Volunteer in Thailand with Friends for Asia

Volunteer Stories – Elephant Camp Stories

Elephant Camp Volunteer Video

“as corny as it sounds, a dream come true!”

  • I had the most incredible time doing the Elephant Camp Project at the beautiful Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand. From waking up at six in the morning to bathe the elephants, to feeding and cleaning after the elephants, I had an unforgettable experience. These elephants you get to know and learn about are such an enormous yet gentle animal, and spending so much time interacting with them was, as corny as it sounds, a dream come true!

Allie Peloquin, Vancouver, BC, Canada – February, 2012

“Working with elephants has truly been an unbelievable experience.”

Friends for Asia is a great organization that helped connect me with an elephant camp. Working with elephants has truly been an unbelievable experience. Even though it has just been a week since I started, I have learned so much from a bunch of the staff that I am disappointed I only signed up for two weeks. Having our own elephant makes the experience exponentially better. Though it’s tough to really establish a great relationship in a short time, I do believe that my elephant remembers me. The simple actions of smiling or splashing me with water shows me that my elephant is having a good time and is being cared for, which only helps me enjoy this experience even more. Because when it comes down to it, what am I really here for? I hope that I have the opportunity to return again someday.

Bhanu Seth, Forest Hills, NY, USA – January, 2013

Volunteer Video 2

This is a video of two volunteers playing/feeding a young elephant at the camp

“At the weekends I always couldn’t wait it to get back”

Overall I can say, that I just love the elephant camp. At the weekends I always couldn’t wait it to get back. The few jobs you have to do are mainly work, where just a lot of hands are needed and you nothing, that’s really challenging. The bath and the ride with the elephants has always been an amazing experience for me and didn’t lost it’s charm, even after three weeks. I can’t really say anything negative apart from that, what I already said above and I if I would try to summarize the whole time in one word, it would maybe be: Awesome!

Christopher Weidlich, Altenburg, Germany – December, 2012

It was a Really Good Feeling to Help…

I had a really wonderful time there. At 6 o´clock in the morning and at 4 pm I went washing my elephant together with my mahout. Although it was November, it hasn’t been too cold in the river and I enjoyed the Abnamchang-Time (Nam is the Thai word for water and Chang means elephant). I was lucky to be able to stay in the tree houses during the two weeks and I really recommend for everybody, to stay there. It is nice to sleep on top of the tree, hearing the river below and having the cute campdogs sleeping in front of the door.

All over the day, we had lots of things to do, for example watching the show and talking to the tourists, sweeping the sheds, packing vitamin bags for the elephants. On Thursday, we went cutting elephantgrass. It was fun, although it was a bit exhausting. But it was a good feeling to help the mahout and the Thai people cutting and carrying the grass and it was great to return to the camp on top of the grass loaded in the truck.

  • Anke Hannig – Munich, Germany – Elephant Camp – December, 2010

We would Splash and Play…

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at the elephant camp immensely! I really took the time to try all activities and learn what the mahouts live through everyday. I loved “aub nam chang” (bathe elephant) time with my elephant, Tai Sai. Over the 5 weeks I spent at the camp, I really bonded well with her and the mahout Willie. Willie and I would take her to the opposite bank of the river and we would splash and play. Many times we all had water fights (guess who won… answer, not me) and it became the most enjoyable times I would spend with her.

Don’t be afraid to bring your camera and ask your mahout to take pictures while you are bathing and splashing. I got some great pics with Tai Sai that way! Willie taught me several ways to get on the elephants back, most of which I was not good at. It is harder than you think to get up that high, but it was fun to try. I developed quite the core strength at camp riding her around!

I took advantage of watching the elephant shows on a daily basis. It was a great way to get close to the elephants and be around the mahouts as they do their job. The elephant paintings are amazing to see and were one of my favorite parts of the show.

On many days we made and fed vitamin packs to the elephants, as well as cleaned stables while the elephants were trekking with tourists. It is enjoyable work and the elephants appreciate returning to a clean stable! Once I worked up a good appetite, I enjoyed trying several different items off the menu. Don’t be afraid to order it spicy!

  • Christy Thompson – Minnesota, USA – Elephant Camp Volunteer Project – December, 2010

Very Welcoming…

During our second week we were fortunate enough to visit one of the hill tribe villages for one night. It was an incredible experience to participate and oversee the culture first-hand. We took part in dancing around the fire, trying out the various instruments, playing with the children and asking questions about the tribe. I really appreciated the simplicity of their way of life, using no electricity and being located in such a natural environment. The villagers were very welcoming, gracious of donations, and made the experience very enjoyable.

  • Phoebie Barta – British Columbia, Canada – Elephant Camp Volunteer Project – December, 2010

Volunteer Video 3

This is a short 30 second video of the first day at the elephant camp for two of our volunteers.

Being So Close to the Animals is Amazing…

First of all I really want to thank Aom, Run and Todd for taking such good care of us volunteers. Even though I was at the FFA place only at weekends I always felt very welcome. If you have any questions during your stay at FFA – how ever stupid they my seem to you – do not hesitate to ask the FFA people, if possible they will help you.

Staying at the elephant camp was a unique experience for me. Being so close to the animals is just amazing. I won’t write anymore about the beautiful and very clever elephants. You should find out for yourself! But if you go there make sure to take many books or take your ipod with you, because you will have a lot of downtime. Since I was the only volunteer for 2 weeks I had much time to read and to enjoy the peaceful place.

I learned a lot about the Thai way of working, which was a wonderful experience as it takes you out of the stressful life you might be used to from home. Seeing the home of the mahouts was very interesting too. For me it was a good experience to go to a place without TV, internet or telephone reception. It is definitely worth doing it once in a lifetime.

  • Franka Schielke – Nuenchen, Germany – Elephant Camp September 2010

If You Want to Experience Time Around Elephants…

If you want to experience a short or long amount of time around elephants, then this project is for you. We would wake up early in the morning to help our specific Burmese mahout clean out their elephant’s shelter, pick up the dung to be reused and turned into paper (which actually doesn’t smell that bad) and bathe their elephant in the river.

The sense of community at the camp is great and everyone has a purpose or job. Some work in the restaurant, some work as mahouts, some work as ox-cart drivers, some cut grass, all while the children attend the local school which has a lot of promise. After breakfast, we would attend the elephant shows where they would perform for the tourist and paint pictures. Although my specific elephant was not in this show, I still enjoyed it immensely.

Afterwards, we would sweep out another few shelters and then prepare the elephant medicine and vitamins for most of the elephants to eat. In the afternoon, we would teach at the local school grades 1-3. This required a lot of patience, but it was very rewarding. Many of the kids would come to the door of the classroom even if it was not their day to be taught and repeat the words that we were teaching them. After school, we would bathe the elephants once again for around 30 minutes and then wait until our dinner was prepared. It was a truly great experience all around.

  • David Eric Allen – Arkansas,USA – Elephant Camp – July 2010

It’s a Once in a Lifetime Experience

My last two days were unforgettable, my mahout brought me through the jungle, which I strongly recommend and also to a deep river and got to act like a cowboy and try and balance on my elephant while he ordered her to throw me off. An amazing experience. Don’t be afraid to get wet, have fun, start water fights, and roll around on your elephant in the water, it’s a once in a life time experience.

  • Sinead O’Leary, Cork, Ireland – Elephant Camp – February, 2010

I Got to See a Two Day Old Elephant…

I did two weeks at the Elephant Camp. I had an absolutely amazing time there, really wished I’d been there for longer. Just before I started there an elephant was born, so I got to see a 2 day old elephant on the day I started there – what an amazing way to start the project and it just got better and better.

The staff at the elephant camp are all really great, very friendly, brilliant people. The work they do, not only at the camp but also for elephants in Thailand, is incredible and I now have a much greater understanding and appreciation of what it is they do and what they seek to achieve as a result of my volunteer experience.

The help and support I received from Friends for Asia, right from signing up to do the volunteering through to when I left Thailand at the end, has been absolutely brilliant. They are a wonderful team of people who do an amazing job – thank you so much Todd, Fai and Ran. You helped to make my experience here in Thailand a truly enjoyable and unforgettable one.”

  • Viv Hawker, Wellington, New Zealand – Elephant Camp – January, 2010

Elephant Camp Exceeded All my Expectations…

My time at the Elephant Camp exceeded all my expectations for volunteering. I have never done anything like this before but would definitely do it again. I spent 4 weeks at the camp and every minute was fun and very rewarding. There is such a variety of things to do. The day starts at 6:30 with elephant bathing in the river then onto watching the elephant show, cleaning stables and making elephant snacks. In the afternoon you cut grass or teach at the local school.

Everyone at the camp is really friendly and accommodating and will do everything they can to ensure that you have the best time possible when you are there. The mahoots are amazing and allow you to spend lots of time with the elephants which are the unbelievable animals to work with. Chang Mai is also a fantastic city to stay in, like a smaller friendlier version of Bangkok and all the volunteers from all the Friends for Asia programmes are very friendly and make you feel welcome.

I would definitely recommend the elephant programme to anyone who wants to volunteer and has a sense of adventure and fun. I am looking forward to going back already!

  • Susan Thompson, Leeds, U.K. – Elephant Camp – November, 2009

A Wonderfully Rewarding Experience…

This was a wonderfully rewarding experience. Having volunteered at a zoo in the USA, I can vouch that you will never be allowed this much direct contact with elephants in America. Here you ride and pose with elephants many times daily, and really get a sense of how amazingly gentle and patient they can be. The work you do is, for the most part, not that difficult, and well worth the rewards! I would recommend this program to any animal lover, or anyone wanting to learn about a new species. Don’t do this program if you are afraid of a bit of dirt or water. If you are not, and want the best chance you’ll ever get to hang out with elephants. Do this program!

  • Dr. Diana Roberts, Colorado, USA – Elephant Camp – November, 2009

I Didn’t Want to Go Home…

Wow – it was so much fun and I don’t want to go home. The elephants are amazing creatures and the happiness, simplicity and acceptance of life from the village people is so overwhelming. It’s an early wake up call in the morning to wash the elephants but well worth it and the afternoon water fights with the mahouts and elephants – I would never miss.

I had the most wonderful mahout Choy – he would sing in the morning, laugh and joke around – it was enjoyable to spend time with him and Nangen my elephant. I would visit the city of Chiang Mai and on Monday mornings be so excited to escape back to the Elephant camp – to the peacefulness forest and the wonderful people. The scenery is spectacular and it has taken me to another world. I will very much miss the life at the elephant camp. Thanks very much Friends for Asia and the Elephant Camp for this wonderful experience – that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Lina Quintal, Horsely, Australia – Elephant Camp – August, 2009

I have Learned So Much…

I had the best time of my life. The 7 weeks went by much to fast and I really don’t want to leave the elephant camp and Thailand. The elephants are amazing creatures. They’re very big and although they can be very dangerous, the elephants in the camp are very sweet and friendly. They look so wise to me! I spend hours and hours just sitting with them and looking at them. Especially my elephant Beng touched my heart deeply. He is only 9 years old and he is so beautiful. I will miss hem so much. Also the baby elephant in the camp is so funny and sweet. You can play with him and watch him and his mother during bathing time. It is really one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

After my long stay in the camp, I got very attached to the local people and the staff of the camp. They will be in my heart forever. They are so nice and friendly and funny too! Just forget the language barrier and communicate with them. I have learned so much from them. There happiness, the simplicity and acceptance of their life is really overwhelming and intense. It made me look different at my own life in the Netherlands. I felt so welcome and happy and relaxt during my voluntary work over there. I will very much miss the life at the elephant camp.

I know for sure that I will come back to Thailand and the elephant camp next year. Friends for Asia, and everyone of the Elephant Camp, thank you so much for this wonderful experience. It really changed my life forever.

  • Marieke Klein Haneveld, Deventer, Netherlands – Elephant Camp, August, 2009

Surreal to have Lived among Elephants

We enjoyed our time at the Elephant Camp immensely. It still seems so surreal to have lived among 70 elephants for the past two weeks. We loved being so close to these amazing and intelligent creatures. We loved seeing how the mahouts care for and interact with the elephants. We loved bathing with the mahout and our elephant every day. Teaching our Mahout even brought us closer together and it was a lot of fun.

Despite the language barriers, we found the people at the elephant camp and in the village to be the friendliest and most accommodating people we’ve ever met. We are glad we did this volunteer program through Friends for Asia. Todd, Run, Fai and Nitty were all very helpful, and they were a great resource for recommendations on what to do in Chiang Mai. We had a lot of fun working in camp and hanging out with other volunteers in Chiang Mai. This was an unforgettable experience, which we wouldn’t want to miss.”

  • Sandra and Stefan Saller, Nurenburg, Germany – Elephant Camp, August, 2009

Orientation was Thorough, Comprehensive and Ongoing…

As with most volunteer assignments, I feel got much more from my stay at the Elephant Camp than I gave. In a small way, I feel my volunteering at the Elephant Camp helped provide financially for the elephants’ short and long term care. The orientation and follow-up assistance Friends For Asia provided me during my three week stay at the elephant camp was thorough, comprehensive and best of all ongoing.

The staff of Friends For Asia were always available to answer my questions, provide advice, as well as a lift into Chiang Mai at the end of a fun week at the elephant camp. I have been to Thailand, more than six times over the last few years, and I must say, this visit has been the most relaxing of all my Thailand visits. Being able to learn about the Asian elephant, to ride and bath them, as well as learning about the whole mahout lifestyle, has greatly enriched my life. I have already begun sharing my experiences via my blog www.balithai.blogspot.com. Thank you Friends For Asia for coordinating and supporting me, as well as the wonderful Thai elephants!

  • Leslie Temanson, California, USA – Elephant Camp – July, 2009

An Unforgettable Experience…

I enjoyed my time at the Elephant Camp immensely. It still seems so surreal to have lived among 70 elephants for the past six weeks. I loved being so close to these amazing, intelligent and docile creatures. I loved seeing how the mahouts care for and interact with the elephants. I loved hanging out with the mahouts during the elephant show every day. I looked forward to having water fights with my mahout and diving around in the river with him and my elephant every afternoon. I even enjoyed waking up at 6 in the morning to pick up elephant dung!

Despite the language barriers, I found the people at the elephant camp and in the village to be the friendliest and most accommodating people I’ve ever met. I’m glad I did this volunteer program through Friends for Asia. Todd, Fai and Niti were all very helpful, and they were a great resource for recommendations on what to do in Chiang Mai. I had a lot of fun working in the camp and hanging out with other volunteers in Chiang Mai. This was an unforgettable experience, and I’ll definitely be coming back to visit.

  • Ivan Ng, Pennsylvania, USA – Elephant Camp – July, 2009

It was a Joy Working at the Elephant Camp

It was a joy working at the Elephant Camp: waking up to elephants passing by my balcony in the morning, swimming with the elephants, eating like a king, pitching in with the work, building relationships with the staff and having a well earned beer at the roadside bar in the evening.

  • James Kneafsey, Dublin, Ireland – Elephant Park – March, 2009

A bit Scary but also a Lot of Fun

The last week that I was at the park I was there alone. In that one week I got to know a lot of the people at lot better and we got to spend more time together. I was more a part of the community then before where I was just one of the volunteers. Getting up on an elephant the first time is a bit scary, but also a lot of fun. It is a really BIG animal and moving around on the back of the elephant can be very difficult. However when I first get the hang of it I just loved it.

My favorite part of the day was when we got to go into the river to bath with the elephants. The mahouts made a lot of fun and it often ended up in a big water fight. I’m really going to miss getting up early in the morning to go into the river with my elephant Quang-tid and her mahout. Kung arranged for us to go to the local school to experience the preparations of Loy Krathon. It was a lot of fun to make the Krathons and the kids were nice and helpful. It was a really nice way to learn about Thai culture.

I was a bit scared to go to the school to teach the children English not knowing what level they would be on or how to go about it. We ended up teaching some of the smaller children and it ended up being a lot of fun. We toaght them numbers and colors and they were having just as much fun as we were. The day before I had to go home was my birthday. Kung and P Air arranged a small party for me with birthday cake and everything. It was so nice of them and we had a lot of fun. My mahout made me a ring from elephant hair and it is the best present I could have gotten. All in all I really enjoyed my stay at the elephant park and even though I just leaf the park a couple of hours ago I already miss it there. It has been an experience of a lifetime.”

  • Line Buhl, Roskilde, Denmark – Elephant Camp – November, 2008

The Jungle was Beautiful and the River Amazing

I’ve always wanted to work with animals. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to volunteer, and as I was searching the internet I happened to come across the Elephant Camp service site through Friends for Asia. After all of the initial apprehensions, I decided to volunteer there and I am so glad I did. I will admit that it was a little rocky at first, mostly because it was my first trip alone I was the first volunteer there, but everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming. I felt that they were genuinely happy that I was there and they loved it when I asked questions about their culture. At the camp I had the opprotunity to bathe elephants, give basic first aid, and ride them mahout-style. The jungle around the camp was beautiful and the river was amazing to see.

I learned so much through my service at Maetaman, but I also learned a lot just being in Thailand. I realized how much I take things for granted and how much I don’t need to be happy. I grew so much as a person during my stay here, and I would recommend this site to anyone who loves elephants and wants amazing daily adventures.

  • Jade Egelhoff, Washington, USA – Elephant Camp, August, 2008