Without a doubt Elephants are the biggest attraction for every tourist visiting Thailand. Most of the attractions involve riding the elephants, or watching them performing tricks.
Unfortunately not too many people know the behind scenes facts: abusive training, insane cruelty, physical abuse, no sleep or food. We came across an amazing place called Elephant Nature Park where the elephants walk freely and aren’t forced to work. Currently there are 41 elephants in the park and except the once born at the park, all others bear injuries and scars from the past .
When we learned about an opportunity to work at the park , we were sold. Unfortunately the volunteering program was booked about 6 months in advance, and despite checking their website frequently, we couldn’t get the spots we truly wanted. Once we got to Chiang Mai we went to the Elephant Nature Park office with the attitude “we aren’t leaving until …” and it worked . We were very, very lucky, someone just cancelled their booking. We got in and 3 days later, our work at the elephant sanctuary began.
The park is located in a beautiful valley with the river run through it about one hour drive from CM. The park is also a home to over 400 dogs ( 144 of them were saved from the 2011 flood in Bangkok) and many, many cats and buffalo. Our schedule for next seven days looked pretty much the same: 7am breakfast / 11:30am dufinner and 6pm dinner with 2-3 hours work in between. Each meal was a buffet style with very tasty vegetarian food. Our group had 48 people different ages and from different parts of the world. The accommodation was simple but clean. We got a bedroom with own bathroom, but some rooms had shared bathrooms.
Everyone was divided into four groups and all task were assigned by the group name (A,B,C,D). Our work included:
Cleaning elephant shelters (the poo job) , that job wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The poo wasn’t really badly smelly and the shelters were partially cleaned by the time we got there. Armed with shovels and rakes we were picking up the poo and dumping into small tracks. Each time the track got full, couple people needed to go to unloaded it into the massive mound.
Cleaning the park , that was pretty much the same job except we strolled around the park picking up the poo.
Preparing Elephant food, that job mostly involved unloading tracks with watermelon, pumpkin and bananas. The amount of food was unbelievable. We also needed to wash the fruit before they were cut into the portion size
Feeding Elephants, this job wasn’t assigned. If anyone wanted, just needed to show up during feeding time to feed them
Bathing Elephants, the first day we did this as a group, but during , the week anyone who wanted to help out could do that. Mahouts really appreciated our help.
Planting the pumpkin seeds, this job each group got to do it only once. It wasn’t hard and the field was up to the mountain with a beautiful view.
Walking Elephants…by far everyone’s favorite job, when we could get really up close to the elephants. During our walk we got a surprise visit from the founder of ENP, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert. It was a really pleasure to see how she reacts with elephants!
She is truly a remarkable woman, and we learned about her story and how the park started directly from her one night. Our week at the Elephant Nature Park went by really fast but it wasn’t just work. We also visited the local school where we had time to play with kids and to participate in classroom work.
At the local school
Working at the ENP without a doubt is going to be a highlight of our trip and many great memories for many years to come.
The park visit for one day is 2,500 THB, the overnight visit is 5,800 THB and one volunteer week is 12,000 THB