I’ve always had a fondness for Elephants, I’m not too sure why, I think it must be their sheer size. Luckily I never saw them in a zoo here in the UK when I was younger.
This was my first ever trip solo outside the UK, lots of my friends had settled down and the few remaining singletons weren’t really the backpacking/volunteering type, happier to sit in an all-inclusive hotel for 2 weeks.
Choosing a Volunteer Placement
I decided that I wanted to see Thailand and wanted to do more than just following the usual very well beaten path, I felt that volunteering was the way to go. Searching on Google brought up a million different options and some crazy prices.
I eventually came across www.thepodsite.co.uk who had some good reviews, there were a few options for volunteering with Elephants in Thailand, one of my friends had family who lived in Hua Hin so I went for the closest place which was www.wfft.org a couple of hours south of Bangkok in Petchaburi .
You could choose whether you wanted to work with just Elephants or with wildlife as well, I chose Elephants for the full 2 weeks. I booked to go over Christmas and New year 2009 for 2 weeks and another week at a hotel on the beach afterwards to relax.
Arriving in Thailand
Landing in Bangkok it seemed that everyone else had chosen the same day to arrive, getting off the plane there was a mad rush for the immigration desks, the queues were massive. Once through them I headed downstairs to get the coach to Hua Hin and away from hustle of Bangkok.
Getting to the Centre
I stayed in a cheap hotel for 1 night in central Hua Hin near the station and was picked up by taxi in the morning, arranged by WFFT. I was a little apprehensive as I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, the rescue centre was situated near a small village on temple grounds, we pulled up to the main gate in front of a big lake with small islands that had gibbons swinging freely in the trees.
After a small introduction with about 10 other volunteers we were shown our basic but comfortable accommodation, then we were taken on a tour of the whole centre, they had so many different animals all with a different sad tale of how they came to the centre and the various injuries they had. Eventually we came to the Elephants and I was instantly in awe of these majestic animals, their shear size and laid back way they sauntered round their enclosures picking up fruit with their long winding trunks.
The rest of the first day we were free to explore, unpack and get to know each other. Sleeping that night took a while as the sounds of the forest with the Monkeys, birds and insects were so alien to me, I learned to love it and instantly missed it when I left!
First Working Day
The first proper day as per every day started at 6.30am and we were put into teams of 3 or 4 for each Elephant. We teamed up with a current volunteer who knew their way around and we had to head into the forest to collect the Elephants and walk them back to their enclosures while the sun rose through the trees, so peaceful.
The daily tasks involved feeding the Elephants Sugar Cane, Banana Trees, Pineapple plants and fruit that had to be washed and chopped. Cleaning out their enclosures including the massive poo (least enjoyable) and remains of any uneaten food. Washing the Elephants whilst getting a good soaking yourself (nice in the baking sun), preparing enrichment’s, walking them with the mahouts into the forest and down to the lake, maintenance around the centre and then the dreaded harvest.
The harvest involved getting on a truck around 9am every other day and heading out to local farms who had Banana trees or Sugar Cane that they wanted cleared from the land, sometime this involved a long drive out into the countryside and gave you a chance to see some wonderful countryside and out of the way places.
The Banana tree harvest was the toughest work, some weighed up to 25kg but once you got the hang of getting them up onto your shoulder it wasn’t so bad, I did realise I was pretty unfit though and the heat really took it out of you. The ride back to the centre was the best bit and most of the time we stopped at a river for a proper cool down.
Around the Centre
The centre had everything you needed, large communal kitchen, a laundry service, basic accommodation with showers, European style toilets, fans, internet access and even a small bar.
Breakfast at the centre was a do it yourself affair but Lunch and Dinner were buffet style with a great selection of Thai food, Green curry was always my favourite!
Some evenings the volunteers would go to the local village for dinner or out to Hua Hin and Cha Am for the night markets or to the bars. There were also rest days you could take and spend at the centre or go to the local Spa for a bit of luxury.
This holiday was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had, I met so many nice people from all around the world, all there for a good cause, it was truly eye opening as to the abuse of wild animals for use in the tourist trade, I’d recommend it to anyone! www.wfft.org