tiger thailand cage

Endless sandy beaches, heaps of culture and exotic grub make for a compelling holiday. It’s no wonder Thailand is a popular destination for many young Brits.

Over 800,000 British nationals visit the kingdom every year, according to government figures.

But the holiday shots of travellers enjoying the country’s most popular attractions only capture half of the story.

Away from the Full Moon Parties and golden coastlines, we take a look at the darker side of Thailand’s tourist trade...

Tiger Seflie

It’s a common sight on dating app Tinder – countless profile pictures of people confidently posing next to a tiger, eager to show off their bravery to potential matches.

Many are likely to have visited Thailand’s most infamous Buddhist Tiger Temple, where monks allow hundreds of tourists to pose with its big cats.

However, in recent years various scandals have rocked the monastery. In 2008, wildlife charity Care for the Wild International released a report called “Exploiting the Tiger".

The document uncovered disturbing evidence of serious conservation and animal welfare concerns, including systematic physical abuse of the tigers held at the temple, and high-risk interactions between tigers and tourists.

My chap picked up the tiger’s tail, plonked it in my hand and encouraged me to pretend it was a microphone...

Theories about why the tigers are so docile are widely circulated. Accusations of sedating the tigers have been consistently denied by the temple.

Vice recently reported that the Thai government raided the facility and impounded more than 100 tigers on suspicion of animal trafficking.

Lucy Uren, 25, visited the Tiger Temple in 2010 with a group of travellers she met.

She hadn’t heard much about the Tiger Temple before she arrived. After briefly being left to read some information about the temple, the group was led to a small quarry, where six tigers were lying in the shade, each chained to a rock, and monks in orange robes were waiting.

After being assigned a monk, she was led up to a tiger to take pictures. “My chap picked up the tiger’s tail, plonked it in my hand and encouraged me to pretend it was a microphone, and then snapped a few pics," she says.

Leaving the venue, she felt guilty. “I wanted to believe that the animals were well treated by the monks, but seeing such beautiful wild animals chained to a rock for hundreds of tourists to have photos taken with them all day didn't encourage these beliefs."

elephant trekking thailand

Like posing with tigers, elephant trekking is extremely popular with tourists in Thailand.

But in order for the animals to be kept under control, they go through a painful ritual called the Phajaan; translated as “the crush". This is done to destroy the elephant’s spirit and make them compliant.

Once the baby elephants have been taken from their mothers, they are held in confined cages that allow for no movement.

Baby elephants are taken from their mothers, held in confined cages and tortured with bull hooks to make them submissive

Then they are tortured and beaten for an extended period with bull hooks or sticks. Once submissive, they can be used for profit in trekking tours, painting shows and street begging.

One sanctuary aiming to provide a safe place for elephants, while educating tourists of their mistreatment, is the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.

According to its co-founder Adam Flinn, many tourists simply aren’t aware of the harm that their actions are causing.

“Mistreatment of elephants is common due to ignorance among tourists and the outdated belief that elephants are for entertainment," he says. “To improve animal welfare, education is crucial."

Sex Show Thailand

From lady boys to ping-pong shows, Thailand’s sex industry is booming.

Between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers offer their services to tourists and nationals alike, according to the World Health Organisation.

While sex shows might seem like harmless fun, the reality is often less entertaining.

There were three women on stage, all in their 40s. They looked drugged up and bored...

Layla Smith*, 24, decided to visit a ping-pong show in Bangkok with her best friend last summer after hearing about them from friends.

During the performance, the women do tricks using their private parts. Layla was initially led down a stairway into a dingy-looking club, where she joined five other travellers.

“There were three women on stage, all in their 40s. They looked drugged up and bored. I also saw a c-section scar on one of the women’s stomachs," she says.

During the show, Layla felt increasingly uncomfortable. “Afterwards, we went straight back to our hostel. We didn’t feel like carrying on the night."

She wouldn’t recommend other travellers to go. “You reinforce the exploitation of those women, who are obviously not there out of free will."

*A fake name has been used, as she didn’t want to be identified

Jungle Thailand

How do you make sure you don’t end up unintentionally becoming part of the problem?

According to Mark Watson, executive director of Tourism Concern, a charity that campaigns for ethical tourism, people should take time before their journey to learn about the place they’re visiting.

“We believe that most travellers want to do the right thing, but often end up doing something that is unethical because they’re unaware," he says.

Most travellers want to do the right thing, they're just unaware...

Watson believes that tourists have a responsibility to learn as much as they can about the places they visit. “Understand the culture and etiquette, and find out a little about the political history and any animal welfare issues."

For an authentic experience, travellers should engage with local communities. “Any money spent will go directly to the local economy," he says.