Volunteering with Elephants in Thailand
TABLE OF CONTENTS
There are many amazing things to do in Thailand, however, my favorite was volunteering with Elephants! It is probably one of the more popular activities to do when visiting Chiang Mai and I totally get why. In Thailand, volunteering with Elephants is really a once in a lifetime experience. In this post, I will share which company we chose, why an ethical company is important, what to bring and our overall experience of volunteering with Elephants in Thailand!
In Thailand, elephants bring in high tourism volumes, so naturally, there were many companies to choose from. Everything from riding elephants, seeing them do tricks and more. This is where we wanted to put in a lot of research to make sure we were choosing an ethical company. Right away we knew, it had to be a NO RIDING facility.
What many tourists do not realize, is in order to ride an elephant, there is a brutal process the elephant must undergo before the elephant can be “broke”. Many times, they are chained, kept in extremely poor living conditions, separated from each other and physically beaten with bullhooks. Elephants spines are also not designed to have so much weight, causing damage. If you are interested in learning more about this, there is an amazing documentary called, Love and Bananas an Elephant Story. This Documentary is incredibly touching and it all started with a girl who was volunteering with elephants in Thailand on vacation.
Choosing an Ethical Company
Knowing that riding facilities were out of the question, we started looking into Elephant Sanctuaries. There were quite a few sanctuaries to choose from, but we ultimately decided to go with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. At Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, the elephants were rescued or purchased from companies/people who are mistreating the elephants. There are definitely other ethical companies to choose from (wanted to throw that out there!) Just make sure to double triple check your research to make sure you are not paying a company that is hurting these beautiful animals.
After research, we went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary website and purchased the tickets. Yes, you must pay to be a volunteer with Elephants in Thailand! We purchased a full day with the elephants ( $2,400 Bht) The ticket included the company pickup and drop-off at our apartment, feeding us lunch, and of course, interacting with the elephants!
A Songthaew (pickup truck with seats in the truck bed. If you don’t know what it is, look it up to get the full effect of the ride!) came to pick us up around 8:30 am at our apartment. We were greeted by other people in our group and chatted during our 1.5-hour trip up and down the winding mountains of Chaing Mai. Towards the end- not going to lie, I definitely felt a little car sick lol.
Once we arrived, we could already see elephants roaming and grazing in the distance. Seeing elephants in a more natural environment was a surreal moment. Excitement level bursting out of me and a grin from ear to ear was my first reaction. We made our way down the hill and across this bridge made of some tree trucks to an extremely friendly staff. We all changed into traditional Karen clothing and started orientation. They covered the do’s and don’ts and lots of other informative info on the elephants. I think this is so important since we were about to be surrounded 5-ton elephants!
Love, Bananas and Sugar Cane
After orientation, we made our way down with handfuls of bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephants. The second he yelled, “Bon Bon” the elephants came running over and reaching into our pockets for bananas! Nothing can explain the feeling of looking into these elephant’s eyes. It’s a feeling I am so grateful to have experienced. On the property, the elephants ranged from babies to elephants over 50 years old! As I peeled the banana, his truck was already wrapped around my arm! My heart melting was an understatement. The weirdest but yet coolest feeling in the world! The texture was rough and prickly and a little moist…. but come on, an elephant is eating bananas from your hand! By far the coolest experience from volunteering with elephants in Thailand!
Throughout the feeding, two staff members went around taking photos of us with DSLR cameras. Later it would all be uploaded in the Facebook group for us to save! This little gesture gave us more time to just interact with the elephants without worrying about taking photos!
Next, we took a short hike to a different group of elephants. By moving around, it gives the elephants a break from too much interaction. We made our way around two more sets of elephants while getting lots of information from the staff. We could really tell they loved and cared for these elephants!
Some fun info we learned was:
- Some differences between Asian and African elephants are: Asian Elephants have smaller ears and larger heads, African Elephants are much larger in size, both female and male African elephants have tusks.
- Only Male Asian Elephants have tusks
- Elephants sweat through their toenails
- At birth, a baby Asian Elephant can weigh around 200lbs!
Finally, we made our way back for lunch. They set up food buffet style at the shaded benches. It was really tasty, and even had vegetarian options for me! After lunch, it was time to make the elephants their medicine food! Each group mixed up a concoction that would help the elephants digest easily. We rolled the mush into balls and fed the elephants for a second time! We laughed bonded and enjoyed every second of it.
Next on the menu was a mud bath for the elephants. I did feel this part of the experience might have been a little too hands-on with the elephants, but I am not an expert. Essentially, we scooped up mud and rubbed it all over the elephant’s body. This helps keep them cool in the sun. After, the elephants ran into the river and started rolling around. It was honestly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. With our little buckets, we played and splashed water on them to help get the mud off. After slashing and playing, we got out and watched them throw dirt all over themselves. Again, this is to protect their skin from the sun.
The day finally came to an end. We cleaned up and had to say goodbye to the elephants. We loaded back into the truck and made our way back home. Overall, it was some of the best money I have ever spent. During my visit (May 2018) the price was about $80 USD per adult. We found this was about the average price of volunteering with elephants in Thailand. This money primarily goes back into caring for the elephants, saving more elephants and staff members. Just feeding the elephants alone can be extremely costly! Did you know an Adult Asian Elephant can eat up to 300lbs a day?! So overall, by visiting, we not only got to work with the elephants, our money will go towards continuing to give them a better life! I honestly couldn’t recommend volunteering with elephants in Thailand at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary enough!
Some Last Remarks
If you are planning on going, first I would like to say, please choose a NO RIDING company! This is so important to stop the promotion of unethical animal tourism. Next, I wanted to give you a list of some things to pack when volunteering with elephants in Thailand!
Packing List for Volunteering with Elephants in Thailand
1. Quick-Dry towel – My fav are the Dock and Bay Quick Dry Towels. The towels come packaged in 100% biodegradable material and also include a really nice canvas carrying bag with a 1 year warrenty. We have the Large size and its perfect!
2. Waterproof camera/ go-pro – my GoPro came in clutch here since it can get messy, especially when we bathed the elephants. I have a Gopro Hero 6.
3. Bathing suit. You will likely be giving the elephants a bath.
4. Bug spray for before and after playing with the elephants (can’t have it on during)
5. Chemical-free sunscreen: Blue Lizard Australian Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30 and Juice Beauty SPF 30 Sport Moisturizer are our go to and are also safe for coral reefs!
6. Waterproof shoes/sandals: My go-to Teva sandals
7. Change of clothes. Trust me on this one!
Summary: Volunteering with elephants in Thailand
Finally, thank you for reading my experience volunteering with elephants in Thailand! I hope you found valuable information that will help you in choosing an ethical animal tourism company. In general, it’s always better to experience animals in their natural element. If this is not available, sanctuaries usually provide the most ethical practices! If you enjoyed my blog post on Volunteering with Elephants in Thailand, please share, like, pin, or comment below. I am not in any way commissioned to write this post and will always give you my true feedback. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on Instagram DM or contact form! xoxo – Sam
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