Volunteer with Elephants in Thailand

Support community efforts to rehabilitate elephants that have previously been put to work in the tourism industry.

Durations:  1 - 12 weeks

Program information

Travel to Thailand’s Chiang Mai Province and volunteer with elephants relieved from working in the tourism industry. Assist with monitoring the elephants’ behaviour as they are reintegrated into the forests and work alongside mahouts (traditional elephant keepers) and other locals to establish alternative livelihoods. Discover the unique culture of the Karen community, and the lush mountain forests of Northern Thailand in your free time.

undefined 31 May 2022

Included in your program

Make the most of our unique programs with these exclusively curated local adventure and wellness experiences.

Learn traditional Karen cooking

Connect with the Karen people's culture

Forage for forest medicine with a village elder

Visit Thailand's highest peak

Explore Thailand's elegant and mysterious waterfalls

See amazing biodiversity on a night trek

Take a sunrise hike up Two Tree Hill

Sleep under the stars alongside Asian elephants

Connect with our alumni
Want to connect with some of our past participants about their adventures? Get in touch with hundreds of friendly ambassadors all over the world who would be more than happy to answer any questions.
Testimonial bg

Claire-Marie Dechany

27 Oct, 2020
The GVI Chiang Mai program with the Elephants is by far the best volunteer program I have ever done! Mixing Community and Conservation, this program will make your experience unique and varied. One day we hike to observe the birds, another day we will take care of the children in Garden school and Nursery, the next day we hike to study the elephants, followed by a walk to locate Gibbons the next day! There is a lot of diversity, and especially à la carte with often 2 possible choices of hike in the morning. Although the morning hike is the important element of the day, the rest is not boring. Several presentation options are available, not mandatory. Ranging from the study of snakes, to training to teach English to foreign children, you can also go through an orientation and presentation of jobs in conservation, or even a presentation about the ethics of elephant camps. On Tuesday and Thursday, you can help to teach in selected class at school. For the social aspect this program is also really interesting. On the Wednesdays you have quiz evening, and on the weekends you have the possibility for a cultural/tourist outings. To conclude, an unforgettable experience in an exceptional atmosphere.

Emma Baker

14 Jan, 2020
My name is Emma and I am 46 years old. I have just returned from a 4 week stay at GVI Chiang Mai, Thailand. I really didn’t know what to expect from this trip as I had never tried anything like it before. I chose GVI Chiang Mai because I thought it would be amazing to be alongside and helping elephants. I am a Mental Health Nurse and so haven’t studied wildlife conservation or anything similar but I love animals and wanted to have the opportunity to be close to, and help, such amazing and gracious animals that are struggling in numbers in Asia. I found GVI by simply googling ‘volunteering abroad’. GVI was one of the first to come up and I was drawn to the programme as it felt safe, educational and ethical. I have never travelled alone, nor ever visited Asia, so was very nervous about this trip. The fact that GVI pick you up at the airport and arrange transport etc for you was a main feature for me. I hoped that this trip would enable me to learn more about other cultures as well as develop my understanding of wildlife conservation issues. I also wanted it to be a personal development journey. I wanted to develop my confidence, meet new people of all ages and walks of life, and appreciate my life more and those things and people in it. On arriving at Chiang Mai airport I was soon picked up by Liane, GVI Chiang Mai manager, and taken to a lovely resort called Eco. I met another member of staff and the other new volunteers. After a debrief and chilled out evening visiting the night bazaar we set off for the village early Sunday morning. We met our homestay families on arrival and then in the evening shared a meal at basecamp where we met the other staff and volunteers and interns. My first elephant hike was amazing: coming up close to such a beautiful animal was unbelievable. They are such gentle, graceful and calm animals you can’t help but love them. We were shown how to collect data on the elephants to add to the research being done on their behaviour and responses. I received a certificate at the end of my trip for my part in the data collection. During the next 2 weeks we were given many educational presentations on issues such as biodiversity, wildlife, the culture of the Karen people and language lessons. We had the opportunity to teach English to the local children, villagers and elephant mahouts. The staff were all so lovely, warm, funny, approachable and passionate about what they do. I felt safe and supported at all times. There were about 23 other volunteers and interns from all round the world. Meeting all these people was such a great experience in itself, despite them all being much younger than me! Saying with a local family in the village is also a lovely experience. Seeing how the Karen people live and work was great. We were able to communicate little by little with the language lessons we were given by staff. Leaving the village after 4 weeks was very sad for me. It is such a completely different life to the one many of us live that it becomes such a special time and memory. I have not been able to stop thinking about the life in the village and the programme on offer that I am already planning on returning in 6 months. I have gained new perspectives on things, made new friends, feel a connection to different life in a far away country, improved my fitness and well being and am more motivated to change how I live and choices I make. GVI Chaing Mai is fun, interesting, educational, inspiring and inspirational. I would recommend going wholeheartedly. Go with an open mind, enthusiasm, positivity and wonder.

Kirsty McCreath

06 Mar, 2019
I found GVI through searching on the internet volunteering abroad. I am a huge animal lover and had always been keen on volunteering in different parts of the world to help aid towards conservation. I believe it is important to look after our natural world as it provides so many benefits to us. I decided to volunteer with GVI as I believe in what they stand for and I wanted to help towards a project they were running. With this I completed my research into the company, read reviews and they did come across as a very safe company to travel with. My mind was made up and I had chosen GVI. All I had to do next was narrow down what project I wanted to go on. GVI offer numerous, amazing, once in a lifetime projects that all are benefiting our planet in numerous different ways. I had always been keen on elephant conservation and when I found GVI Chiang Mai I decided to go ahead and book for 1 month. This was my first time abroad and I felt 1 month was suffice, although I wish I stayed longer!!!! I arrived and my journey in Huay Pakoot started. A day in the life of a volunteer in the village is fantastic. There is an abundance of activities to get involved in, whether it be hikes to see the magnificent elephants, bird watching, teaching in the local school and nursery or even base duty! There is always something to be doing. What I also liked is you had the chance to have some down time to, to contact family, read a book or just chill. I have made friends for life that live all across the world which I find amazing. We all came together and became one big family for the time I spent there, and it made my time even more special meeting these amazing people. With this, we had the opportunity to go to Pai and Chiang Mai on the weekends – travel arranged in the village and was fairly cheap! There were also different activities that came up including night hikes, cave hikes, basket weaving and night time classes for the adults of the village! GVI have had such an amazing impact on the village and it was interesting to hear the difference GVI have made in the years they have been in the village. I also got to be a part of the end of crop celebration that only happens twice a year! This involved going around every villager’s beautiful home, them performing a giju (unsure how to spell it) and the volunteers all trying the rice whisky (I have to say, it is not a firm favourite). That was probably my favourite day as everyone came together and had a great time. The staff were all fantastic too. If you had any issues or concerns, they were there to help at any time. If you were feeling ill or dehydrated after a hard hike, they would provide you with the correct medication to get you back to feeling 100%! It was also apparent how much each of the staff members loved their jobs and really cared about improving the village and the elephant’s welfare. Coming from a university degree that is business based (BSc Real Estate), I will never really have the chance to work closely with animals for a decent amount of time, hence why I decided to get involved with GVI and fulfil my dreams of doing so through volunteering! I had the most incredible time with GVI and have decided to do the 6-month internship in Limpopo, South Africa this September. I cannot recommend GVI enough and tell all my friends about them! For anyone considering a GVI program, I would tell them to go for it! I appreciate heading abroad yourself can be daunting, but everyone is so welcoming, and you meet friends for life. I am actually heading to South Africa with a girl I met on the Chiang Mai Program! We have kept in contact with each other and visit each other regularly! It will be the most rewarding experience of your life and you will have memories to cherish forever! GVI you are fab!

Ryan Kennedy

06 Mar, 2019
Hi! I’m Ryan Kennedy, and I spent ten weeks volunteering in GVI Elephant Project in Huay Pakoot, Chiang Mai. I was currently studying at university and off for the summer, so I decided very early on that I wanted to do some volunteering abroad and experience the culture. I was conceivably nervous as it was my first time travelling solo. I went ahead after some research and found GVI when I decided to book. On arrival, all my nerves were quelled as soon as I met up with staff member Myles and two other volunteers. Immediately I felt welcomed and excited to arrive at the village. On arrival at the village and after getting settled in time passed so quickly and every day was so enjoyable. It was such a pleasant experience ethically seeing the elephants and getting to interact with the volunteers/staff and the local villagers. The village itself was hard to describe. I believe all the volunteers agreed we would miss it dearly. The elephant hikes where the reason I came, and they did not disappoint. I felt I learned so much more with the data collection and local biodiversity hikes. After many weeks it was nearing my time to return home. After spending so much time there it began to feel like a second home, and I began to get very comfortable there. Had it not been for University starting again I would’ve extended my stay without a doubt. Overall the most fantastic experience I’ve ever had, and I can’t thank GVI enough for the great staff and friends for life that I’ve made. On returning home, my entire mindset had changed. I am more aware of how I can promote change at a local level and continue work in conservation. I still feel very connected to the village. Through my final year project at university, I am creating a data entry program to aid in the data collection carried out by the volunteers and staff. Undeniably looking forward to returning in June as a six-month intern, see you then Huay Pakoot.

Katie Searle

11 Oct, 2018
When choosing a project in Thailand, the GVI elephant project stood out to me due to its strong animal welfare objectives. Unlike other elephant projects in Thailand, the GVI elephants are allowed to roam the mountains, and not be kept in enclosure with tourists riding them. The money that the families that owned the elephants got from GVI was enough to keep the elephants out of tourist and logging camps, letting them forage and interact as they please. So you know your money is helping keep the elephants in the wild, as well as keep the local families out of poverty. This meant that our main activity was trekking through the mountains with the mahouts to find where the elephants had got too overnight. This was very physical but great fun, especially as we were collecting other biodiversity data as we were hiking, seeing animals such as snakes, toads, and some fantastic looking invertebrates along the way (apart from the leeches!). When we were out on these treks the mahouts showed us some great bush crafts such as make cups and long bowls from bamboo, and cooking in the middle of the jungle, and even had the opportunity to do night hikes if you are brave enough. When we had free time we could do bird watching from the base camp that looked over the valleys, cooking workshops that were organised by the Thai government or learning about the local religion and witnessing some of the ceremonies if you are lucky enough to be there when they happened. This project has several great community aspects to it, especially as the locals don’t speak any English so you had some very interesting conversations trying to make sense of each other, but is a great feeling when you succeed. These projects include staying with a local family and help them cook dinner with them once a fortnight, the villagers coming to base and selling their home made good such as jewellery and clothing once a fortnight, basket making, and learning the local language and helping look after nursery children if you were too tired to hike. What I loved about this project was the GVI base, where we all came together when not at our family’s house to relax and enjoy the view. My favourite time at base was when all the families would bring down dinner to base hut once a fortnight, and the volunteers would sit in a massive circle and have a buffet style dinner. This is a fantastic project as you have to immerse yourself in the culture due to living in the home of a local, as well as spending the whole day with the mahouts from the village. Even though it was a very physical program the staff made it a fantastic project with lots of other activities to take part in on your time off, or if you weren’t up for a long hike. They also held frequent talks on elephant ecology and welfare and local biodiversity. On the weekends we had free time where they would also help provide transport for trips such as seeing local areas of bordering areas such as Loas. This project had something for everyone and something I will never forget!

Elaine Chen

11 Oct, 2018
My name is Elaine and I am an artist that attended the GVI program in Chiang Mai for a month in January. I was working as an animation background artist prior to coming on the program, back in Canada. I absolutely loved my time on the program; meeting people all over the world, that has the same compassionate heart for a worth while cause. Everyone I had met there, locals included, was welcoming and kind, to us and the gentle giants. It was very eye opening to experience the Karen culture and to be included so full heartedly. It was all very touching. Being on the program allowed me to meet people driven to help elephants; kind to other lives; career focused in conservation or biodiversity, which is an area I was foreign too. As an artist, I had used every opportunity I had to capture the moments with art. I feel like the program had altered something in my career path. I would love to continue to use my art to help our planet and people and creatures that need the help. I plan on searching for the opportunity that allows me to do so.

Sally Houghton

11 Oct, 2018
I have recently returned from being involved in two fantastic GVI programs – teaching Novice Monks in Laos and the elephant reintroduction program in Chiang Mai. My experiences were incredible! Teaching a ‘sea’ of orange-robed boys and adolescents is a complete change to what I’m used to! It was such a rewarding and amazing experience! The group of volunteers I taught with were a group of wonderful people. We had so much fun together teaching and exploring the beautiful town and surrounding areas of Luang Prabang. The thing that hit me the most with my time in the Elephant Program was the passionate nature of the interns and staff. It was so easy to become enthusiastic to learn about the ‘gentle giants of the forest’. They really take your breath away! My home-stay family were wonderful! It was such a privilege to be a part of the village culture. My trip was jam-packed with life-long memories! Thank you, thank you GVI!

Claire Riddiough

11 Oct, 2018
My time in Huay Pakoot was truly life changing. Although I was only there 2 weeks, the experience had such a powerful effect on me that I have decided to return to take part in a six-month internship. I believe I made a difference in the program and that I could freely contribute my ideas and use my unique background. I’m excited to resume this incredible opportunity. GVI has made a monumental impact on the elephants’ and villagers’ lives. The elephants are now semi-wild in the forest as a part of an elephant herd, which may include their own family members. Being around elephants in their natural environment was an amazing and special experience. I felt a real connection to the elephants. This is the true way Thai elephants should be observed, not in tourist camps. It is vital to provide education to others and tourists, so that they can support ethical elephant tourism. The mahouts can now care for their elephants in a different way and are also able to live with their families in Huay Pakoot. This alternative livelihood has brought the community closer together. The staff, volunteers and interns, the villagers, and the elephants were so welcoming that I genuinely felt like a part of the entire family. I loved being able to communicate with my host family in their native language, to basket weave, make bamboo cups, eat dinner, teach, and experience daily life with the villagers. It was extremely enjoyable to eat lunch in the forest with the mahouts, which they cooked just using bamboo tools. I learned a great deal about elephants, conservation, biodiversity, and culture of the Karen people. I want to continue to learn, to research, to educate others, and bring my own skills to incorporate into the program. I am grateful for every moment I had in Huay Pakoot. The GVI elephant program has been transformative; I have learned to follow my heart and in doing so I have found happiness.

Jenna Duncan

11 Oct, 2018
The time I spent on the internship in Thailand helped me grow so much as a person. Working with the elephants every day made me realise that this is the sort of thing I want to do with my life, to use my animal biology degree for conservation and research and this project was great experience for that. Even if you aren't interest in a future in conservation this project may still be for you. I also had so much fun at school and nursery with the children and learning the local language, Pakinyaw, and interacting with the villagers. I think the project is really beneficial for the elephants and the community and would recommend it to anyone.

Ashley Moss

11 Oct, 2018
In 2014 I made the decision to leave home and have my first big solo adventure. It has always been a dream of mine to travel around the world and work with wildlife, so I felt GVI was a good place to start. Before my month long volunteer trip I’d never been out of my own country (the U.S) alone. I knew this would be a big commitment and I would be completely out of my comfort zone. I didn’t feel nervous until I was dropped off at the airport and all alone for the very first time. The panic set in and I wanted to jump back in my boyfriends jeep and go home. Surprisingly, this feeling lasted about 20 minutes and after that I was ready and confident. (It’s okay to feel nervous, you’ve never done this!) I landed in Thailand after many, many hours of flying and I was so excited. Fast forward through the baggage claim, paperwork and taxi ride, I found myself at the hotel where all the volunteers are told to meet with each other. I spent my day hanging out at the pool and later that day all of the volunteers got to meet for the first time! If I’m being honest, I’m usually a shy person, but everyone (staff & volunteers) were so friendly. It only took a couple days to feel like I knew these people forever which made my trip that much better! Now that we were all acquainted we made our way to the village we’d be staying in, about 4-5 hours away in a village called Huay Pakoot. Each volunteer stays with a homestay family, and they were all so inviting and friendly. The woman I lived with was Ploy and her family, and we spent time together talking about our lives and trying to teach each other our own language. This alone was such an amazing experience and I miss them to this day! The program I volunteered for was an elephant rehabilitation program. The elephants lived in the village we were staying in and everyday except for weekends we spent our time hiking down to spend hours with them. We were always accompanied by GVI staff and mahouts on hikes. As volunteers we learned how to do medical checks on the elephants. I learned that elephants are gentle giants and extremely intelligent animals who LOVE bananas. Aside from the elephant hikes we also had the choice to spend the day with the kids at school or daycare. I spent a lot of time with the younger kids in daycare and we had a blast playing outside, making crafts and learning letters. We also had time to play volleyball and play games with them after school hours. Also, every other weekend you travel out of the village to Chiang Mai which is a big city about 5 hours away. You have the weekend with the other volunteers and staff to see the city and explore. The weekends were also a time to buy any souvenirs you want or snacks to bring back to the village. It’s hard to put into words how this adventure changed me as a person. I met beautiful wildlife and great people. Because of the mahouts, staff and volunteers with GVI, the elephants are given a second chance at the life they deserve. I’m thankful that I was able to be apart of something that is making a difference in these animals lives everyday, and it is an experience I will never forget. I made friends I will never forget, and I have kept in constant contact with a good friend from Canada! This program is a great way to help wildlife, see new places and meet amazing people from all over the world! If you are planning on going on your own adventure with GVI in the future, I hope you have an unforgettable experience! I hope this journal has helped someone understand this group a bit more!

Jasmin Stevens

11 Oct, 2018
My main focus on project is elephant foraging; which consists of collecting data on the different species of plants which the elephants consume, discovering new species of plants and herbal medicinal supplements which benefit human and elephant’s health. Elephants will select and consume up too 200kg of food per day for 75% of their time. They forage on grasses, vines, leaves, twigs, bark and human efficient crops such as corn. In the field I study what the elephants are eating and for what duration. If the species of the plant is unknown I use the mahout’s acknowledgment of the forest to identify the species, it’s really exciting to find new species which the elephants enjoy eating, especially as they wouldn’t have this opportunity to forage in a tourist camp. I input the species and durations into graphs from the 3 separate herds. At the end of the month total all the finding into a final graph to identify the preferred species of plants consumed by the elephants. These different species might benefit their digestion system, health, possible pregnancy or general taste. During my time here I have benefited on the understanding of the correct nutrition elephants need to survive, the different vines and grasses they eat to sustain a healthy lifestyle. It’s truly amazing to see the elephants forage freely through the forests consuming their preferred plant species without the help of humans. I began to understand the importance of elephant nutrition, the difference between working elephants and ‘wild’ foraging elephants. In England I am studying floristry, my acknowledgment for different plant species in Thailand automatically puts my understating of plants to a higher level. I’ve benefited greatly while on project and hope to continue gaining a higher understanding through my research and experience in the field.

Natalie Gonzalez

11 Oct, 2018
I attend Cornell University and I am a member of a scholarship program called Cornell Tradition. In order to receive funding from my program, I had to meet certain requirements: be on project for a minimum of eight weeks long for at least 40 hours each week; have timely reviews with a supervisor to monitor my service; write a reflective essay at the end of my project; and submit a supervisor review. Although an internship with GVI is typically six months, I was able to work with GVI staff to create a volunteer experience that met my scholarship requirements. As a natural resources major, the opportunity to work in a field setting with a traditional community and with elephants was very insightful. I learned a variety of field research techniques and experience working alongside exotic animals. I really enjoyed leading hikes and conducting health checks. Getting to know the villagers and learning some of the local language was a lot of fun. I know that my two months with GVI has given me a new perspective to apply in my studies. I hope to one day work as a conservationist with domestic elephants. The elephant reintroduction project was an incredible experience and valuable glimpse into work I cannot wait to pursue.

Brittany Chiapetti

11 Oct, 2018
Traveling halfway across the world to work with elephants is a dream I never had until I became curious about elephants and research about them. I got more out of this experience that I ever could have imagined. Opening your eyes to the world and problems within it can be one of the most painful things you ever do, but it is more than worth it. I witnessed first-hand some of the troubles Asian Elephants face today, and at the same time I witnessed the behavior and bliss of a select few who got their lives back and were reintroduced into their natural forests. This was all thanks to Global Vision International who gave me the opportunity to volunteer in Huay Paoot. Having been a part of GVI and I feel like I have contributed to the benefit of their long term goals. Being with GVI, I was a part of many things which include teaching English up to 6th grade, helping out in nursery, participating in litter pickups all around, bio diversity studies, and perhaps the most exciting work of all was with the elephants. There are three herds of elephants consisting of 9 individuals. There are typically 3-4 hikes a week where the elephants are observed. Proximity data is collected and recorded every 5 minutes as well as any touch data; and twice a week health checks are done on each elephant. Newest to the data collection is vocalization. The data collection time spans over 2 hours which can vary from the observation time, often after data collection we would opt to stay and continue watching them. Each of the elephants are truly amazing and watching them in the forest where they should be; eating a healthy natural diet, doing as they please, and witnessing the bonds they each have with their Mahout, was all truly amazing. I am lucky to have found this volunteer opportunity. Upon my arrival I expanded my vocalization project from health checks only to each of the elephant hikes. The data collected is really interesting and does show some behavioral patterns. I hope in the future to be able to take the ecology and mind of the elephants into context to interpret the cause and meaning of each vocalization. (Note that only audible vocalizations were recorded) Because there are three separate herds I personally could never have collected all the data alone. I really learned to work with others and partially rely on them. Thanks to staff members and other volunteers we were able to collect vocalization data for each elephant hike. Analyzing all the data has been really fun as well. I am learning a lot and have been inspired to do so much more, not just in terms of research but in terms of helping around the world. All of this is just a briefing of the things that I learned while volunteering on this conservation project. Everything that I have learned I hope to be able to share, for the elephants’ sake. I did not go into detail about all the issues they face, but I plan to educate people on the issues involving Asian Elephants. I am happy to share my experience but more than anything with my presentations I would like in some way to help the elephants. I believe I can do this through becoming an ambassador for GVI and sharing the opportunity, my experience, and spreading awareness on issues that Asian Elephants face.

Lola Ovarlez

11 Oct, 2018
What is so exceptional about volunteering in Chiang Mai is that you do not have to be fond of sciences, to be an explorer or anything. Being enthusiastic is enough. I spent 6 weeks living with people from all around the world: students, adults. And everyone has always accepted everyone. After 3 hikes, smelling terrible, being tired, you find yourself surrounded by incredible people who support you and feel the same way as you. You meet people so different from you and at the same time, so similar: we are all young, playful and most of all, passionate. The elephants are, with no doubts, the greatest beings ever. It was a dream for me to see them and learn about them. Of course, I’ve read about them, I’ve seen documentaries, photos, videos. But nothing compares to your really first hike when you finally come to them. You see them in harmony with their environment, happy and healthy –safe. Because that’s why you are here : to help, even a little, to protect them. Sometimes I felt like I was not doing enough for them. I was looking at the Mahouts and the village, thinking of how their whole lives are kind of committed to their existence. Whereas I was only there for 6 weeks. I was to come back in France and continue my studies like nothing had happened, as if It had just been a chapter of my life and that I had now to turn the page. But really? How can you? You come home and nothing has changed for your family, your colleagues. You still take the same train to the university, eat the same salad at lunch, go to the same bar at night with your friends. But deep in your heart : you have changed. You have grown ; you don’t think the same way. It’s like your eyes are now open. Maybe for the first time. Your whole life is before you, and you realize that you have a lot to do, a lot of good to do. For Elephants, for the village, for everything you want as long as you put your heart and your mind in it. I’ve spent my time worrying about my future. You know, sometimes, French people including me are a little bit grumpy and pessimistic. I was complaining all the time. Now, whenever I feel lonely or sad, I think about my muddy hiking boots. I think about the local Thai Tea. I think about our movie night on base. I’ll never forget, it was the happiest time of my life.

Katie Doull

11 Oct, 2018
The GVI project I had the pleasure of being a part of was the Conservation Project with Elephants in Thailand. I was there for a total of 4 weeks, this was certainly not long enough! I arrived at the village of Huay Pakoot, about 5 hours North of Chiang Mai, not knowing what to expect. I was immediately greeted by the staff and some other volunteers and taken to base camp. The view was phenomenal, I couldn’t stop staring at it – and to think that this was the view I would be looking at whilst having my breakfast every morning was just amazing. I was then taken to my homestay, it was just my luck that I was at the top of hill! My homestay mum name was Areerat, and she always greeted me with a smile and asked me how I was. Obviously the villagers didn’t speak much English, but I was able to learn a lot of their local language (Pakinyaw), and it was so rewarding when I could finally have a flowing conversation with them without even thinking about it. My room was very basic but it quickly began to feel like home – and the view from my window was something I will never forget. To wake up every morning the amazing view of the hills of Northern Thailand is not something many people get to experience every day. Areerat made my lunch and hung it on a peg outside my door every day, which I was always very grateful for, especially because her cooking is amazing! The first night I arrived we had a pot luck, which was where all homestay mums would bring food down to base camp and we all ate together and shared food. This was a great time to meet all the other volunteers and get to know each other. There was also a Geeju, where the villages would come and tie small white pieces of string around our wrists, as their token of good luck and to keep away bad spirits. I still have these bracelets on to this day! A typical day would start at 6:30am (which took a lot of getting used to!), and I would go down to base for breakfast. Most mornings I would head to Root’s Coffee Shop beforehand, where he made the most amazing coffee I have ever tasted – it was always a great start to the day. We would then leave for the hike. The hikes would usually last around 5-6 hours, which at first I struggled with, but it soon became normal and extremely enjoyable. We would hike through the dense forest until we could hear the gentle sound of the bells the elephants were wearing – the sound was so beautiful! We spend a few hours with the elephants, most of the time just watching the beautiful creatures go about their daily lives (mostly eating). We also noted down any behaviours we saw and also did regular health checks. It was so heart-warming to see the elephants in their natural habitats, stress-free and able to roam without constantly being forced to perform tricks or give rides to tourists. Even though deforestation makes it very difficult for them to be completely wild, this is the best environment they could possibly be in, so I was extremely humble to be able to volunteer so closely with them. The relationship the elephants have with their mahouts (who owned the elephants) was just beautiful to see, and the strong friendships I also made with the mahouts is something I will never forget. We would then head back to base and enjoy lunch – a typical lunch would include omelette, noodles, chicken and the odd fried banana. It was also so tasty and was amazing to get a taste of what the villagers eat every day. Then in the afternoon, on some days I would head up to the local school to teach the children English. This would include children in Nursery up to grades 5/6. The children were always so happy and eager to learn, and it was incredible to see the progress they made in just the month I was there! We would eat with our homestay families most nights, and a lot of the time I would invite the other volunteers to eat at my house too, because Areerat always loved having visitors. We would sit on the floor around a small table and Areerat would sit with us and ask us how our day was, and we would tell her that her food was delicious and she would always have a beaming smile across her face. Some days we would have a cooking class, where groups of volunteers would go to a villagers’ house and they would teach us how to cook some of the dishes they served us every day. This was amazing experience as it has given me something to take home – I cook these dishes a lot at home now, it gives me a taste from my second home! All in all the village has been a life-changing experience, so much that I have planned to go back there for 6 months next year. It is a place that quickly felt like home, so much that I plan to live and work there in the future. Doing a Zoology and Conservation degree, the project and all that it is about is everything I want in a career and also in my own life. The simplicity of life here is so refreshing, and it makes me wonder why life elsewhere can’t be like that all the time! GVI does amazing things, things that I will continue to be a part of. It inspires me every day to continue to be involved in conservation and also community.

Julia Porter

07 Sep, 2018
The GVI Elephant program was a life-changing experience. I chose this program because I wanted to be up close and personal with elephants, not knowing how much of an impact the community and the village would also have on me. Not only is GVI important for keeping the elephants in a natural environment, but the program has had a huge positive impact on the village of Huay Pakoot. Teaching English, contributing to the local economy, and providing a sustainable livelihood for the people in the village has created a bond between GVI and the community that I never could have expected. It's so inspiring to witness the time and effort that the staff and volunteers have spent making this incredible program possible. International volunteerism helps employability because it shows that a person is well-rounded and community oriented. Additionally, this program involves experiences in a range of disciplines and areas of study – biology, ecology, conservation and sustainability, international relations, etc. - that would benefit students and career professionals looking to expand their horizons. GVI made me feel comfortable and safe throughout this experience. It can be scary traveling across the world alone, but GVI made the village feel like home and I never felt that my health or safety was being compromised at any time.

Silvi Tiivas

16 Aug, 2018
**A good account of staying with a village family and an appreciation of the new culture encountered.** **Testimonial** Thailand December 2014 - January 2015 (2 weeks) I spent two weeks at the Huay Pakoot base south west of Chiang Mai. High up within the mountains, this amazing setting made you fee as though you were truly away from the city lights and in the middle of an adventure. The hikes were challenging but also extremely rewarding. Spending time monitoring, watching and recording data on the beautiful Asian elephants was truly an experience that I will never forget. The staff were very welcoming and made you feel completely comfortable and safe around these large animals. Living in a Homestay with a village family was a unique experience and the traditional dishes were delicious (very spicy options available if you were game enough). They were also able to cater for any dietary requirements. Having the weekends off was a nice break with the option to travel off base if desired. The cold bucket showers were challenging but made me realise how lucky I am and much more appreciative of the lifestyle I have back home. This was the first time I had spent time with a traditional village. The Karen people were extremely accommodating, happy and interesting people. Learning a new language was a fantastic experience, especially being able to practice at dinner time with your homestay or with local village people, when walking around during the day. This adventure makes you grateful but also appreciative of other cultures and communities. The work that GVI is doing with the Asian Elephants in Thailand as well as with the Huay Pakoot community is extremely important and they need volunteers and donations to continue this into the future.

Rose Little

15 Aug, 2018
This summer I spent 3 months on an elephant reintroduction project in Huay Pakoot, North West Thailand with GVI. It was absolutely amazing being able to hike into the forest to see a small herd of semi wild elephants. We had a very unique opportunity to study the herd, so we would take both social behaviour and activity budget data to see how elephants adapted to life in the forest. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to get up close to the elephants once a week to do health checks. During my time in Thailand I stayed with a homestay family getting to know them and how they lived. The first few weeks were hard due to the language barrier but the whole family were very welcoming and as I began to understand their language, Pakinyaw, I began to feel more at home and became good friends with them One of my favourite things to do in the village was cook with my ‘mum’, Faw, chat to her and learn some local recipes. I also had the opportunity to teach English twice a week at the local school. It was wonderful getting to know the children of the village and be a part of their education. I really enjoyed being a part of the GVI community and meeting new people from all corners of the world. Signing off for the weekends to go to Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon and Pai seeing some of the tourist attractions of the area was a great way to see Northern Thailand and also spend time with the GVI staff and other volunteers. I am going to university now and this experience it has given me the confidence to go out, try new things and meet new people. It is safe to say that so far these 3 months was the best experience of my life.

Claire Wigham

25 Nov, 2013
I have had the opportunity to observe and work closely with these social and complex animals, which would be impossible with elephants in the wild. Staying in a traditional Karen community has been a million miles away from life in England. I have been made to feel really welcome here and I feel privileged to be part of a project that is helping both the elephants and the community in which they live.