Enrich the Lives of Elephants in the Lush Countryside of Mae Chaem in Thailand

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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 all year round and we have places all throughout 2015 available.

Individuals, groups, families and students all welcome.

Cost for food & accommodation during the project, transport, backup and support starts at £450

Bathing the elephants in the sanctuary Conservation and education volunteer projects Elephants relaxing in the water Feeding the elephants some treats Project accommodation for volunteers Local tree planting volunteer project Elephants eating in the sanctuary Elephants in the grass in Maechaem Volunteers teaching English to local children Elephant enjoying some bamboo Volunteer preparing food for the elephants Elephant having trekking basket removed during her walk to freedom Volunteers eating lunch by  the waterfall Gravestone tribute to old Thailand elephants Elephants in Maechaem Volunteers cutting grass for the elephants English Teaching Projects for Volunteers Elephants enjoying the river

The ProjectElephants washing by the river


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 six elephants; four older retired elephants, and a mother and baby elephant, to provide an alternative for their Thai owners so they can keep their elephants out of work from trekking camps or in 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 the 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. 

Volunteers with an elephant at the sanctuaryVolunteering with Elephants

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;

  • walking with the elephants,
  • bathing the elephants,
  • preparing fruit for the elephants (cleaning, cutting),
  • feeding the elephants,
  • going to cut grass and corn for elephants,
  • helping with projects around the property for the elephants or in the local village.

Volunteer helping with bird rehabilitation
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:

  • teaching English,
  • helping with educational programmes,
  • tree planting and clean up days,
  • providing soy milk for the elderly for nutrition,
  • replacing water pipes,
  • placing sand bags along the river banks to protect from flooding,
  • helping to repair local houses and so on.

2015 Dates & Costs

Elephant faces the camera

2nd March to 15th March
16th March to 29th March
30th March to 12th April
13th April to 26th April 
27th April to 10th May 
11th May to 24th May 
25th May to 7th June 
8th June to 21st June
22nd June to 5th July
6th July to 19th July
20th July to 2nd August
3rd August to 16th August
17th August to 30th August
31st August to 13th September
14th September to 27th September 
28th September to 11th October 
12th October to 25th October
26th October to 8th November
9th November to 22nd November
23rd November to 6th December
7th December to 20th December

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, year round. This is the maximum length tourists can stay in Thailand on a visa waiver. 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. Please email the Volunteer Coordinator for more information.

Volunteers enjoying lunch by the riversideProject Costs
The cost to join for a 1 week project is 450 GBP, 2 weeks is 750 GBP, 3 weeks is 1050 GBP and 1 month is is 1350 GBP. Your payment covers all your food, bottled water and accommodation (either on site or in a local homestay) 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 aaron@workingabroad.com for more details.

Food, Lodging, Travel

View of the volunteer acommodation at the elephant sanctuary

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 shower head. Homestays do not have a western toilet, the bathrooms have a squat Toilet and 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 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.

Inside the volunteer houseVolunteer Requirements
Volunteers should be aged 17 years or over, be reasonably fit, 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, and be able to cope with living in basic conditions and being in close proximity to a range of animals.

How to Get there
Volunteers should aim to fly to Chiang Mai airport 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 on Monday morning.

Interactive Map & Background

Video of one of the elephants, Mae Kham, bathing in the river

Interactive Map

View of the lush foliage on Mae ChaemAbout the region

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 

Volunteer Testimonials

Volunteer Ale Cabai on the Thailand Elephant volunteer proejctAlessandro Cabai, from Italy describes his time on the project

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.

The Lambert family who volunteered with Elephants in Thailand last year

Elephant overlooks the sanctuary in MaechaemPrevious 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.

Volunteer at an environmental project with schoolkidsDiana 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.

Elephants eating fruit at the sanctuary

How to Join

To secure your placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your deposit of £150. If for some reason, your application is declined, we will reimburse this deposit fully. However for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay the final balance 1 month 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.


Apply Now

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