Volunteer With Elephants – Surin
One of the most amazing things about Surin is its elephants. You won’t be in the area long before you see one ‘parked’ on a roadside, shading itself from the heat of the day. Elephants are revered throughout Thailand and this project gives volunteers the unique opportunity not only to get up close and personal with them, but also to live in a genuine Thai community and directly experience Thai life.
Throughout Asia, Surin is known as the Elephant Province as it’s home to over 400. The elephants were originally captured from wild jungles and used as farming ‘machinery’ by Surin’s founding fathers. Now that logging has been outlawed, these elephants have become redundant. These elephants are extremely expensive to look after as a fully-grown elephant eats over 400kgs of food each day. Many elephant owners (known as Mahouts) have sold their elephants or taken them to the streets of big cities to beg for money from tourists, which is illegal, very dangerous and harmful for the elephants.
Located on the outskirts of the Surin Province lies the farming community of Tha-Tum. This community is home to approximately 250 people and over 30 elephants. Through hard work we have now reached an agreement that by supporting this village with volunteers, elephant food, community projects and financial support, the Mahouts won’t sell their elephants and they will remain in the village with full support.
No skills or requirements are needed to volunteer in IFRE’s Elephant Project in Thailand. Volunteers are expected to be flexible, patient and possess a passion and love for animals. You will get wet and dirty on this project so having the ability to live outside of your comfort zone is also recommended.
Our volunteers will have a very hands-on experience in this project. Not only will volunteers learn to interact with elephants by riding them, washing them, feeding them and so on, volunteers will also spend three nights each week living in the home of the village elder and his family. This is a totally unique opportunity to see how life operates on a day-to-day basis. Learn to cook Thai food, fish, work on the farms, kayak on the local river and interact with the locals, all while supporting the elephants of the community and ensuring their well-being for years to come.
During the project, volunteers live three nights each week in the village where three meals each day are included. There is a small shop in the village from where you can purchase snacks. Volunteers are expected to help cooking meals and join in with day-to-day activities. Volunteers are also expected to follow strong local respect ethics at all times such as removing shoes before entering a house, keeping shoulders covered, maintaining respect for the Royal family, etc. These will be explained in more details in your pre-departure packet.
Whilst at the project, volunteers will live together in the home of the village elder and his family. You will get to experience rural Thai living firsthand. Wake up early to help prepare breakfast, give alms to the monks as they pass through the village, help out with community tasks and generally discover what life is like living like a Thai. While living in the elephant village, three meals each day are included and volunteers are expected to help with their preparation.
Please provide a typical Day Schedule for elephant conservation project.
DAY 1—ARRIVAL DAY
Our team will greet you at the airport and transport you to you accommodations at the famous backpacker hub on Khao San Road, where you check-in and enjoy the remainder of your day taking in the sights and sounds while becoming familiar with fellow travelers from around the world. Note: If you organizing your own transportation to orientation please be certain to contact us upon your check in so that we may confirm details with you regarding orientation. You will find full arrival details in the ‘Making Your Own Way’ and ‘Airport Pickup’ documents.
DAY 2—ORIENTATION & WELCOME
You will begin your day with a formal introduction to your coordinators and fellow group members. During orientation, you will learn more about your placement and Thailand, and then you will embark on the journey through the old city to see the magnificent temples and enjoy a riverboat tour. You will conclude your day with an evening on Khao San Road.
DAY 3—TRANSFER TO SURIN
Your coordinators will organize transport to Surin. Typically this will be a 7 hour train journey. Thailand’s trains are slow but full of character making the journey an experience in itself—remember to take photos! Note: occasionally transfer may be via public bus. Either way you’ll have a comfortable seat and air-con. When you arrive in Surin, our local team will take you to your accommodation. They will also help you settle in and prepare for visiting the elephants tomorrow.
DAYS 4—7 ELEPHANT VILLAGE
Immerse yourself into traditional life and get up close and personal with one of Thailand’s most iconic creatures. From Monday to Thursday you will stay in the village and support the mahouts caring for the elephants. Later in the day you can relax at the house or join in activities organized by the team. Your hosts are excellent cooks and all meals while at the village are included. You will return to your previous accommodation in Surin city on Thursday afternoon.
DAY 8—FREE DAY
Today is free for you to relax and explore Surin. If this is your final week at the program, our team will assist you with planning your onward travel. Those continuing the program will enjoy a three day weekend to unwind fully.
NOTE: Return travel to Bangkok is NOT included, but our team will help you make arrangements.
ADDITIONAL WEEKS: Placements longer than 1 week follow the same format. Volunteers will stay at the elephant village Monday to Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are free for exploring
Where do I stay? How far is the project from the accommodation? How do I commute every day?
Your orientation will be spent at a local guest house on Khao San road. Rooms are basic but comfortable, allocated on shared basis and will have air-con, hot shower and western en-suite toilet as standard. Wi-fi is also available for around 100THB per day
On Sunday you will stay in shared accommodation in Surin city. Typically this will be in houses rented from the local community. Accommodations are located close to amenities and within five minutes’ walk of our staff office. Included are; dormitory style rooms with bedding, mosquito mesh windows, power outlets, fans, free Wi-Fi*, working kitchen, refrigerator, kettle, showers and western style toilets. Please be aware many Thai toilets require that water be poured manually into the toilet to flush. You will return here on Thursday and stay Thursday and Friday night. If your program is for several weeks, you will also stay here every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.
On Monday morning the team will accompany you to the Elephant village via Song Taew (local trucks) about 45minutes away. From Monday to Thursday afternoon you will be living in a homestay belonging to a local family in the elephant village. You will live with your coordinator and fellow volunteers on the program. Your accommodation will be basic but clean and comfortable. You will live ‘Thai style’ sleeping up to five a room on floor mattresses. Included are fans, mosquito mesh, power outlets and a shared kitchen where our Team will help you pre-pare some delicious meals. Wi-Fi is not available at the elephant village. Bathrooms include cool showers and manual flush western style toilets.
*Even in Surin Wi-Fi Internet access can be intermittent.
What would I be doing at the project?
From Monday – Thursday you’ll be hands-on with the day to day care of the elephants. You will assist with providing food and water, mucking out and helping to bathe them. You’ll learn to work with the villagers to plant and harvest the crops needed to sustain the elephants’ vast appetite. You’ll also learn to safely ‘walk’ your elephant for daily exercise.
As a guest and temporary member of the community we encourage you to interact with the villagers. You may be able to assist with maintaining the village – basic repair and renovation work as well as joining in with community activities. All the time you’ll be supported by a dedicated English speaking member of the team.
You’ll have the opportunity to learn to cook some delicious Thai dishes and be invited to give alms to the local monks. In the afternoon the team will arrange some fun and relaxing activities such as swimming or a kayaking. You may even catch a fish or two after learning the traditional techniques as well as learning to make your own paper from elephant dung!
Upon the completion of each project week, you’ll return to Surin City; either to prepare for a relaxing weekend in the town or as preparation for you onwards travel
Will I be working in the project on my own or will there be someone assisting me while working?
You will work in a team with fellow volunteers and be assisted by an experienced member of the local Starfish Team.
How many hours a day do I get to work?
The Elephant program is a complete cultural immersion, meaning you will become part of the village for 4 days each week. Hours of work will vary day to day depending on the current needs of the village. Typically the working day is 9.00am – 3.00pm. During the hot season April – June you may start as early as 7.00am so as to avoid working in the midday sun.
Is the elephant conservation project available all-round the year?
The Elephant program is available throughout the year.
Please note that over the Christmas and December/January New Year period, our local teams will be on annual leave and projects will be closed for 1 week.
If you are wishing to volunteer during this time please make an enquiry to confirm that the project will be available.
Any important information you want to share about this project.
Please note; so as to maintain best practice, we do not condone the riding of elephants by visitors. Riding of the elephants by volunteers is not allowed. The bond between the mahout and elephant is very special and culturally complex thus should be respected.