“I kissed an elephant and liked it!”
Would you like to pick up poop or prepare food?
Is that sand bag full enough?
Have you taken a water break?
How many watermelons are left in the truck?
Are there any French fries or spring rolls left?
All questions asked numerous times during our time spent at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. By our, I mean the 55 amazing people I get to call my co-workers (and some of their family).
NY based flight attendant, Robyn Beasley spent a day at the Elephant Nature Park on one of her previous trips to Thailand. While on a London layover, she thought how amazing it would be to take other flight attendants to volunteer and help these sweet creatures. A year later… we were there!
Not only were we there with $12,200 to donate to the park and local people, we were ready to work and make a positive impact for these animals.
With the help of family, friends and coworkers, the $12,200 was raised from t-shirt sales, silent auctions, donations and various fundraiser events. Many of the volunteers also brought school supplies, clothing, candy for the local children and dog food/toys. One extra-special gift we all had in common… love. Lots and lots of love.
We were picked up in groups from our various Chiang Mai hotels and enjoyed a comfortable ride to the Elephant Park. Upon arrival, we were given a tour of the park and introduced to our guides that would be with us for the week. We also went through an orientation during which we learned about the park and the elephants. We enjoyed a delicious vegan lunch, took a group picture and were then given some free time to get settled into our rooms. Once settled, many of us began volunteering and created an assembly line to unload a truck full of watermelons. After our vegan dinner, local children came and performed traditional dances for us and we were each blessed by a man from the local village. We spent time getting to know everyone before going to bed and preparing for the real work to begin the next day.
A Typical Day
8:00 Gather at the “Meeting Point” to begin morning chores
13:00 Gather at the “Meeting Point” to begin afternoon chores
15:30 Bathe the elephants
19:00 – 19:45 Free time and evening entertainment
We were all divided into 4 groups (Group A, B, C or D) with different chores being assigned to each group twice a day. Chores included:
-Preparing food for the elephants
-Building a dam
-Picking up poop
-Fire break (creating a fire path)
-Shoveling sand for elephant stalls
-Enrichment (stocking enclosure with food)
-Cutting corn (usually included as a daily chore, but we didn’t have to do this as it was out of season)
All 3 meals provided daily by the park were Vegan. Choices included various pasta dishes, vegetables, create your own salad bars, fruits, rice and a different soup each day. French fries and spring rolls were provided at lunch (and boy were they a hot commodity) and even onion rings one night at dinner. Various dishes with tofu were always an option. Foods like peanut butter, ketchup and hot sauce even appeared. A snack station that sold beers, soda, Snickers, Oreos, potato chips, peanuts amongst others, was also open each day, for those that wanted to purchase their own snacks.
We were each assigned rooms with beds and mosquito nets (most were shared rooms). Some rooms had private bathrooms, while the majority of the group shared clean communal bathrooms. The rooms were comfortable, but basic. We were all ok with this, knowing that the money was being used towards helping the animals rather than providing us with luxury.
Free time activities
We did have some free time each day. Many of us would curl up with a book, enjoy sitting at the platform using the Wi-Fi and watching the elephants, enjoying Thai Massages from the locals or enjoying the evening entertainment provided by the park. We even got to visit a local school. Entertainment included a movie night, a Thai Culture lesson, performances by the Mahouts (a person who works with the elephants) and performances by the local Thai people.
If you are interested in going, then suggested packing items include:
– Comfortable shoes (sneakers and shoes that can get wet and dry out quickly). Many of us had Keens, Chaco or rain boots. I opted for the rain boot route and donated them to the park at the end of the trip.
– A long-sleeve light jacket – the mornings and late nights could be a little chilly at times
– Bug spray
– A bandana or face mask as there is a lot of dust.
– Work gloves
– A flashlight – handy to have if you have to use the communal bathroom when it’s dark.
If I had to describe my time at ENP, I would say “life-changing”. I am so proud to call this group of people my co-workers. We all pushed ourselves, achieved fantastic results and learnt so much about elephants. It really was the trip of a lifetime!
I hope you have the opportunity to experience such a wonderful place and join us when we return! Feel free to contact me for more information!