I don’t know where I found this organization if I’m being honest. But it was one of the best decisions of my life. It is a better one if you are not one to backpack alone in a foreign country and would rather have a little bit of help! At first, like anything else that you stumble across the internet, I thought it was a scam. I researched it intensively, wrote down some questions, and spoke to a few people at their company before I did anything. Next thing you know, I was booking my flight to Asia. They have multiple programs for volunteering in several countries, with different locations, things to do, programs, and length of stays. So there really are a lot of options. I personally did the two-week program in the Surin, Elephant Village in Thailand. This included a weekend in Bangkok, all transport and accommodation, pickup at airport, food, and water for the weeks and everything included in between such as trips to the market, downtime, and learning how to live like a local in Surin. The company was super helpful and very personable throughout the process of getting to Thailand to start the program. When I landed for my layover in Qatar and I was scared about getting on the next fight, my parents had one of the staff members call me and help me through it. He was very nice, super helpful, and made me feel very comfortable and open with the idea of going there.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived in Bangkok, I never even had Thai food before. They took us to our hotel and I clicked with the staff immediately. They are friendly, different ages, and professional yet laid back. They focus a lot on safety and culture, they really want you to have the best time there possible. They provide you with a welcome package and some mosquito balm. They have a whole two days planned out for sightseeing in Bangkok and then take us to Surin City. You stay in Surin City for the night, they take you to a local bar/food spot, then off to the village the next morning.
We split up into two rooms, some people were there for the elephant sanctuary portion and others were there for the local school to teach the children. When it came to our elephants, the mahoots (elephant caretakers) would bring the elephants to our backyard and we were paired with our own to care for our stay. There were two elephants in our backyard, a mom and her baby boy. The next-door neighbor had a baby elephant as well, which my mine. His name was Nam One. There were a bunch of other elephants brought to our house so we were able to pair with one that matched our personality and feel. In the village, some of the daily activities would include bathing the elephants, walking them to the river, cleaning up the community, planting and harvesting bamboo, learning Thai, cleaning up the backyard, and making paper out of elephant poop-yes that’s a real thing. On the weekends, we were taken back to Surin City, and we were on our own time. Some people went to the local beach and a few girls and I went to Cambodia for the weekend.
To this day, I am still in contact with those I traveled with from this group. They remember you and you become a part of the BamFam. Even some girls I was on the trip with wound up for working for Bamboo! I learned so many life lessons living here and shared experiences that I could never forget. It honestly was worth every penny and I highly recommend it. My friend from college actually just did this same program last year and she loved it as well. She even got to hang out with my same elephant!
If you’re looking into the program, I recommend looking over this website and do the same process I did. Their website is full of amazing information regarding their program, even an entire blog of other people that went through this volunteer experience! The link to their website is here. They also have some vouchers that may help you some money! Try signing up for their email chain if you are interested in learning more.