A chance to volunteer with elephants at an Elephant Sanctuary and home in Mae Chaem, situated in the countryside of Northern Thailand. Help to give elephants a chance to live free. This elephant volunteer project provides an alternative for elephants and their owners to move away from the busy city life and hardships of trekking & tourist rides by providing a retirement home for elderly elephants, as well as engaging the local community in environmental and education projects.
You can join for 1 week up to 4 weeks and we have places available all throughout the year.
Individuals, groups, families and students all welcome.
Cost for food & accommodation during the project, transport, backup and support starts at £480
This old elephant retirement volunteer project in Mae Chaem, Chiang Mai, Thailand was established in 2011, with the aim of educating both owners and mahouts, as well as local communities, on the elephant situation in Thailand and providing an alternative for owners to retire their elephants to a place to call home. The project currently rents three older retired elephants, to provide an alternative for their Thai owners so they can keep their elephants out of work from trekking camps or the mass tourism industry and in a natural home where they can enjoy freedom and have the ability to behave like real elephants, without being ridden or held captive by humans. They also rescue, rehabilitate and release local wildlife back into the wild and have been successful in the release of owls, many small lizards and even baby native forest rats. They are also a sanctuary to tortoises, dogs, cats and other small animals - caring for roughly 26 rescued cats, 13 rescued dogs and 2 tortoises.
The project also works within the community teaching English to local village children and anyone that wants to learn, provides locals with employment opportunities and support for local businesses, and also grows seasonal crops on the sanctuary to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The project relies on assistance from volunteers to help care for and volunteer with the elephants of the sanctuary and to support its community development programmes. Volunteering with elephants means you will be involved in a range of tasks in the sanctuary such as;
Another main focus for this project is small animals rescue and release volunteer work. Volunteers have rescued tortoises and different species of owls which have been rehabilitated back to health and released back into the wild. So you may also be involved in any ongoing small animals rescue and release programmes, including building animal enclosures, making beds for animals, fixing fences, and so on.
In addition, Eco-tourism and environmental conservation is promoted through planting trees, local education and community development. Volunteers have the opportunity to work together with the community and can join in on community projects, such as:
30th January to 12th February 2017
27th February to 12th March 2017
13th March to 26th March 2017
27th March to 9th April 2017
10th April to 23rd April 2017
24th April to 7th May 2017
8th May to 21st May 2017
22nd May to 4th June 2017
5th June to 18th June 2017
19th June to 2nd July 2017
3rd July to 16th July 2017
17th July to 30th July 2017
31st July to 13th August 2017
14th August to 27th August 2017
28th August to 10th September 2017
11th September to 24th September 2017
25th September to 8th October 2017
9th October to 22nd October 2017
23rd October to 5th November 2017
6th November to 19th November 2017
20th November to 3rd December 2017
4th December to 17th December 2017
18th December to 31st December 2017
Please note that the above dates are flexible, you can join the project starting on any Monday throughout the year, as long as you are able to stay for 1 week or longer.
Volunteers can join for 1 week up to 4 week durations, all year round. 30 days is the maximum length tourists can stay in Thailand on a visa waiver, after which you will need to extend it in the country. Or you can obtain a 60-day tourist visa in advance of your arrival. Pick up from Chiang Mai to transfer to the project is on Monday mornings, and drop off is on Sunday afternoons. Please note that we can also be flexible with dates, and it would be possible to join on dates other than those above, as long as it is starting on a Monday.
We can also accept families with children (aged 10+) & large groups for this project, and you may be eligible for discounted rates - please email us if you are interested. To find out more about family volunteering abroad click here.
The cost to join for a 1-week project is 480 GBP, 2 weeks is 780 GBP, 3 weeks is 1080 GBP and 1 month is 1380 GBP. Your payment covers all your food, bottled water and accommodation (either on site or in a homestay with a local family) during the project, pick up and drop off in Chiang Mai, project training and supervision and WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support.
Your airfare to and from Thailand, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses are not included within this price. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.
If you are a currently enrolled student or are planning to volunteer with a large group, you may be eligible for discounted rates. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Lodging & Food
Volunteers have a choice of lodging and can either stay onsite at the elephant sanctuary or in a local homestay. All food and bottled water is provided for volunteers.
Onsite lodging includes a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net and a fan in the room. Volunteers will also have a western toilet and a cold shower head. Homestays do not have a western toilet, the bathrooms have a squat toilet and cold bucket showers.
Homestay houses are located in the local village 3 minutes walk from the sanctuary, they can accommodate 2 people per room. Staying in a homestay is a great way of involving the community in the project and also enables local homestay families to make an income for the week as a percentage of your fee is paid directly to home stay hosts. When staying at a homestay all meals and activities are still taken onsite and enjoyed with the other volunteers at the sanctuary.
The daily breakfast will include a western style; Eggs, fruit, Yogurt and bread (toaster provided), the daily Lunch and dinner will be a variety of Thai Cuisines and a side of fruit in season. Bottled water, Tea and Coffee always provided. If volunteers are interested in learning how to cook certain Thai cuisines that are on the menu for the day they can have the opportunity to help out and learn how to cook in the kitchen.
Volunteers should be aged 18 years or over (or 10+ if accompanied by an adult), be reasonably physically fit (capable of walking several kilometres per day), and speak English. Previous experience working with animals would be useful but is not required. Volunteers should have a strong motivation to help and contribute to the community & animal welfare, and be able to cope with living in hot, basic conditions and being in close proximity to a range of different animals.
How to Get there
Volunteers should aim to fly to Chiang Mai airport (code CNX) or arrive at the bus station. From here you will be picked up by local staff and taken to the sanctuary in Mae Chaem and your accommodation, ready to start the project. Volunteer pick up is on Monday mornings between 8-9 AM, and drop off on Sunday afternoons. If you arrive before the project start date we recommend you stay overnight in Chiang Mai and we can pick you up from your hotel instead of the airport on Monday morning.
Below is a short video showcasing the project
Video of one of the elephants, Mae Kam, bathing in the river
The project is located in the District of Mae Chaem situated just 2.5hrs drive South-West of Chiang Mai, amongst beautiful mountain scenery and lush countryside. Situated in a valley in Mae Tan, Thung Yaw Maechaem, the sanctuary has breath taking views of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. For more information on the Chiang Mai province please see here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/chiang-mai-province
Anna Hubbard from the UK, volunteered in December 2016:
I had the most amazing 2 weeks and learned so much about the seriously harmful impact that the mass tourism industry has on elephants. During my time there I washed and fed the elephants every day, having prepared their food for them, went on a walk twice a week to find the elephants roaming free in their natural habitat, and looked after the other animals on site, as there are many cats and dogs that need looking after too.
We also took a trip to the local school where I managed to teach a class some English, that was great fun. It was great that, although the main purpose of the trip was to look after elephants, they weren’t always the main focus, which was a good thing, otherwise I think it would have felt more like a zoo rather than a project to actually help these animals. The whole purpose of the sanctuary is also to promote ethical tourism, something that I will take away with me now and promote to all my friends at home!
Brooke Lamarche, volunteered in August 2016:
We had a wonderful time volunteering and being in Thailand! It was a great group to work for. Shin was an amazing aid and guide for us volunteers while we were there. Working with the elephants was a very humbling and once in a lifetime experience.
All in all it was an amazing experience, one we had been looking forward too for a very long time and we were not disappointed! Thank you for the opportunity to work with these majestic Animals and inspirational people!
Julie Ransquin volunteered in Thailand for 2 weeks in 2016:
Concerning my 2 weeks in Thailand at the sanctuary I can only say that I had a great time. I learned a lot about Thailand, about how a rural village lives, about the elephants of course. What I really appreciated was the location and on how rustic and simple it was on the site in Mae Tan. I really liked the activities that we had to do: cleaning the elephant area, cutting pumpkins to give them to the elephants, the elephant treks in the jungle, cutting banana trees or grass, teaching english, helping the village people to build their temple, etc. I learned a lot about myself and thanks to the whole team, Emily, Burm, Shin, Lada, Suvannan, Naree, the Mahouts and Bella, Emily's sister, I spent two wonderful weeks that I will never forget.
Thomas Berlinghof from Germany joined the project in 2015:
After attending a few natural conservation projects around the world, I really enjoyed being part of this elephant sanctuary. Besides the warm welcome, the kind and professional support throughout the whole project and the absolutely delicious food, I was fascinated about the very personal and close relationship with the project you can build within such a short time. Thus, they made me feel like being a member of this project, rather than just a random volunteer.
The project accomplished a lot in the last years and have six elephants in the sanctuary right now. It is very interesting to see how the project is making progress. During my time there, we helped building a medical centre to be able to provide better medical care for the elephants. And many more steps are in planning, which make me very curious about the development in the next months and years.
I can highly recommend this project to anyone who wants to see natural conservation and participate in field work, or who is looking for an appropriate way to help elephants.
A Group of Animal Conservation Students from Bridgwater College, UK joined the project in 2015:
Organising a trip for a group of students can sometimes be difficult but WorkingAbroad made it so easy for us, were really cooperative and supportive throughout. It was easy to contact people for information and they always gave a quick response. The trip itself was incredible and is something that the students and myself will treasure forever. They are such amazing people and provided the best support for the students to learn and experience everything in Thailand. Not only did they work with the beautiful elephants but also got to teach in the local schools and visit some of the temples. There was not a single thing that I would have changed except to stay forever! Kayleigh Liddell, Lecturer at Bridgwater College
“Visiting Thailand was an amazing experience. Working at the project provided an excellent opportunity to do a variety of tasks with the elephants. The possibilities were endless and thoroughly exceeded expectations. The support provided by tutors and staff helped me to gain as much from the trip as possible. Overall a much enjoyed trip that was planned well enough for it to run smoothly and in a way that meant we all achieved a large amount of knowledge” Amy Price, Bsc Animal Management
“Going to Thailand was definitely an experience I wont easily forget, with some fantastic memories and friends made in the process. Being part of a project such as this was a huge honour, making me realise just how much work, effort and time goes into helping the Asian elephants. I can honestly say I will be an ambassador for the cause having learnt so much whilst I was there” Katie Reading , Bsc Animal Management
Alessandro Cabai, from Italy describes his time on the project in 2014
I spent two weeks in Mae Chaem for the elephant project! It’s one of my best life experiences!
You can live the real Thailand, spend time with local people, eat amazing food and help elephants! The project is wonderful, the way they work is simply fabulous and the place is unadulterated. What else?! I suggest for everyone to join this project!! Trust me!
The Lambert Family, from the UK, Joined the project in December 2013
We are now back from our holiday and can say that we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the project.
Below are two of our favourite photos, we have many, many more!!!
I would happily recommend the project to other travellers who may be considering such an adventure.
Previous volunteer Peter Olliver gives his feedback on the project
During my stay I was involved with cutting grass for the elephants, worming and caring for dogs and cats, making a turtle enclosure and caring for and bathing elephants. The programme was laid back and subject to change (depending on weather) the weeks programme was posted on a whiteboard at the beginning of the stay so it was easy to plan the day. We also discussed the programme on the first day and adjusted it to suit our fitness/abilities.
The staff were very friendly and passionate, and the interaction with animals and local people was great, really hands on. There was also plenty of food provided and it was fantastic. The accommodation is traditional, very clean and private, a lovely outlook from the deck, food is all local and cooked wonderfully, plenty of it and all fresh. The shower and toilet is basic but is more up market than the local ones.
I would definitely recommend the project, its in a wonderful location in the hills and been able to meet the local people on a "everyday" level is unique, the project staff's friends and family are very friendly and treat you like a local, I have never met any people so passionate about what they do, its a pleasure to be with them and help them with what ever needs to be done, the variety of tasks is interesting.
Diana from Australia describes her time on the project
I spent a week on the project in January 2013, a beautiful time of the year to be in Northern Thailand. I was collected from my hotel in Chiang Mai for the 3 hour scenic drive. We stopped at a large supermarket for supplies, which allowed me to stock up on western treats! On the first night, we were all treated to a traditional welcoming ceremony from the local elders.
Our days started early with a western breakfast, then off we went to shovel (extra large) elephant poo! When the elephants decided it was time to head into the forest, we would follow and observe their natural foraging behaviours that they are re-discovering after years of working in captivity. I really enjoyed these quiet times of reflection and being one with nature. Some days, we would bring lunch into the forest. We used banana leaves as plates! The elephants enjoy a bath every day in the river. It is amazing to be able to help them out with a back scrub!
The afternoons would vary from working hard in the field cutting long grass for the elephants, getting cooking lessons from the locals, shopping for supplies in the local markets, visiting the local temple for a Buddhist blessing, helping out with odd jobs or construction or teaching English at the local school. One time we rounded up the local kids and cleaned the village of garbage, then tried to educate them on the importance of recycling and sanitation. As a reward for the kids’ hard work, we took them bamboo rafting on the local river.
Nightimes were very peaceful,and the local cooks made amazing traditional Thai dishes and requests were welcome. I am a vegetarian and this was accommodated although meat is also supplied. There was an opportunity to play games later with the locals if you wanted. Alcohol is allowed, but excessive drinking or partying is not.
The accommodation is basic but comfortable, a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net, a fan and usually a cat to keep you company! There is electricity in the rooms and intermittent Internet access.
I have been to several large elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and the simplicity of this project was refreshing. I loved it so much I am going back in August.
To secure your placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £180. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay the final balance 2 months before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive an information package on the programme background, your role as a volunteer, the work you will do, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc.