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Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Chiang Mai
£575 (1 week)

Ref: AV115

For centuries the Karen tribe cared for the elephants in the jungles of south-east Asia.  Sadly unemployment within this community resulted in the elephants being hired out to trekking camps and elephant tourist shows, often with dreadful results. Now the time has come for the elephants to return to the village and their natural habitat. Here volunteers have the chance to interact with these beautiful and intelligent animals on a daily basis as well as living and working in this fascinating tribal community in the mountains of Chiang Mai. Volunteers may join this project for one week only - so why not combine a holiday in Thailand with a chance to make a real difference to the lives of the elephants and the community in beautiful Chiang Mai. 

Who can join: 15 years of age and over
Accommodation: shared Karen-style house
Transfer time: approx 6 hours
Pick up Point: Chiang Mai City
Meals: 3 meals a day included
Volunteer numbers: Approx 15 volunteers

Duration & Fees

1 week£575

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Start Dates

Volunteers can join on any Monday during the year.

This project is open year round.


£180 deposit at time of booking – balance payment of project fee due 12 weeks before departure

What's Included

  • Transport from Chiang Mai to project on start date and from Elephant Nature Park to Chiang Mai on end date
  • Simple accommodation at the project
  • Three meals a day, drinking water, tea and coffee
  • Practical education on challenges facing elephant conservation


What's not included

  • International flights and transport to and from Chiang Mai
  • Any visas or vaccinations required 
  • Comprehensive insurance, including cover for repatriation
  • Any personal items such as snacks, trips, entertainment 

Journey to Freedom is a unique project which offers the volunteer the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with the elephants, to develop learning experiences for local school children and to learn about local agriculture and the culture of the local community by living with them in a tribal village in the mountains of Chiang Mai.

For centuries the Karen tribe has cared for elephants in the jungles of South East Asia. Sadly, through unemployment, they were forced to lease their elephants to trekking camps and elephant tourist shows. Now the time has come for the elephants to return to the village and their natural habitat. Journey to Freedom is a project that embeds volunteers into the culture of one of Thailand’s oldest hill tribes while gaining a fascinating insight to the life of forest elephants. Volunteers will be able to witness first hand the daily life of the Karen people, to become involved in the community and enjoy intimate encounters with the world's largest land mammal. Volunteers will become part of a conservation team that brings joy to the lives of this community and assists in the daily care of elephants.

Journey to Freedom volunteers also spend the final night at the Elephant Nature Park where they can swap stories of their experiences with Elephant Nature Park volunteers.

Project Highlights

  • Spend time daily with the elephants; feed and walk alongside these gentle giants through the jungle to the waterfall.
  • Gain a fascinating insight to the life of elephants in their natural habitat and observe the way they behave when surrounded by the jungle.
  • Enjoy delicious Thai food, freshly cooked each day for the volunteers.
  • Meet people from all walks of life with similar interests and make life long friends.
  • Make a difference in a community while learning about their traditional way of life.
  • Be apart of a blessing ceremony which thanks volunteers for their contribution to the community and enjoy a final party on Saturday night at the Elephant Nature Park with the chance to swap stories with other volunteers.

Daily Activities

Supporting the Elephants - to live free in their own home lands.

Education of the local Karen community -  encouraging them to treasure and value their environment.

Improving the living standards of the local community - by building clean village toilets, water tanks, running water pipe systems, bridges for school children, temple and nursery school construction etc.

Increasing the income for the Karen women -  for centuries the jobs for these women were as a mother and taking care of plantation farms. Their income depended on their husband. This project trains them to improve their weaving quality and to increase their knowledge of natural dyeing. Elephant Nature Park assists this initiative by buying their products to sell on to visitors.

Developing and improving the welfare of the animals in the village - helping to improve hygiene and care for domestic animals such as pigs, buffalos, and cows.

Providing animal vaccinations and medical care - through the vet and volunteers who help treat and care for the domestic animals.

Working together with the local community - volunteers help by working in the rice fields, temples and schools to improve, develop and pass on skills.

Saving the forest and wild animals around the area-  in these areas there are many wild gibbons benefiting from forest replanting and the setting up of fire breaks.

NB:  The above gives an outline of the normal daily volunteer activities but may change at any time without notice to meet the needs of the wildlife and the community.  Volunteers should be prepared for traveling on rough roads to and from the project.

Extra Information

Getting There

Volunteers should travel by air, bus or train into Chiang Mai city on the Sunday before their project start date on Monday.  Full details and advice on getting to Chiang Mai and accommodation for the Sunday night are included in your pre-departure pack which volunteers receive upon booking.  Volunteer meet the staff at the main office in Chiang Mai on Monday morning at 8.00 am where they will be registered and then driven out to the project with the other volunteers.  As the project location is in a remote area, Monday mornings are the only start date. 

Volunteers will leave the project at 2.00 pm on the final day of their placement (Sunday) and will be returned to Chiang Mai by around 3.30 pm.  If volunteers prefer they can be taken to Chiang Mai Airport for evening flights.  We recommend that flights are not booked to leave before 7pm.  

Support and Orientation

Support and advice is available from Amanzi Travel office staff and project/trip leaders. Upon booking, you will receive a comprehensive pre-departure pack that provides all the details you will need to prepare for your trip.  This document includes information on accommodation, staff, visas, optional activities, packing checklist and medical advice and if you have any questions that are not answered in the pack we are always on hand to help and advise. We will do all we can to ensure that you are well prepared and looking forward to your trip. You will also receive an in country orientation on arrival.

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week emergency contact number is provided for everyone who travels with us.

Amanzi Travel holds an ATOL licence (9401) and is able to arrange your flights on request giving you financial protection for your flight and trip costs. We also offer advice on personal travel insurance for your trip.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to FreedomChiang Mai, Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to FreedomChiang Mai, Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to FreedomChiang Mai, Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to FreedomVolunteers will be accommodated in a shared Karen-style house which is designed to allow volunteers to be at one with nature.  There are no beds, but comfortable mattresses and mosquito nets are provided along with bedding.  There is one large room that sleeps 16 volunteers, 4 rooms that sleep 2 volunteers each and 3 rooms that sleeps 4 volunteers each.  If you are a couple and would like to request one of the twin rooms please do let us know so that we can check availabilitiy for you.

A cold shower and toilet are located right next to the house.  There are electrical sockets available.

All meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks - during the week's work at the village or park are included, commencing with lunch on the Monday start date and ending with lunch on the final Sunday.  Local Thai food, including vegetarian, is available as are drinking water, tea and coffee.  Breakfast is at 7.00 am and dinner is at 6.00 pm.

There are no shops in the village however on the way to the village a stop will be made at the local market where volunteers can buy snacks and drinks to take with them if they would like. 

Click here to view the full interactive mapThailand

Thailand overview

At the centre of Indochina, is the Kingdom of Thailand – as it officially known. Thailand nestles between Burma, Laos and Cambodia above and Malaysia below, with the Gulf of Thailand to the south and the Andaman Sea to the west.

Thailand’s second largest city of Chiang Mai is known as the Rose of the North and visitors can experience homestays in local villages, rural jungle treks and 13th century Buddhist temples. The islands on Thailand’s east coast consist of Koh Phangan, Koh Toa and Koh Samui, which are famous for Full Moon parties, diving and tourism respectively and of course white sandy beaches and coral reefs. While Koh Phi Phi was hit by the 2004 Tsunami, it is also the home of ‘The Beach’ and iconic limestone cliffs. Other synonymous activities with Thailand are Muay Thai boxing, Thai cooking courses, mountain climbing, elephant riding, river rafting, canopy walking, learning to dive and holistic retreats.

The capital city Bangkok is the country’s political, commercial and cultural hub, as well as being the gateway to Thailand for most travellers arriving by air. The city is a mixture of old and new, with high rise skyscrapers, old temples, the Royal palace, wide dominating motorways and little shops on street corners. The city is used as a hub to travel around the rest of the country and its many islands, as well as the surrounding countries. Thai people are, as throughout Asia, extremely warm and welcoming and cannot help but wear that huge Asian smile.

Highlights of country

  • Includes jungles, mountains, islands and beaches
  • Warm and friendly Thai people
  • Learn to dive in Koh Tao
  • Legendry Full Moon parties on Koh Phangan
  • Easy access to other Asian countries for further travel


Summer 38 °C 230 °C
Winter 28 °C 22 °C

Thailand has a tropical climate almost all year round. Southern Thailand has two seasons; the wet season and the dry season, which are the different on the east and west coasts. The east coast has rain between September and December, while the west has heavy storms from April through until October. The south of Thailand receives the most rain, with around 2,400 mm falling each year, which is 1,000 mm more than central and northern Thailand.

Northern Thailand’s seasons are more defined. Between November and May the weather is mostly dry, except for expected rain between February and March. From November to March, there are cooling breezes in northern Thailand while the temperatures rise between March and May.

Key Facts

Population – 66.80 million
Capital - Bangkok
Currency – Thai Baht (THB)
Official languages – Thai
Time difference – GMT + 6
Telephone - +66

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Amazing and welcoming - I was made to feel like family. 

Mark, UK (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

The whole experience was amazing, Yo, the volunteer coordinator was beyond helpful and informative. 

Jenny, UK (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Fantastic, Journey to Freedom was an amanzing, life changing experience!   Every day felt like the best day ever and the experience was so much more than I was expecting.  I love the village, coffee project, outreach work - AMAZING project, the whole thing!

Juan, Spain (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Would love to thank you for a great stay at your sanctuary our heart went out to you all for the way you are bringing these animals back from the brink. we will be back next year and if possible stay longer to help and volunteer. Thank you so much from Eddie, Jane Ed and Wendy

Eddie, 2015 (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom, Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Amazing experience! Hope to visit again someday! Thank you all for your hard work!

Debbie, UK 2014 (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom, Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Just back from a week long elephant volunteer experience. Had an amazing time, the interaction with the elephants was fantastic and truely humbling when you realise and learn about what the elephants have been through prior to being rescued. These beautiful animals suffer so much and this is really is not highlighted at all to tourists and the affect the tourist industry has on their lives and the treatment the receive. Lek and her team, especially the volunteer Co-ordinator couldn't have made us feel more welcome!, would go back in a minute. Highly recommend this trip to anyone who wants to improve their knowledge and to get up close to these amazing animals

David and Lesley, UK, aged 31 and 28 (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom, Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

I volunteered at the Elephant Sanctuary for a week and loved it! It's such a unique experience. The physical work could be hard for some but it's so worth it because you see how happy and content the animals are. Just wanted to say a big thank you to Lek and the staff for all you have done ♥

Here, the elephants are given a chance to roam, play, enjoy long baths in the river and bum-scratches up against trees, eat fruit, and generally be adored by the many volunteers and visitors who come to see them. 

The Park is also home to many other rescued animals, including a full-fledged dog shelter. Many of these animals have been through horrors beyond imagination, and Lek is truly a hero for creating this place for them. This trip re-affirmed my already passionate commitment to wildlife protection and animal welfare.

Nikita, Australia (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom, Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

Thank you so much for an awesome week! I had the time of my life! Lek you are one of the most beautiful persons I ever met. And guides Johnny, Jane & Stan you guys are great - thank you so much too, I had so much fun and you were taking so much care of everybody! The elephants are lovely! I'm so happy for them they got a new chance for a way better life.

Lis, Holland (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom, Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary)

Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom

I arrived home last night after spending a total of 7 wonderful days at The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.  I cried when I was leaving because my time there was so memorable and heart warming, I am going back there next year!  Lek and her staff are amazingly dedicated people!  ….   The food was restaurant quality and the sanctuary itself is a true haven for abused elephants!  

Do yourself a  favour and take a week or two to treat yourself to a life changing experience.  Some of the friends I made were visitors to the sanctuary for their 7th time.  Thanks to all the  wonderful staff and especially to Lek who without this, the life of those beautiful elephants would not be as happy as it is now!

Vicki (Chiang Mai Elephant Journey to Freedom, Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary)

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