Along with traveling, animals are the other half of my heart. When traveling anywhere, meeting animals is key for me. And helping animals is the even bigger priority.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep love for elephants. Their big stature, but tender hearts have always melted me. Where I originally wanted to work with elephants in Africa, Asian elephants are going extinct quicker. However, both heartbreaking, I was called to Thailand.
I did a lot of research on different sanctuaries. They can be deceiving, and I can’t stress it enough that you should do your research before visiting one. Any sanctuary that allows them to do tricks, or lets tourists take rides on them, is not a sanctuary. That is a money making imprisonment to elephants. No elephant in the wild would ever let you ride it. They go through horrible abuse from the time that they are little to have it become routine to let humans do what they want with them.
I finally found a reputable sanctuary. It was Thailand’s very first chain free sanctuary. I knew pretty instantaneously this was where I wanted to volunteer.
It’s called Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. (https://www.wfft.org/)
I also found it’s quite a big cheaper to stay at this sanctuary than most in Thailand. When being a solo female traveler, I think this is such a beautiful and safe way to go. You get to stay on the grounds of the sanctuary, and you get to meet amazing like minded people from around the world.
When I first got to Thailand, I was a bit intimidated. My nerves started kicking in. It’s a lot to take in, being alone in another country having never done anything like this before. Luckily I had been put in touch with a friend of a friend that I was going to crash with my first night. She took me all around Bangkok. We saw temples that’s beauty and detail are beyond words, ate the yummiest food, and got fully immersed in Thai culture.
Very grateful I had someone to break down my walls and really help me trust my surroundings there.
The next morning, a really sweet gentleman picked me up in a Wildlife Friends vehicle. It was about a 2 and a half hour car ride South to Phetchaburi. On the way, we stopped at what is called, “monkey mountain”. It is exactly what it sounds like. This mountain is literally taken over and ruled by monkeys. Honestly just like the Jungle Book. This lush green mountain was FLOODED with Makak’s. Such a funny and insane sight to see.
To get to the sanctuary we pulled off the main road onto a little dirt road and headed deep into the rainforest. When I arrived, I ran into the sanctuary and not only forgot my bags, but forgot to pay my driver, I was so excited. I was greeted by rescued dogs and cats and friendly (mostly female) faces.
I had arrived earlier than the other volunteers, so I got to explore the sanctuary. I remember I had come with a full face of makeup and got some laughs when the other volunteers saw me. It melted off pretty quickly. The heat and the humidity there are indescribable.
What I realized and loved was that the majority of the volunteers were single female travelers. It was so awesome to see so many women from all over the world, braving traveling alone. I ended up being so glad I did it alone. I know myself, and when I travel with friends I become more reserved and don’t branch out to meet new people. I stay in my comfort zone.
The second I saw my first elephant, I was a hot mess. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt all the feels finally meeting my favorite creature on the planet. I’ve never felt anything quite like it.
My time at Wildlife Friends was the hardest manual labor I have ever done in my life. But something about doing it for these rescued, abused animals makes it all worth it, complaint free.
We started our day at 6 am, wheeled barrels of fruit to which ever enclosure we were stationed at for the day, and cleaned it. We made “banana balls” for a morning snack, cleaned and then broke for breakfast.
After breakfast we either had to go to harvest (cutting down banana trees and carrying the trees into a massive truck until the truck was full top to bottom) or we had to do “special projects.” I think special projects should be re titled, “projects that nobody wants to do, but needs to be done.” One day we weeded all of the locus out of a gigantic swimming hole full of swimming spiders, and other bugs.
We had an hour lunch and then went to make enrichments for the elephants. I always loved getting creative making these obstacles full of fruit and corn.
My favorite part was seeing who was in your group each day. You make friends so quickly when you all have the same goal at the end of the day. I can’t express how amazing it is to be bunked with and share space with people welcomed from all over the world.
Dinner was always fun. There is a different theme every night. Everyone loved “Western night” because it meant pizza. Always vegetarian and vegan options too! There was music that played from the speakers so shoulders would start moving, and tons of laughter.
Sleeping was definitely different than the norm. My bungalow had 3 people in it. Always hot and humid at night and I slept with a fan blowing on my face so the mosquitos couldn’t land on the only exposed part of me. Most nights, newly made friends would come to my bungalow and we would just tell stories and laugh all night.
There was a board (first come first serve) that you could sign up for what ever says you wanted off. (2 days off a week max). On Thursdays was bar night, being the night most wanted off, and a shuttle would take everyone into Hua Hin where the bars are. I got pretty ill that day so I wasn’t able to go. The malaria pills I was taking caused me to get horrible stomach aches.
On my day off, I went with a couple friends to this beautiful spa and swam all day. Everything is so insanely cheap there. I think with cab rides, using the spa, food and drinks, I spent $12 USD that day.
This place really made me have a strong appreciation for all that I have, and love just a little bit harder.
There is no better feeling to me than having the fibery trunk of an elephant around my wrist, looking for fruit, while going on a walk through the jungle. It was so rewarding helping these babes. You can see the bull hook scars on their ears, head and body, and just seeing them free roam now on so much land brings me so much gratitude for all this sanctuary does.
Nothing quite like sharing space with this sweet animal.
Something I really loved about this place, was that it was on Buddhist temple grounds. Meaning, no animal can be turned away. They had so many different animals here that were either abandoned or rescued. The vet staff were phenomenal. There was a new born baby rat that had fallen off the roof and they even nourished him back to health. No creature too small to go uncared for.
I miss this place on a daily basis. I can’t wait for the day I return to new friends, and fibery trunks.
I believe helping out or volunteering your time, any time you travel is necessary. We are so spoiled compared to other places in the world, and I think giving back, rather than just expecting people to cater to you on vacation is a must! Even if it’s just going on a morning walk on the beach and picking up trash you see. Anything to help the planet and anything to help less privileged.
If you are looking for your first solo trip, I highly encourage you to check this place out! You will not regret it!