I began planning my trip to Southeast Asia as I plan all of my trips: by browsing Pinterest. I saw countless photos of people riding elephants into the jungles and thought; yep that’s what I want to do! How can you deny the emotional pull of these majestic animals? I desperately wanted to interact with them.
Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I am an animal lover. Little did I know the cruelty often associated with riding elephants.
*This post is not about how critical it is that you do not ride elephants. As a traveler, it is your job to make an informed and responsible decision. I encourage you to read Ride Bikes, Not Elephants by Not Your Average Travel Blog and do your research before you go.
The best part about the Elephant Nature Park is that you can still have a close encounter with elephants, just in a more responsible way. Discovering the Elephant Nature Park is why I decided to visit Northern Thailand [and even drag my mother along.]
-Visiting The Park-
There are many ways to visit the park; you can stop in for the day, stay overnight or commit to a full week [or more] of volunteering at the sanctuary. You can find all of the information on their website if this is something that you would like to do. We ultimately decided to commit to a full week of volunteering.
The park doesn’t just provide refuge for elephants, but also to cats, dogs, and any animal Lek [the founder] feels that she can help. They have a large population of street dogs that they care for. One of my favorite activities was taking these dogs on walks and providing them with some pats and loves.
-Helping the Elephants-
As you can imagine, these large creatures need to eat a lot of food. If you decide to be a volunteer, you will be a part of the entire process of planting new food, harvesting existing plants, and feeding them. You will additionally help to clean up after them as they produce many droppings!
All of the jobs involve manual labor and teamwork with the other volunteers. I felt that I learned new skills while there, worked alongside great people, and also continually faced my fear of spiders [the large banana spiders especially!] Volunteers come from around the world so you are likely to meet some interesting people of all ages!
One of the most valuable parts of volunteering was visiting a nearby school. We spent an entire afternoon with the children and it was one of the highlights of the experience that I wasn’t expecting. We played, built things out of dough, sat while they made us bracelets, listened to them perform, and one little gentleman even convinced me to hold his giant beetle that he caught.
This is an impactful experience for all travelers: to interact with children of the cultures you visit. You then see how similar we humans all are at the core of us. Every child around the world has ‘a crush’ on another student, thinks it is funny if you fall off your chair, laughs in the same language, and yearns for your time and support!
One of the activities that I was most excited for was to participate in bathing the elephants in the river. You get to feed them fruits and veggies while you pour buckets of water down their back. Sometimes they even play in the water with each other.
I will never forget watching the elephants sift through their bucket of food, throwing vegetables to the side and gobbling up the fruit [relateable anyone?] It was so funny to see that their food preferences were similar to ours!
This was not mandatory, but an optional activity available after work. This activity did not disappoint! I would go back just to bathe them again.
The entire time I was at the Elephant Nature Park I found myself constantly amazed at; the beauty of the Thai jungles, the kindness of the Thai people, and the beauty of the elephants.
Elephants are one of the most incredible beings my eyes have seen.
Are you tempted to go and meet these incredible creatures? Let me know if the comments below.
*Don’t forget to look at another great thing to do in Northern Thailand; Attend a CHEAP Meditation Retreat*