This is neither a travel story, nor a yogi topic. This is about our choices, about the decisions we make. About being responsible and ethical. There are a lot more to consider than the below, but these are the ones I face really often lately and the ones that I need to speak out loud. So I do it now.
I wrote a whole post about my visit to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and shared my dilemma about the programs with elephants. Since then I keep crossing paths with this topic, as in Laos and Cambodia the situation is even worse. They openly advertise elephant riding everywhere, even I stayed in a hostel in Laos, where all available programs were combined with elephant riding in a way or another. This not being OK did not reach their marketing either. I hope I’m wrong, but as I see it is more accepted here to choose a program including elephant riding, more people do it. Same experience I had in Angkor.
I recommend everyone to read a bit about this topic. Check how unnatural it is and how bad it is for the elephant. Educate yourself on the way they are trained, maltreated, hit and tortured from early age to learn to let us, humans sit on their neck.
As for me, I say a clear and loud NO to elephant riding. If you like elephants, then listen to your heart and don’t ride on them.
Longneck Karen villages
Since I started my travel in this region, I follow many blogs about Southeast Asia, Hungarian and non-Hungarian, I read the programs of travel agencies and travel stories shared on various platforms of social media. Time to time I meet some photos from the villages of Longneck Karen tribes (called Padaung or Kayan as well) as ticking it off on a list of attractions. What’s wrong with it?
Did you know, that the long neck is created by placing brass coils around the neck of the women from the age of 5, until the coils push down the collar bone and deform the rib cage, and the muscles of the neck weaken? If the coils are permanently removed after long years of wearing them (not for the time of cleaning them or for medical examination), it can cause serious health problems as without them the neck is not strong enough to support the weight of the head, in some cases it can lead to death – no wonder that removing the rings used to be the punishment for adultery. Did you know, that this tradition was about to disappear in this tribe fled from Burma to Thailand, but they figured this is interesting for tourists, so they keep the tradition for us?
Many people argue, that it is actually supporting this tribe economically, as they are immigrants without rights in Thailand, without a chance to make a living. Plus – they say – this is part of our cultural diversity, a form of cultural identity and we have to preserve these traditions.
Well… But would you support with your intense interest to sustain the tradition of Chinese lotus feet, the footbinding of women; or would you peak into an African tent when the genital mutilation of little girls is going on? Of course not! Though these are also just curious, foreign traditions from a western viewpoint.
This is another controversial question. I also planned to travel to Myanmar. But a couple of weeks before I left Europe it reached the mainstream media, that something terrible is going on in Myanmar. Genocide. Muslim people are killed with the support of the government and many people seek protection in Bangladesh to save their lives. The information reaching us is a bit controversial. Or not?
I decided not to go and changed my plans. I meet a lot of travelers, who are happily sharing the news, that Burma is the next stop, or just came from there and it is beautiful. When I ask if they are aware of the situation, half of them never heard about it; the other half assures me, that the touristic places are safe. So, let me stop here for a second: I am not concerned about my safety, about my security. I don’t go there, because I think it wouldn’t be ethical. Even if it might be the most beautiful place I could visit in the region. Because I am not willing to support a government with my presence and my money, that is most probably part of this horror. Part of it, as didn’t stop it, don’t stop it.
Most probably – others argue, that we don’t know exactly, sone tell a different story, and what if it was not like the mass media tells… what if the military actions really targeted some terrorist groups?
Let me ask you again something. Would you have your holidays in the Nazi Germany? It only became transparent to the world what exactly happened after the concentration camps were freed up. Up until then the news were controversial, some believed, some did not. So, would you travel there?
These are strong statements. Radical – and though I didn’t write down all the pro & con arguments – well reasoned statements. Maybe even divisive. There’s no need to agree with me, but I do ask one thing: read, get informed and consider the effect of your actions as much as possible. Don’t decide only based on the fact, that something, somewhen, under some conditions made it up to your bucket list. To be a conscious and ethical traveler means much more to me than ticking anything off on any bucket list. Just be well informed and listen to your heart.