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  • Taken for a Ride in Thailand

    The question was innocent enough. Would you like to see Asian elephants on your way back to the hotel? I was at the floating market outside Bangkok when Mr. George, our Thai guide, made the inquiry. I am not sure why I said yes. Being so close to Bangkok, the elephants couldn't be wild. I'm not a fan of seeing captive animals.

    When I arrived at the elephant place, I found out it was a "ride-an-elephant" attraction. After handing over the fee to ride and another fee to cover bananas for the elephant, I climbed up a set of stairs to the elephant-mounting platform. They are big, friendly beasts who don't seem to mind taking on passengers. Perhaps it's the bananas they enjoy most.

    The padding on the seat was so worn that the seat back was really a metal bar, a bit uncomfortable. Still, it was an amazing feeling—and fun—to be jostled back and forth as our elephant ambled along. Taking photos is a challenge; no image stabilizer lens would be able to compensate for this motion.

    At the start of the ride, I was feeling that our guide might have been "given an incentive" by the elephant concession to side-trip his clients there. I felt trapped. But after I met my elephant, my heart warmed. I hoped my money was keeping the elephant employed in the outdoors and happy. But then, halfway through the ride, my driver stopped the elephant, turned around, and offered to sell me ivory jewelry. This ivory, of course, was supposed to be "legal" ivory. After declining, the ride continued.

    I'll be a bit more wary next time I'm offered a side trip.