Mahouts — people who look after elephants — mark a tradition that spans centuries in Thailand. A mahout is usually assigned an elephant at a young age, and the two become bound to each other for life. The elephant volunteer project in the rural province of Surin provides a sustainable way of life for mahouts and their elephants. At the same time, it gives volunteers the opportunity to become part of a traditional Thai community and contribute to the future wellbeing of mahouts and their elephants.
In the West of Thailand is the community of Sangkhlaburi, where a project helps rural communities build and renovate necessary structures to support community life, such as community centres and local schools. The building volunteer project makes a crucial difference to livelihoods in Thai communities and gives volunteers the opportunity to get stuck in and make a difference while being immersed in traditional village life.
After giving something back to the Thai people, it’s time to enjoy the country’s beauty on the striking and fun-loving island of Koh Pha Ngan. With stunning beaches and the famous ‘moon’ parties, this is the time to kick back and relax at the end of an inspiring and adventure-filled trip.
As a volunteer at the elephant caring project in Surin in rural Thailand, you’ll get stuck into the day to day care required for the elephants to stay happy and healthy. You’ll help with feeding and watering these magnificent animals, as well as mucking out their living areas and helping to bathe them. You’ll also learn the important skill of safely walking an elephant. Remember that the bond between each mahout and their elephant is sacred, meaning no-one else can ride an elephant except the mahout. The volunteering happens to the wider backdrop of a traditional elephant village, so you’ll also give the villagers a hand to keep their community thriving. This can involve anything from planting and harvesting crops needed to sate the enormous appetites of the elephants, or helping with basic building repair work.
As a volunteer at the building project in Sangkhlaburi, you’ll find out what the community needs are at the time. In the past it’s included things like building water pipes, constructing community centres and undertaking repair work to key buildings in local communities. English-speaking co-ordinators advise volunteers what needs to be done and explain rural building techniques. Outside of volunteering hours, travellers have the opportunity to take part in the many adventure activities on offer in the local area, including zip lining, zorbing, quad biking, kayaking and bamboo rafting. Sangkhlaburi’s proximity to the Myanmar border makes it a particularly culturally interesting place to spend time.
Visiting the island of Koh Pha Ngan is all about rest, relaxation and fun. Travellers enjoy the many beautiful beaches and the ‘moon’ parties.
Before travelling to the volunteer projects, you’ll fly into Bangkok and acclimatise to your surroundings from a backpacker’s lodge on the famous Khao San Road. You’ll have your orientation with the group and meet your fellow volunteers, before enjoying a city tour of Bangkok where you’ll see the old city, temples and take part in a river boat ride. After two nights, you’ll travel to Surin by air conditioned train or bus to start volunteering at the elephant project.
You’ll spend three nights and four days at the elephant village just under an hour away from Surin city. Each morning you’ll work on the tasks required to look after the elephants and the local community. You’ll have the support of a dedicated English speaking member of the team to make sure you get the most out of your experience. After the hard graft of the mornings, you’ll have the chance to try out some relaxing and traditional local activities in the afternoons. You may go swimming or kayaking, give alms to the local monks, try out the traditional local fishing techniques, learn how to cook traditional Thai dishes, or even learn how to make paper from elephant dung! You’ll be staying in a homestay in the elephant village. Accommodation is basic but comfortable and you’ll live ‘Thai style’ sleeping in up to five people per room on floor mattresses. You’ll have access to fans, mosquito nets, power outlets, cool showers and manual flush Western style toilets. You’ll also have access to shared kitchens where the local team will help you prepare your meals. Note there’s no Wi-Fi access at the elephant village, and Wi-Fi can be sporadic in rural Thailand more generally.
After volunteering with the elephants, you’ll have a free day to explore Surin city, which has many modern conveniences, from ATMs and pharmacies, to bars, restaurants, market stalls and regular events. You’ll then return to Bangkok and stay overnight before travelling to Sangkhlaburi, which is about seven hours away from the city by public coach.
Next it’s time to spend five days volunteering at the building project. Volunteering hours tend to be 8:00 to 15:00, depending on the weather, and you’ll be driven to and from the shared accommodation for volunteers. You’ll be given all the tools and equipment needed to complete the building works, and you can buy your own lunch from local restaurants.
The final stage of your journey sees you travelling back to Bangkok before making the trip to the island of Koh Pha Ngan, where you’ll spend ten days enjoying the weather, beaches and parties. Accommodation comes in the form of a beachside 3* hotel shared with one other person, with air conditioning and en suite facilities. At the end of this rest and relaxation phase, you’ll travel back to Bangkok for a final night.
Travellers fall in love with the elephants, communities and ways of life they experience while they’re on this Thai adventure. For those who want to give something back while they travel and create memories to last lifetimes, this elephant, building and island adventure trip is the ultimate travel experience to embark on.