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. It was a part of my Thailand Travel Bucket List to interact with elephants somehow on my trip. After doing a bit more research, I decided that instead of riding elephants, I volunteer with them at Elephant Nature Park [and yes, those are dreadlocks you can see on my head throughout these photos..]
Disclaimer; *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 decisions and transactions around the world. 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, in a more responsible way. Discovering the Elephant Nature Park is ultimately why I decided to visit Northern Thailand in 2013 [and even to drag my mother along with me.]
-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 had the opportunity to learn new skills while there. I 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. 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. Kids are kids everywhere you go!
The most exciting moment 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. and again. and again.. [You get the point.]
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 people, and the beauty of the elephants. The accommodation was comfortable enough, the vegetarian buffets made my heart soar, and the volunteering was fulfilling.
Elephants are some of the most incredible beings My Eyes Have Seen.
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Are you tempted to go and meet these incredible creatures? Have you been before??
Let me know if the comments below.