Today is throwback Thursday & since some of you guys have been asking me about my trip to Thailand in March, I am throwing it back to my time at Elephant Nature Park.
I had always wanted to go on an animal volunteering trip but I guess a small aspect of fear kept stopping me. I was a bit conscious of travelling on my own & wondering what kind of other people would be there etc. Anyway, I had a bit of an ‘Eat Pray Love’ moment (this was the second moment of this kind in my life, the first one was when I moved to Abu Dhabi on my own at the age of 23 lol) & decided to just book it.
I was pretty open in terms of location and the type of animal charity I wanted to help out with, it just needed to be logistically viable with flights from the UAE. I did a bit of research online (not much but like I say spur of the moment) one morning & came across the Elephant Nature Park website. Thailand wasn’t too far for me to travel too & I found flights that worked with the weekly programs. Something I had wanted to do for years was booked within 5 minutes.
Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue & rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand where you can volunteer & visit to help. They have been involved in dozens of rescues which have created their thriving elephant herd. The park provides a natural environment for elephants, dogs, cats, buffaloes & many other animals. You can also visit the park & volunteer on the Dog Shelter program, as they house 300+ stray dogs.
Here is the dark side to elephant/animal tourism in Asia, I will try & not be too graphic because I don’t want to upset myself or you. Once baby elephants are captured & dragged away from their herd (the mothers are usually killed) they are subjected to the process called ‘Phajaan’ which is also known as ‘Crushing of the spirit’. This is traditional Asian torture of young elephants to break their spirit – it is done so that they are submissive to humans. The baby elephants are tied up so they cannot move & are tortured for days. They are burnt, hit, tormented and jabbed in the eyes with sticks. Their trunks have to be tied up away from their feet to stop them trying to kill themselves. In the videos we watched, the crying & screaming from these baby elephants was heartbreaking.
This is what you fund when you pay to take a selfie with an elephant in Thailand.
Sorry guys, you can’t call yourself an animal lover then pay to have experiences with them. Riding elephants is cruel, not just because these animals are exhausted from carrying people around all day & are not taken care of properly, because of what the animals go through. Every time you pay for an elephant ride you are funding animal torture. No I am not exaggerating – you are literally giving animal abusers money.
Ok, now the hard part is over, let’s move onto my trip.
I landed in Chaing Mai pretty late on the Saturday evening & got a cab to the guest house. I felt very safe with the cab driver & the people at the airport & the guest house couldn’t have been any friendlier. Elephant Nature Park’s little coach came & picked me up on time the next morning stopping at a few other B&B’s on the way. We quickly stopped at Head Office to pay for the rest of the trip & fill in a few forms, then drove off through the jungle to the park.
Upon arrival, everyone was really friendly, both staff & travelers & I was happy to see that the majority of volunteers had actually also traveled on their own too. On the first day we got settled into our rooms (which was an eye opener) & had lunch. One of the best things about this place was the food – it was all vegan! 3 buffet style meals a day.
We had a task schedule for the week which included a number of different activities/maintenance chores such as preparing elephant food, washing elephants, scooping up elephant poop, cleaning the park & harvesting crops. I am not going to lie, some of them were exhausting but working towards such an amazing cause was really rewarding – the park really do rely on the volunteers.
During your free time, you could wander around the park a little & there was a small tuck shop/bar with sitting areas/wifi. You could also get Thai massages too, which I highly recommend.
With the dog shelter running in the park, myself & a few others in my group spent our free time helping out there, by socializing with & walking the rescue pups. Walking these excitable pups around a gorgeous park filled with beautiful elephants is something I will never forget.
The park is home to a number of elephants who have suffered abuse through out their lives & have been used for logging & tourism. Here they are introduced to other elephants, form their own families & get to life the rest of their life peacefully.
There is something overwhelming about the fact that these animals have the strength to hurt us badly but they don’t. Even after what these elephants had been through they were very gentle & respectful to us, which makes me ashamed of man kind 🙁
This quick decision turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, I would even go as far to say that some parts of the trip was life changing. If you are passionate about something, don’t let fear or the thought of doing something on your own stop you. Embrace the challenge and give yourself the opportunity to grow. I stepped outside my comfort zone (well actually I threw myself out of it lol) and I will have these memories for the rest of my life. If you are looking to do something similar and don’t know where to start, I really recommend Elephant Nature Park! With out volunteers, the park simply wouldn’t be able to run like it does, I really do have so much respect for the staff & the people who dedicate their lives to cause like this. Even if you are travelling through Chiang Mai, you can go and volunteer for the day, you don’t have to spend all week with them.
In return for some hard graft, Elephant Nature Park will give you a once in the lifetime opportunity & memories you will never forget. Getting so close too & learning so much about these beautiful animals the right way was really over whelming. I would encourage everyone to visit this place. the elephants are beautiful, the food is fab, the people are great and most importantly the cause is simply amazing.
If you have any questions about my time about ENP please don’t hesitate to drop me a DM! Have any of you been? Or have any of you been on a similar volunteering trip? Jess xx
P.S – If those food pics got you in the mood for tofu skewers check out my recipe inspired by the food at the park here!