I wanted to put together a piece on my time in Surin, Thailand. Where I volunteered with Elephants (ethically)
I wanted to talk to you all about how I came to be washing Elephants in a river and cleaning up their poo every day after breakfast!
Back in January, you all know I went over to Thailand (You can read my 5 things I loved about Bangkok here) but the main reason I went was to actually do a Home Stay and volunteer just for a few days to take care of some elephants.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding elephants in Thailand and yeah, unfortunately I did witness tourism elephants in Bangkok and the main city centre of Surin. We stayed over an hour away in the countryside and I can assure you this was one of the good ones. The elephants were happy and healthy and taken care of 24/7 by their Mahouts (elephant carers). I went with the team at RealGap
The tour I did was Bangkok > Surin > Elephant Village > Surin. Most meals were included and all accommodation and transport was planned and provided for us. I had to make my own way back to Bangkok after Surin and that was not paid or provided for.
The guides did assist me in booking the right ticket back to Bangkok and dropped us off at the bus stop in the morning. I was in Thailand for a total of 10 days and this programme was for 1 week only. One of our guides met my friend Kelly and I at the airport and drove us straight to where we were staying for a few nights.
There were varied and several tasks in rotation. We cut their food (grasses, banana tree leaves, sugar cane etc.) cleaned their area several times a day, hung out with the elephants, mahouts, our guide and the family taking care of us too (we had no signal & Wi-Fi so we really got stuck in!). We visited the local villages in search of general jobs to help (to cut their grass, trees etc. Also gathering food for the elephants)
We walked the elephants to the river and washed them too! (please read: they had fun playing in the water and we just pathetically occasionally scrubbed them free of mud) and free time; where we visited the local food market, I almost died in a canoe (read about that one Here) and just got taken care of! All of our meals were made for us by the family at the Home Stay and honestly? You really cannot beat homemade cooked local food.
My advice to you would be do your research! I cannot stress that enough. Off the top of my head, I only know about this programme and one in Chang Mai which is genuinely volunteering and not just tourist attractions which harm them. Again, I went with RealGap so it is worth checking out if they have something similar. I paid around £600 (not including flights, they were £450 found on Skyscanner, flying with BA) for the experience and it was worth every penny. Not to mention, it really helps the locals. A lot of that money really actually goes to them.
It was really nice to go out and visit the local villages. We visited the market where we tried a lot of different new food. We even created paper out of elephant poo. Yes, you read that correct! Admittedly, I didn’t get involved in the first process (stepping bare foot in poo to break it down) even if it is mostly grass, nope! Haha.
I left the elephant village covered in cuts, bruises and bites but it was so worth it. If you are going to do something similar definitely pack long sleeve t-shirts and longer trousers. Not just for temples but because cutting grass and sugar cane really takes its toll on your body! (We were sitting on it on the truck)
On the way back to Surin we also visited a little village that sold lots of handmade products made from real silk. I ended up nabbing a little over the body bag for 75 Baht (£1.25) and still use it regularly.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Surin and actually really miss the elephants. I grew quite attached to them and feel quite sad that I won’t get to see little Dumbo grow up (not his real name, just a nickname everyone apparently gives the baby elephant! Too much Disney I think… haha guilty!!)
If given the opportunity, I would definitely encourage you to do some volunteering with animals. It changes you for the better and I can actually say that I washed some elephants in a river! Again, please make sure you do your research and no harm comes to them.
Have you ever volunteered with Elephants? Or Animals? Let me know!