Reading week, a week for students to take time off their busy schedules from classes and revise for any upcoming midterms or tests. However, when it comes to any fortunate university students like myself who do not have a single midterm in sight, we take full advantage of this week off.
In my situation, I opted to catch a plane with some friends to head down to South-east Asia for a trip involving many touristy shenanigans, and to catch a Future Music Festival Asia, in Kuala Lumpur. However, our first stop was Phuket, Thailand.
As students, we generally opt for the cheapest option when it comes to travelling, and this includes flying low cost carriers and dealing with dreadful flight times. In this situation, our flight from Hong Kong to Phuket was at 11:35 PM, resulting in an extremely late (or early) arrival time in Thailand.
In addition to the awkward timing of our arrival, Phuket's airport was not exactly the most efficient in its immigration process. My friends and I queued for nearly two hours to get past the immigration counters and by the time we got to our hotel, it was already 5 AM. What does one do at this ungodly hour? Roam, obviously.
Who needs sleep?
A brisk walk away from our hotel was Bangla Road. Patong Beach is predominantly known for its vibrant nightlife, with its streets lined with bars, nightclubs, and adult shows. By 5 AM, most of the nightlife has already subsided, asides from the odd leftover inebriated tourists trying to find their way home and beer bottles littering the sidewalks.
It's early enough for street food, however.
The rising sun also saw a family of strays emerge from their homes. I don't imagine their abode to be too comfortable, given the constant noise complaints. Thailand is home to many stray animals, something which I'll dedicate a blog to at a future date.
The emerging sun gave rise (pardon the pun) to a beautiful gradient overlooking Patong Beach.
Just fifteen minutes away from Patong Beach was a destination where you can get up close and personal with tigers, for a fee of course. I paid 800 baht (about $27 CAD) to get some face time with some adult tigers. Although a fun experience, I was a bit uneasy supporting Thailand's animal-based industry. If you're interested in reading about my opinion on this, I'll have a small blurb at the end of this blog post.
Hands down, my favourite shot I got of one of these majestic creatures.
I was lucky enough to snap this pair play-fighting in their pool. Definitely caught me off guard.
The face on that tiger in the above photo always cracks me up. It's almost as if it was caught red handed doing something wrong. Continue playing around, I said to it.
The rare moment where I'm in front of the camera.
Another common and popular activity by visitors in Thailand is elephant trekking. Sitting atop these enormous animals as they wander around a designated area was another interesting and fun experience, but it once again falls into a morally questionable activity.
The elephants in question are 'equipped' with a makeshift bench from fabricated steel bars and a luxurious cushion for the passengers. Along with some mats to 'protect' the elephant, this bench is strapped to its front legs and rear end. Comfortable.
The 'driver' sits on top of the elephant's neck. This young man 'piloted' the elephant whom which I sat atop.
This establishment also had a couple of fowl roaming around. They were very keen to inform us of their presence.
Some of my friends atop their respective elephants.
The path these animals took were anything but gradual.
Before dismounting, I noticed this child sitting in the middle of the dirt road that many cars, ATVs, fowl, and elephants alike used. He didn't seem to mind the inherent danger.
I gave our elephant pilot a firm handshake, and thanked him for his time. Interesting fellow, he was.
Nearby was this younger elephant, who is often fed bananas by visitors.
That wraps up part one of my time in Thailand. Next up are some more scenic views of the neighbouring ocean and interesting natural formations.
As aforementioned, I was a bit uneasy supporting these animal-based tourist activities in Thailand, given the state of these creatures. I realize that' it is somewhat hypocritical to be condemning (to a certain degree) these activities in which I partook in, but now promoting and further depicting them in this post. However, I find that it's important to shed light to the reality of these types of situations.
Tigers are wild animals that are not naturally meek and indifferent to strange beings making physical contact with them. Many of them were under such deep sleep that not even an earthquake would interrupt their slumber. These tigers are so heavily sedated that I strongly doubt that they have much consciousness of their surroundings.
Elephants are generally not working animals. They are not used to having several hundred pounds strapped to their backs, neither are they usually unwary of having foreign objects (benches, plastic ropes tugging on their backends, humans alike) around their bodies. These animals have been brutally trained to become accustomed to this behaviour. Do a swift Google search of "elephant crushing" and you'll find graphic videos and descriptions outlining exactly how elephants become 'domesticated'.
In many ways, I feel very guilty for supporting these industries within Thailand. I'm no animal welfare specialist or Greenpeace activist, but after taking a step back, you come to realize the consequences of your actions. Just some food for thought.