Volunteering for one week at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is one of the best things I have ever done.
Elephant Nature Park is a unique project set in Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. Established in the 1990’s their aim has always been to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The park is located some 60km from the city, and has provided a sanctuary for dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand. The owner, Lek Chailert, is am amazing woman!
After visiting Thailand in October 2015 with my friend Lucy, I was desperate to go back. However this time, I’d be going by myself. I was scared at the thought of this as I had never travelled by myself before so I decided to book myself onto a trip through STA Travel to meet other like-minded people. The week cost me £305 (obviously prices may vary depending on the time of year you’d like to do it) and it included breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6 nights accomodation as well as transfers to and from Chiang Mai and Elephant Nature Park.
I arrived into Thailand on Sunday 10th April 2016, flew straight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and spent my first night in De Naga Hotel. I arrived quite late and I was super tired from all that travelling! I couldn’t wait to jump into bed! De Naga Hotel was located quite close to Elephant Nature Park offices so in the morning it was just a short walk from my hotel to meet the rest of my trip.
At the offices, we signed on, got given an Elephant Nature Park t-shirt and a water bottle which came in very useful throughout the week! We jumped in mini buses which took us to Elephant Nature Park. We got put into groups and shown to our rooms. I was put in a room with two other females. Accomodation was quite basic, but it was comfortable. I couldn’t figure out how to work the overhead shower, but instead used the tap half way down which pumped out cold water. Not having a warm shower didn’t bother me because it was ridicuously hot. April is the hottest month in Thailand and temperatures soared to over 40°c!
For the rest of the day, we got to know the other people we’d be spending the week with. I quickly made friends with two girls also from England called Natalie and Laurel. We spent most of the afternoon at Cat Kingdom. Elephant Nature Park doesn’t just rescue elephants; they rescue all animals including elephants, buffalo, dogs, cats and birds. As a massive cat lover, I couldn’t wait to see the cats!
Most of the cats roam freely in this area but there was a room which had 4 tiny little kittens in it! Apparently their mum had died so Elephant Nature Park took them in. I have never seen kittens so small before! I went to visit them every day and watched them grow stronger in just one week.
On Tuesday it was our first day to work. The working day usually consists of two activities; one in the morning 8am-10am and one in the afternoon 1pm-3pm. In between these activities you had free time to do whatever you wanted. The volunteers were put into four groups, my group was group D.
On Tuesday morning we jumped into a truck which drove us for just over an hour to a field to cut grass for the elephants food. This activity was very tiring due to the temperature in Chiang Mai! Our group was the only group to actually complete this activity because that week it was Songkran, also known as Thai New Year, which is celebrated by throwing water. Therefore the park deemed it unsafe to travel out to the fields due to lots of drink drivers on the road. The other groups were relieved that they didn’t have to do this activity but I was really pleased I got to!
We filled up a couple of trucks before stopping for lunch and making our way back to Elephant Nature Park. In the afternoon we got to wash the elephants in the river, and of course I found the time to visit my favourite little kittens!
On Wednesday it was the start of Songkran so in between feeding the elephants and clearing up elephant poo, we had time to engage in a water fight to celebrate in true Thai style. Part of me wishes I was in the actual city celebrating, but the other part of me is just thankful that I got to celebrate this event in Thailand! What an amazing experience!
Read Kabu’s story here: http://www.saveelephant.org/news/kabu/
Read Di Por’s story here: https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/elephant-of-the-week-dipor-at-50-years-old/
In the afternoon, I had completely dried out from the earlier water fight and it was back to work! We spent the afternoon cleaning up the park, in other words, clearing up the elephant poo!
On Thursday we cleaned out the elephant shelters and their fresh water drinking bowls. In the afternoon, we tubed down the river!
On Friday, my group unloaded a truck full of watermelons! We then got to feed the elephants the watermelons. We also got to visit a local temple which was a really cool experience. Elephant Nature Park had prepared gifts for the older people at the temple, and us volunteers was able to give them these gifts.
Read Jan Peng’s story here: https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/elephant-week-jan-peng/
Saturday morning was spend having a walk around the park with a mahout who told us all we needed to know about these elephants. We watched them play freely. It is clear that these elephants are happy since they have been rescued by Elephant Nature Park.
We had more opportunities to feed the elephants and take photos with them! You can never have enough photos of elephants!
After lunch I went to the dog shelter to walk some of the rescued dogs at the park.
Our activity in the afternoon was to wash the elephants!
Sunday was our final day at Elephant Nature Park. I had one last walk around the sancturary in the morning before saying my goodbyes to everyone and headed back to Chiang Mai in a minibus.
Thank you Elephant Nature Park for an amazing experience! It’s one I am never going to forget and I’m proud to say that I have actually made a difference to those elephants lives by contributing my time and money for them to have a better future. It is an amazing thing Elephant Nature Park are doing!
If you’re interested in volunteering at Elephant Nature Park, find out more here: https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/enp/
Next up: Chiang Mai