Thailand: the ins and outs of volunteering

In my first year at University I was starting to feel jealous looking at photos pop up from people travelling on gap years. While I was stuck in lectures or writing essays, they were having incredible, life-changing experiences and I wanted to have them too! Walking back to my accommodation one day, I was handed a leaflet advertising volunteering abroad. I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to have a mini gap year in the summer holiday before second year. 

After doing some research into volunteering, I decided elephant conservation was a field I was interested in and that Thailand was the best location to visit for this. I found an organisation called ‘Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’, which offered a two-week volunteering experience. You could spend one week helping with the general wildlife which covered everything from otters to primates to bears, and then in your second week you could look after the elephants at the sanctuary. The process was really simple to navigate, filling in an application form to the foundation and then sorting out your flights separately. I decided to volunteer with my boyfriend, and we wanted to travel around some of the islands in the south of Thailand after the two weeks of volunteering – that was really simple to organise too. 

When we arrived in Bangkok after a thirteen-hour flight, we met up with a few other groups who were going to the same sanctuary. From Bangkok we were driven to the Phetchaburi Province where the sanctuary is located. We had a tour of the sanctuary, seeing all of the wildlife and driving out to see the elephants too. After a long day of travelling we really just wanted food and sleep, but it was still exciting to see the places we would be working in and all of the amazing animals that the sanctuary looked after. 

In the first week we rotated each day, working with different wildlife. I worked with primates, pigs, turtles, parrots, a cassowary bird called Bernie and I also spent a day in the ‘Quarantine’, looking after the animals that had just been brought into the sanctuary. We also had a day off each week where you could travel to nearby towns to explore. We then began week two of volunteering and swapped to working with the elephants. Each day you would be assigned a group of elephants (usually 2 or 3) and for that day you would be in charge of all of their food preparation, as well as making enrichments for them and cleaning out their enclosure. Each day there would be a harvest trip which you could be allocated to, where you would go out on a truck to a nearby field and chop down banana trees which would be used as food for the elephants. This was really hard work but very rewarding and afterwards we got taken to a nearby river where we could go and swim. 

What I loved about this trip was the opportunity to help make a difference whilst experiencing a new place. If you are thinking about going abroad then I would highly recommend seeing if you can volunteer somewhere. You get to meet the people who live in that area and you can learn so much more about the country you are visiting and the issues that need to be tackled in that country, like animal conservation. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done and it’s an experience I’ll never forget!

Sarah Hartley 

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