We spent a week volunteering at Elephant Nature Park near Chaing Mai in Northern Thailand. If you are thinking of doing this amazing and awesomely worthwhile volunteering trip read on to find out what to expect.
About Elephant Nature Park (ENP)
If you weren’t aware, ENP takes in Elephants that have been used in the tourist and logging industry. You can’t ride elephants at ENP (and you shouldn’t anywhere). The handlers aren’t allowed to use violence of any kind. This makes it very different to the other places in the area.
ENP offer day, overnight, and weekly trips. You pay a set fee depending on the activities you do. You can also volunteer at their Dog Sanctuary, and they run a special vet and vet nurse volunteering program as well.
What to expect
We were picked up fairly early on a sunny Monday morning just after Song Kran for our 1 ½ transfer to Elephant Nature Park. Once at the park we were welcomed and shown to our rooms. The rooms are pretty basic (bed, chest of drawers, mosquito net) with shared bathrooms. Depending on whether you are a couple, group of friends or a single person depends on whether you will share a room. You should expect to share if you are on your own.
They split you into 4 groups. There were about 70 of us so each group was approximately 16-18 people. Each group has a morning and afternoon task, with the exception of the day you cut corn, which is an all day task.
So what kind of tasks to do you do?
Corn Cutting : this is exactly what it sounds like. You, your group, a bunch of sickles and a corn field. Cut until the truck is full! Its hard work, its boiling hot, and there is no shade. Wear long sleeved clothes! You only do this once!
Elephant Dung: again, exactly what it sounds like. You, your group, some shovels, and all the Elephant dung in the park to clear up. You’ll do this twice in a week at least, maybe 3 times.
Elephant Food: This basically consists of moving and washing hundreds of melons, pumpkins, and bananas for the Elephants to eat. You usually get to feed couple of elephants as well. You’ll do this twice or 3 times in the week.
Park Walk: The guides will take you round the park to see all the different family groups. It’s a really cool way to spend a few hours, but you only get to do it once.
Rice Balls: some of the older Elephants don’t have enough teeth to eat the hard fruits, so their diet is supplemented with balls of cooked rice. This is about the most easy task you can get.
Enrichment: Sometimes its nice to have to hunt for your food, so once a week volunteers are tasked with hiding food around the enclosures for the Elephants to find.
Park clean up: This one sucks. I’m not gonna lie to you. Think Elephant dung on steroids. Its over in a couple of hours though, and you’ll only do it once (and maybe not at all).
Free Time: You only work 4 hours a day, which leaves a fair amount of down time. You can get a massage, or go and walk some dogs in the sanctuary. There is wifi too, which actually works.
Its not particularly well advertised, but the food is all vegetarian, and for the most part its also vegan. As meat eaters and cheese lovers this was a struggle for us for the entire week. There is a lot of tofu, which most people love, though I can’t stand it personally. Just be prepared for the food and know there is a BBQ place down the road if needed.
Is it worth it?
Without question. The park is doing important education work on the plight of the Asian Elephant, and the money you spend helps that work out. You get to see Elephants up close, and the people that you will be with are generally pretty cool. Its worth the vegan food and the hard slog in the corn fields!
How do I book?
Go to https://www.elephantnaturepark.org to book
How much does it cost?
A single day visit is 2,500 THB, a 2 day 1 night trip costs 5800 THB. The weekly volunteering program is 12,000 THB.
*prices correct February 2017