If there’s anything I’ve learned about Southeast Asian zoos, it’s that you can get ridiculously close to the animals compared to anywhere else in the world where they have all those pesky “rules” and “precautions.”. That’s never been truer than at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. About 40 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, the first area of the zoo has monkeys running wild in a large forested pond area. Then there are deer following you around at the same time. At one point – I kid you not – my family saw a monkey riding a deer. Madness. I didn’t get a photo but I swear it happened.
The rare Irrawaddy dolphin’s numbers are dwindling to critical levels in the Mekong River. You can still see them up close in Kratie, Cambodia by boat.
Even when trying to avoid riding elephants, things are not so cut and dry. More and more people are wizening up to the fact that riding elephants is not a good thing, so tour companies are offering trips that involve feeding, cleaning and watching elephants rather than riding. The problem is that some tour companies hire elephants both to be ridden or cared for, depending on what the tourists want to pay for. So one day the elephant might have a leisurely time. The next day – unbeknownst to tourists – the same elephant will be forced to carry tourists.