Updated: Mar 27
I spontaneously traveled to Thailand to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary. I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting myself into. But the moment I arrived in Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand everything about the place was so amazing. I volunteered at Elephant Nature Park on September 9, 2017.
I first heard of Elephant Nature Park on the internet while searching for animal sanctuaries. I have never been up close to elephants before, so when I heard about Elephant Nature Park and that they are always in need of volunteers I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to travel and backpack through Southeast Asia. I ended up volunteering for 3-weeks for Elephant Nature Park, one week was with the elephants and the second week was with the dog rescue project. For the third week of volunteering I went down to the Surin province of Thailand to volunteer with the elephants at their Surin project.
Elephant Nature Park has platforms and SkyWalks where you can hang out and take pictures of the great views of the park and animals.
WHAT IS ELEPHANT NATURE PARK?
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is an elephant sanctuary and rescue center in the Mae Taeng District, which is about 60 km north of Chiang Mai. It was co-founded in 1995 by Lek Chailert, who is an Thai animal rights activist who is the main spokesperson of the park. Elephant Nature Park is very big at 101-hectare. Elephant Nature Park is home to over 35 elephants, who are all rescued. The park also has a cat sanctuary and a dog sanctuary. They have over 200 dogs, who were all mostly saved from the Bangkok floods in 2011. The park also has their own vet clinic. The park also is home to water buffaloes who roam freely and horses. Elephant Nature Park has a strict policy of "no elephant riding" which is great news. The elephants at the park were rescued from tourism and logging industries, some of them have broken legs, are blind, and have psychological and emotional issues from their past abuse. The animals there are not forced to do things, the park is truly a rescue center and animal reserve.
You can visit the park as a visitor or volunteer. Tourist could visit the place for the day or pay to stay for a weeks. You could pay to stay and volunteer at the park for weeks if you wanted to. The park is able to help so many animals from the money that tourists and volunteers pay to come to the park. Volunteering is a big part of the park as well. When volunteering you help out with many different jobs such as cleaning, food preparation, walking animals, feeding animals, gardening, helping the locals, and so much more. While volunteering you get to stay at the park as they will provide accommodation for you as well as meals and transportation. Elephant Nature Park is recognized as one of the best elephant sanctuaries in Thailand.
The park gets a lot of fruits delivered everyday to feed all the elephants. Volunteers help to unload the trucks and place the fruit away. Volunteers also help with washing and cleaning the fruits before feeding the elephants.
HOW TO VISIT ELEPHANT NATURE PARK?
Elephant Nature Park operates by a pay to volunteer program. This allows people to stay for a day or a couple of nights or even for weeks. A day pass cost around THB 2,500 per person, which is about CAD $105. Volunteering per week cost around THB 15,000 per person, which is about CAD $645.
When visiting or volunteering you get to help around with any of the jobs at the park. And besides interacting with the elephants, you may even get to bathe and feed them. You can make reservations to visit and volunteer directly on their website, or visit their office in Chiang Mai. You can also book through other travel and volunteer organizations, but it may be more expensive.
ELEPHANT NATURE PARK VOLUNTEERING FOR MORE THAN A FEW DAYS
When I arrived in Chiang Mai, I took the Tuk Tuk to the hotel I was staying in for the night. Elephant Nature Park will come pick you up from where ever you are staying at in Chiang Mai. My day started at the hotel I was staying at in Chiang Mai Old City at 9 am. The Elephant Nature Park staff came to pick me up and other volunteers. The drive from Chiang Mai Old City to the park is about 1 and a half hour away. The drive is quite long so in the van we discussed about park safety, guidelines, and the abuse that some elephants go through in real life. I have not realized before how terrible the abuse is to elephants in the logging and tourist industries. In the van on the way to the park they also showed us a video about elephants and the abuse that they go through. The video shows how terrible the abuse is and how the babies are stolen from the mothers and caged and beaten to make them follow orders.
Accommodation and Meals
Shortly after arriving in the park, we had a orientation before jumping into the first activity of walking around and touring the park. The park is big but after the tour you will know your way around. Once everyone got familiar with the park we were giving our accommodation. The accommodation is a shared bedroom with 1 or 2 other people. The bathrooms are co-ed and shared as well. The accommodation is very basic and nothing fancy. You simply just get a bed with a bug net and a fan. It does get very hot however there is no air conditioning and only fans.
Here is a photo taken outside of my bedroom, as you can see many people wash their own cloths by hand and air dry it outside the room.
The park provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the visitors and volunteers. The meals are all vegetarian/vegan. You usually get about 1 hours for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I really enjoyed all the meals that they provided. The food was all very fresh and cooked at the park with local ingredients.
Here is a photo taken at one of the places where you can sit and enjoy your meal. The meals are all buffet style so that you can eat as much as you like. Meal times are nice because you get to hang out and talk to other volunteers.
A Walk in the Park
While volunteering you get a lot of time to interact with the elephants. They are very friendly animals. My first time ever touching an elephant was here at Elephant Nature Park! The park has baby elephants and adults. They are huge and their skin is sensitive like humans, so they do feel pain too. I got to venture out farther out into the park to see all the other elephants.
Getting up close and touching an elephant for the first time. Elephants are such huge gentle creatures. There are so many Asian elephants, they are such beautiful creatures that need more protecting from threats such as habitat loss and poaching.
Elephants enjoying their freedom at the park.
Giving the elephant some grass to eat and learning about their history.
Elephants hanging out with the staffs. All the staffs there are very well educated about elephants and are always happy to chat with you about anything. It was great getting to chat with the staffs and hearing their stories.
Other Rescue Animals
As stated above, Elephant Nature Park is not just a sanctuary for elephants. There are also plenty of rescued dogs, cats, horses, and water buffaloes. Some of the rescue dogs are allowed to roam freely around the park. Every single dog at the park are up for adoption. When I was there they all looked very healthy and happy. The park is definitely a haven for animals.
Some water buffaloes came to eat as well.
Elephant Nature Park is usually quite busy and packed with people. Most people visit just for the day. But if you are volunteering you become very close with all the other volunteers and your roommates. It is a lot fun and you get a lot of free time too. During free time you can pretty much do whatever you want. There is WiFi in the park but only in certain areas. Going into their cat sanctuary area is a lot of fun. They have a lot of cats there to play with. I would say that my favorite part of the park is the dog rescue area.
Here is a photo of other volunteers who were volunteering with me and we went to go visit the dogs.
The 3 weeks I spent with Elephant Nature Park was the highlight of my trip in Southeast Asia. I had no expectation entering Elephant Nature Park for volunteering, but the place exceeded any expectations that I could have had and that other volunteers had.
As sad as it is to know that elephants and other animals could be extinct in our lifetime, and that many zoos that we have the opportunity to interact with animals are often in environments related to cruelty. It is great to know that Elephant Nature Park is out there providing animals a place where they can live the rest of their lives in peace and without anymore suffering from abuse.
Thanks for Lek Chailert for caring so much about animals and rescuing and caring for them. She brings a lot of needed awareness to the public about elephants and the abuse that they go through in tourism and logging industries.
If you truly love animals then I highly recommend volunteering at Elephant Nature Park, in Chiang Mai.
Elephant Nature Park
Address: 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand (office) Telephone: +66 (0) 53 272 855, +66 (0) 53 818 932
Hours: 7AM-5PM, daily (Chiang Mai office)