’ve worked with different animal rights campaigns; I’ve traveled to Japan with Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project to document and report during the drive hunt season, been a Hunt Monitor for the first Florida Black Bear Hunt in two decades, volunteered with sea turtle conservancy, and more.
But this particular experience is completely different and incredibly enlightening. I am staying at the Elephant Retirement Park in northern Chiang Mai, Thailand. Elephants are brought here after having lived difficult lives in the circus, logging industry, or riding tours.
Want to interact with elephants and pet them?
Retirement Park, Chiang Mai Thailand
This is where I volunteered! Amazing place where elephants can retire and enjoy mud baths and long walks every day. Tickets are $45 for the day and over night or weeks' long volunteer opportunities are available.
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
This place is famous for its magnificent 70+ elephant heard, without a doubt the biggest elephant sanctuary in Thailand and the most known in the area. Tickets go for $75 a day.
Ringling Brothers Sanctuary, Florida
Coming soon! Ringling Brothers succumbed to public pressure and retired their 200+ elephants from the circus. They were then taken to a sanctuary in Northern Florida where they can finally be free and roam around. The sanctuary now holds the biggest elephant heard in the USA and will open soon for visitors.
Want to see whale sharks and giant manta rays?
Isla Mujeres, Cancun Mexico
No aquarium, no matter how big, will ever compare to seeing and swimming these gentle giants in the wild. Nothing can prepare you for this experience. All for $100 a day with food and equipment included.
Like you need another reason to want to visit the Philippines. This is by far the most affordable option ($20) and you also get to visit all the other wonders the Philippines holds.
Want to see a real orca show?
San Juan Islands, Seattle
Now this is what I call a whale show! For what it will cost you to go to Seaworld you can go to the San Juan Islands and see the resident orca pods in their natural environment. You can even rent kayaks and go on guided tours in the area all for as low as $65.
Feed and pet monkeys?
Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali
This sacred forest is a sanctuary for over 600 Mamake monkeys. It has a temple in the middle and a river making it one of the most beautiful sites in Ubud. You can feed the monkeys and they will even jump on your shoulders and hang out for a while. The ticket is only $2.00 and all profits go to the maintenance of the forest and surrounding areas.
As you can see there are ample opportunities to interact with animals responsibly and ethically, and these are only a few of them. A good tip to avoid visiting places that abuse animals is to always look for red flags and do plenty of research on the places you plan to visit. Avoid places where you can take pictures with wild animals, like Tiger Shows. Any place where the animals seem drugged or trained to perform is more-than-likely a bad place.
As I sit here in this pickup truck thinking about all the different places in the world you can visit and see animals, the concept Conscious Vacation comes to mind. I think it is something we should all try to do. Go on vacation but respect the place, people, fauna and flora that come with it. Give back to the place somehow, whether through donations, volunteer work, or just respect. It helps makes the world a better place and it will definitely make you a happier person.