If you are planning a trip to Thailand, or even just dreaming of one, you are probably aware of the prevalence of elephants in this country. Countless tour companies will offer elephant shows and rides for an absurd fee, but any conscious traveler cannot enjoy these experiences without feeling bad about the abuse these animals are subjected to.
Luckily, there is a way to interact with elephants without feeling guilty about it. Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WFFT) is the largest wildlife rescue foundation in the country and they are doing amazing work for abused and neglected wildlife. Oh, and they want you to come stay with them.
You won’t live in luxury, but you’ll stay for cheap
Housing at WFFT is only available for volunteers. In order to volunteer, you have to commit at least one week and pay 395 USD (350 EUR) for the first week. The prices are lower for each additional week, so make sure to check out their website for details. Housing, meals, and linens are all included in this cost.
Volunteers sleep usually two to a room with their own bathroom, but be forewarned, the water is often cold. Nevertheless, you may find you enjoy it after sweating under the hot Thai sun and getting filthy from working with the animals.
Work with elephants, gibbons, bears, and more!
Volunteers work from about 6:30am to 5:00pm with breaks for breakfast and lunch. You will find that when the workload is not too heavy, you have plenty of time to rest in the afternoon. As a volunteer you will be helping feed the animals, harvest banana trees, bathe the elephants, assist with veterinary treatments, and provide animal enrichment.
After a full day of hard work, volunteers often go to an open field to play soccer, head down to the river, or even go into town for a drink. To say that you will be ‘roughing it’ is an understatement, but the rewarding work you will be doing is well worth the rural living situation.
Have the experience of a lifetime working with rescued wildlife
Most of the animals at WFFT have spent years being abused and manipulated for the tourism industry. WFFT works hard to rehabilitate these animals and release them back to the wild, if possible, and volunteers play an important role in that process.
Unfortunately, some of the animals—especially the elephants—have been in the tourism industry for so long that they will never be able to return to the wild. The only silver lining to this is that volunteers are able to work hands-on with these animals. Volunteers help bathe, feed, and exercise the elephants every day. It is a truly humbling experience. There’s nothing like feeling an elephant’s trunk wrapped around your wrist to show you just how powerful these creatures are.
Meet travelers and volunteers from around the world
Thailand is a popular travel destination and the volunteers at WFFT come from pretty much everywhere. Unlike at a resort or a hotel, where it is easy to isolate yourself from the other guests, everyone at WFFT is working and eating with each other all day, every day.
You quickly become close with the other volunteers, spending your days off together and planning future trips to one another’s hometowns. Volunteers spend their off-duty hours sharing stories and cultures with one another and creating bonds that last for life. When you volunteer at WFFT, you don’t just make memories, you make friendships.
Make your vacation in Thailand a trip to remember
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Thailand: lounging on the beach in Phuket, touring temples in Bangkok, taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai. But few are as memorable as spending a week (or more) at WFFT. If you truly want your trip to Thailand to stand out in your memory years from now, make sure to include a stay at WFFT. If you are not ready to commit to a long stay, consider a day trip instead.