The most magical day in my 8.5 months of travel occurred on February 6, 2019. That was the day I spent volunteering at Elephant Nature Park (https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/), and with a nearby partner program (Pamper a Pachyderm, https://www.saveelephant.org/pamper-a-pachyderm/), which are located just 60km outside of Chiang Mai. IT WAS EVERYTHING. Elephant Nature Park is home to more than 80 elephants, and hundreds of dogs and cats. The traumatic abuse most of these elephants suffered prior to rescue will break your heart, but the day is anything but sad. You learn so much, and I got to spend hours feeding, petting, bathing, loving on and learning about these gentle giants. This organization does so much good, and I highly recommend that anyone coming to Thailand spend at least a day here. (But if you’re far away and still want to support, you can also show your support financially by donating to sponsor an elephant or a dog!) Before I walk you through my day and experience, a very important note: riding elephants is cruel and inhumane, and they suffer terribly. Please do not ever do this, and please do not support any tour company or organization that offers elephant rides! Your money is your power, so please use it for good. If you want an up close and personal experience with elephants, visit Elephant Nature Park (or one of the other reputable elephant sanctuaries throughout northern Thailand).
When you sign up to volunteer (yes, you do have to pay- this provides a good stream of income, which is necessary to keep this amazing sanctuary operating), the Nature Park will take care of all the details. They picked me up from my Chiang Mai hotel in the morning (around 8am) and we drove out to the Park. There are normally 8-10 volunteers daily, but on my day there were only two of us; Alfredo, from Mexico City, and me. Because we signed up to spend much of my day with a partner project, Pamper, that was the first stop of the day. We spent about 30 minutes helping to cut fruit and make these fruit-nut-grain “balls”, and then spent the next 30-40 minutes feeding the two elderly female elephants who live at Pamper: Sa Ard (born 1948) and Happy (born 1942). What an introduction to these beautiful creatures!
After the initial introductions and round 1 of feeding (you quickly learn: the feeding never really stops, these gentle GIANTS need to eat all day long), we were given banana bags and Pamper’s owner/founder, Muoy Khamwichia, our tour guide, and another staff member (plus the 7 or so rescue dogs who live on this property) led us for the daily elephant walk.
We quickly learned: banana = friend. No banana = no friend. Ha! Bananas are a great way to keep the elephants’ attention. Sa Ard in particular never got full or sick of bananas. She was also quite the messy eater, and I ended up with a mud bath from her trunk, haha.
After a gentle 30 or so minute walk, Alfredo and I were taken to this gorgeous location located uphill from the Nature Park for a really tasty vegan lunch. While we ate the elephants continued to walk and get exercise.
After lunch we walked the elephants back to Pamper and said our goodbyes.
Next stop: Elephant Nature Park. Alfredo and I were taken a few kilometers upstream to our raft. Rather than driving directly into Elephant Nature Park, we got to enjoy a rafting trip down the river into the Park! During the rainy season, you would definitely get some good rapids here; it’s currently winter (dry season) so the river was quite calm during most of our ride. Upon arriving to Elephant Nature Park, our guide then walked us through the Park for the next 1.5-2 hours, introducing us to many of the elephants living here. Many of these elephants suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, and you can see the ongoing trauma they are enduring. It is heartbreaking (but also so good to know they are at a place where they are given all the time, attention, and resources to heal- as much as they can heal), but also uplifting. Watching the baby elephants get into trouble and involve all the other young elephants in the park (while all the trainers are running after them) is hilarious.
The opportunity to spend so much time with elephants in such a gorgeous park gave me WAY more than the fee I paid them for the day. I may very well return to Thailand for the sole purpose of doing a much longer visit to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park. Please click on the links I provided above to learn more and start planning your trip right away (or click the following link for all the ways you can help- donations, online shopping, and more! https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/how-you-can-help/).