I've always been a bit of a believer of 'each to their own', believing that people have the right to their own beliefs, thoughts and actions and unless they directly influence me then who am I to judge.
But there are times when lessons learnt change your opinion and make you believe in something very strongly, so much so that you feel compelled to write a blog post about it in the hope that you will convince other people to share your opinion and perhaps, change their beliefs, thoughts and actions.
For many people riding an elephant when they visit Asia is pretty high on their must do lists. I will confess that it was never really high on mine but that I would perhaps do it at the time if I felt like it. I am here to say I am SO glad that I didn't.
For me it was visiting organisations such as Friends of Asian Elephants Hospital near Chiang Mai in Thailand and the Mondulkiri Project in Cambodia that cemented for me that riding elephants in Asia is NOT a good idea.
For many years Elephants have been used illegally for logging and farming purposes and for entertaining tourists. For elephants this is gruelling and unnatural task. Elephants are disappearing at an alarming rate. I don't want to go into all the details of what happens to elephants in the training process to make them 'human safe to ride', other than to say 'it ain't good', but if you do need some more convincing please read here and if you want to know why many tour companies are now removing elephant rides from their itineraries please read here.
It was my first weekend volunteering in Cambodia when a group of 8 of us headed off to Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri, a 5 and a half hour bus ride from Phnom Penh for the weekend.
We chose to stay at the Tree Lodge which is linked to the project. They provided us with gorgeous little log cabin style bungalows that were built with the environment in mind.
Due to our time limitations we booked in for the one day elephant tour. It was an early start the next morning as we were taken on a white knuckle ride in the back of a ute to the Elephant Sanctuary. Upon arrival, our guide, conveniently named, Mr Tree, spoke to us for about an hour with so much passion about what this sanctuary and project means to him. When you listen to him it's hard not to feel passionate as well.
The Mondulkiri Project, being led by Mr Tree, has a signed agreement with the Bunong indigenous elders of the area, to stop logging in the area. The project has now also taken ownership of 2 rescued elephants, Princess and Sophie.
After our talk with Mr Tree, we walked down the hill to meet the rescued elephants and feed them some bananas.
After spending some up close and personal time with Princess and Sophie, we headed back up the hill to the base for an amazing home cooking lunch and a rest.
After rest time we headed back down into the forest to find Princess and Sophie ready to have a bath. It was such an amazing experience to be able to get into the water with these magnificent creatures. Princess is more than happy to have people in with her to scrub her back and blow water over.
Sophie on the other hand prefers to go it alone.
Mr Tree has big plans for Mondulkiri Project, including trying to get a breeding program started to try and undo some of the damage done to Elephant numbers in Cambodia.
I was a little surprised to learn that Mondulkiri Project is not in the Lonely Planet Guide, meaning potentially thousands of tourists are missing out on helping this worthwhile and important organisation. It is funded through his tours and elephant trekking stays that will help Mr Tree and his team complete this extremely important work.
So while for the most part I am a believer in 'each to their own', I am a strong believe in responsible tourism, which is why I chose not to ride an elephant in Cambodia and urge you to do the same. Visit an organisation like Friends of Asian Elephants in Thailand or Mondulkiri Project in Cambodia or any other the other many organisations that are trying to turn back the clock and save the forest and the elephants.
For more information on the project please check out the Mondulkiri Project website and add it to your Cambodia Bucket List.
Now I need you to do me a favour. If you think that Mondulkiri Project should be in the Lonely Planet Guide, please share this post on Twitter with the #lp
Linking up with My Home Truths, One Mother Hen and A Brit and a Southerner.