I spent the last week volunteering at the elephant nature park (ENP) near Chaing Mai, northern Thailand. I arrived with a grouop of about 1o people and we were put to work straight away unlaoding a truck of pumpkins for the ele's lunch! More volunteers from around the world turned up to work for the week (if you look at the photo I was tagged in on facebook that's all of us there). After working up a sweat we went out onto the platfrom like structure which is where we do things as a group like eating. To my amazment there were several elephants on the ground with there trunks reaching out for food on the platfrom. We had to feed the hungry ele's (they love bananas the most) which was pretty special. We then ate our lunch which is a huge selection of thai VEGITARIAN dishes, they were deliscious, only a few blew my head off! The next thing we knew we were being walked down to the river with a buckets in our hands. We had to bath the elephants by throwing buckets of water over them (and inevitably each other). It was just majical to be right next to them and be able to pat behind their ears (which is their favourite spot apparently). One elephant, Big Lady, likes to roll over in the water and let you scrub her back. The ele's look quite out of place being so big and thrashing about in the river, but you can tell that they love it. I also learnt that bathing session to stand upstream of the ele's as to avoid the floating poop.
We were given our room keys, a modest room but I would be opening the door and looking at ele's. It was just behind the family herd hut. My roomie was a very sassy new yorker called Allie, who is probably the coolest person I have ever met. After settling into our rooms we were fed again then went up to a blessing ceremony where elders from the local village held a ceremony in our honor and gave us each a blessed roe braclet to bring us luck. Then we all to the big room where were met eveyone and sutibly embarresed ourselves enough to have broken the ice. We also watched a sad but informative video about why the Asian elephants need help and how the park aims to do that. Understandably we all needed to have a few beers after that. I could spend forever telling you about everyone there, they were all so friendly and cool most travelling alone but from all different places and ages (but most around 20's). The aussie boys taught us how to shotgun a beer (I'm sure Matt will probably demonstrate when he gets back). We all got to know each other untill we were reminded it was our first day of work in the morning and went to bed.
The next few days followed a routine we either had duties of cleaning and preparing the elephant food, poop or going out and cutting corn in the feilds for them to eat also (they eat a hellova lot!). The tasks didn't take much of our time up as there were at leat 12 in each team so afterwards our guides would often take us out to walk amongst the ele's and we would take bananas to feed and pet them. The guides were all so informed they knew the history of the ele's, of how they came to the park, and how they formed their friendships with the other ele's. Most of the ele's are over 35 years old, many over 60 they are such intelligent and emotional creatures I felt truley lucky to be working hands on with them all week. On the second evening we met Lek, who is the inspriational women who started up the park and has had to fight the government to try and help the ele's. Other evenings we spent learning some thai words (very hard!) and drinking a few beers and playing card games. One morning we visited the local school and played vollyball (they are leathal!) and made some food and joined in with some of their games.
The evening before my birthday I decided to treat myself to the full oil body massage that was on offer which sent me off to a good nights sleep. My birthday was on the saturday and although we had normal day duties in the evening we had a special meal with local tradtional dancers from the school. The had beautiful costumes on and danced with plates of petals and candles. I'm sure you will be gald to know I wasn't without cake on my birthday as the staff park had bought me a cake with a picture of an elephant on and they all sang happy birthday and we shared out the cake! Being it was our last night and my birthday a few of us stayed up late chatting drining and dancing around Amanda's ipad.
The following morning we said good bye to many people and our favourite dogs that were around the place (they had all been rabied shot, don't worry) and my favourite kitten and we all went to Chaing Mai. Myself, Amanda, Laura, Katie and Meika shared a room and met up with the others on a night out to a club called 'zoe in yellow' it was very different to what we were used to, a real bar with music and other people! I didn't drink too much as the next morning three of us went off to a Thai cookery class. We got to buy the food from the market and choose a few dishes. They were all so yummy and fresh tasting and surprisingly simple to make! We visited a temple and chatted and chilled out as I had to be off on the plane the early the next morning.
All in all It was an amazing week, it was so much fun and felt good to be able to be a tourist who was contributing to the local animals and people. I met some really awesome people too and hope to keep in touch with them and some I may bump into further along on my travels. Thats it for now, Im in Vietnam now already so much I need to write for next time! I've done some much I apoligise this is becoming like a list, I will have to explain more fully when I get home. xx