Thailand is one of the best countries to visit if you want to immerse yourself in yoga. If you want to do some ‘karma’ yoga (aka volunteering), and if you like elephants, I would definitely recommend joining the Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai. On my trip around the world, I spent a week on the ‘Journey to Freedom’ project. Here’s my review.
What is the Elephant Nature Park?
The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand. You can either visit for a day or more (easy from Chang Mai), or volunteer. If you’re thinking of riding an elephant, you’re in the wrong place. The ENP takes care of elephants who got injured doing just that.
Imagine a baby elephant in a busy city like Bangkok… it’s tapping its leg against the pavement, rocking its body. Most people don’t think much about it, but it’s rocking its body out of anxiety and stress. A city is no place for an elephant.
Also, the methods the trainers (mahouts) use are not always pleasant… Sometimes they are downright violent.
Fortunately, there’s one courageous lady named Lek, who founded the Elephant Nature Park to take care of mistreated elephants who don’t have anywhere else to go.
It all started with one elephant Lek saved. Now, she has around 40 elephants living in the park, she sets many others free to live in the mountains, and she continues to educate the mahouts of the consequences of their ‘training’ methods.
Journey to Freedom Project
With the Journey to Freedom project, you spend the first 5 (of 7) days in Mae Joom Sam, a tiny village home of the Karen tribe high up in the mountains, with 30 inhabitants.
Your accommodation is a shared homestay in the village. This is not a typical guesthouse. It’s basic, and I would advice you to have an open mind. The people who live there are genuinly interested in you, they are so incredibly friendly!
During these 5 days you do 2 walks through the mountains to visit the elephants and their mahouts.
There’s not much electricity, but it’s good being away from everything, from the iPad, iPhone, tablet, TV, computer, all that. The people are so happy here, and yet they don’t have any of that stuff. Maybe because they don’t have any of that stuff.
You help out with any task that is available, from fixing roofs to teaching/entertaining the children.
You spend the last 2 days in the Elephant Nature Park. You get to bathe the elephants, feed them and ‘pet’ them. A big terrace offers you the perfect view, overlooking the park.
What did it all cost?
This program is 360 Dollars for one week. It includes everything; local transport, food, drinks, accommodation, and entrance fees. Compared to other volunteer programs, this is a reasonable price. The money is well spent, you can see it being used in such a positive way.
Please visit their website: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/.