So many of us understand deeply, what a privilege it is to travel. As a result, we seek out ways to enrich our experiences by employing ourselves generously during our vacation time. That is one of the reasons volunteer tourism has become such a popular option among travellers.
Well have I got an exciting volunteer experience for you – an opportunity to work, hands-on, rescuing elephants at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) in Sukothai, North Thailand.
BLES combines the beauty and hospitality of rural Thailand with the majesty, gentleness and humbling strength of the area’s indigenous elephants. BLES is a rescue centre where elephants are protected and allowed to roam their natural habitat in much the way they were intended.
For the very reasonable fee of 4,000 baht or approximately $127 USD per person per night, guests enjoy meals prepared from local organic produce (much of which comes from the BLES grounds), accommodation in one of three traditional teak guest houses, laundry service, internet access, transportation to and from the airport/bus terminal/train station and of course – unlimited hands-on time caring for the elephants.
Guests will work alongside the mahouts (local men who care for the elephants) to bath and feed the elephants, walk the elephants to and from their grazing grounds, gather food from the jungle, repair pens and plant trees and vegetation.
BLES is also active in the local community and guests may have opportunities to go to local restaurants, shop in the market or even help local elephants living outside the rescue.
Like most Thai people, the mahouts and others you may encounter in the village have a basic knowledge of English, but many are not fluent. BLES founder, Katherine Connor, is fluent in both English and Thai and she is on-hand, throughout the day, to iron out any communication problems.
In addition to 16 elephants, BLES is also home to other rescued animals, including six dogs, nine cats, a bird and three cows. BLES is also responsible for saving hundreds of acres of land from deforestation.
Guests are welcomed in small groups, for both the visitors benefit and the elephants’. Obviously reservations are required. Guests typically stay from three to five days. There are no age restrictions.
The guest houses, which each accommodate two visitors, are usually booked up six months in advance, though at the moment they are booked solid through March 2013. And why wouldn’t they be? We travellers know an incomparable opportunity when we see one.
If you are making plans to visit Thailand next year, include a visit to Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – and make your reservation now before someone else nabs your spot. – Jen R, Staff Writer