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. Elephants were traditionally trained for logging to support local communities, but since widespread bans in the logging industry came into place, mahouts have been forced into urban areas with their elephants to beg for money.
This 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.
As a volunteer at the elephant caring project 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 cherished, meaning no-one else can ride an elephant except the mahout. The volunteering all 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, to helping with basic building repair work. You’ll get involved in any community activities going on at the time too.
Before travelling to the volunteer project, 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 your project.
On Monday morning you’ll travel by truck to the elephant village just under an hour away from Surin city, where you’ll stay until Thursday. 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!
From Monday night to Wednesday night 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.
From Thursday to Sunday, you’ll stay in a volunteer house in Surin city, where you can enjoy long weekends off. Since it’s the capital city serving a mostly agricultural province, you’ll find many modern conveniences in Surin city, from ATMs and pharmacies, to bars, restaurants, market stalls and a regular calendar of events. Some volunteers also use the long weekend as an opportunity to explore other places, such as Khao Yai National Park and the beach at Koh Samet.
Note there’s no Wi-Fi access at the elephant village, and Wi-Fi can be sporadic in rural Thailand more generally.
Volunteers fall in love with the elephants and traditional way of life while on the elephant caring volunteer project in rural Thailand. From getting to know more about these huge creatures to helping the community preserve a traditional way of life, this is an unrivalled volunteer experience.