As I say goodbye to Zaza, Champagne, Hope, Tubtim, and all of the other elephants at the sanctuary I feel a sense of wonder. The land, the people, and the animals that make this experience so magical will remain with me forever. I urge you to consider coming here and making a contribution of your time and labor. You will be rewarded ten fold. Some information to help you decide…..
Where: Elephant Nature Park, less than 90 minutes from Chiang Mai, Thailand
ENP is not for everyone. The accommodations are rustic. No heat or air conditioning. Neither of which is necessary during the month of January. Mosquito nets are provided. There is running water – sometimes hot, sometimes not. No television, and wifi is sporadic at best. Meals are all vegan and vegetarian. I am neither, but I found every meal to be filling and delicious. And, an ice cold beer can be bought for $1.70! Bring mosquito repellant, sunscreen, and a sense of adventure.
There are no single rooms. I was matched with Peggy from Canada and Lorenza from Italy, both friendly, funny, caring women whom I hope will be in my life for a long time. Partly because we are so isolated here, and partly because of a shared purpose, the other volunteers become like family. Most of my fellow volunteers were Aussies, Canadians, Americans, and a handful of Europeans. They were grade schoolers and retirees, solo travelers (like me), couples, and families. We lingered on the pavilions after dinner sharing life stories, playing games, and laughing. These were some of the most interesting, friendly, and engaged individuals I have met in all my travels.
The work is hard. We scrubbed melons, sorted bananas, weeded and prepped new garden plots, cut grass and corn stalks (with machetes!), scooped giant elephant poo, fed the elephants, helped them cool off in the river, unloaded truckloads of melons and pumpkins, and whatever else needed to be done to support the efforts of the sanctuary employees and veterinarians. And for fun we often went to the dog rescue to walk dogs and play with the puppies.
So it is not a rest and relaxation kind of vacation. But the rewards are many….the sense of peace that comes with being around these big, gentle creatures; the unique setting and beautiful Thai countryside; the comraderie.
But my time at the sanctuary is ending and I am off to Bangkok and the next leg of the journey. Good night from Thailand.