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Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

Chiang Mai, Thailand
from £485 (1 week)

Ref: AV090

Fantastic opportunity for a life-enhancing experience spending time volunteering at this Elephant Sanctuary which is a rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand. Volunteers work hands-on helping with the daily tasks looking after the thriving elephant herd, many of whom have been rescued from desperate situations. The sanctuary provides a very natural environment for the elephants, many of whom are disabled, blind and orphaned and who have been abused as working animals and for street begging. Care is also provided for dogs, cats, buffalo and many other animals who have been rescued and need care.

Who can join: 12 years and over
Accommodation: Shared twin rooms at the Elephant Park
Transfer time: 90 minutes
Pick up Point: Chiang Mai City
Meals: All meals included
Volunteer numbers: approx. 35 volunteers

Duration & Fees

1 week£485
2 weeks£855
3 weeks£1,225
4 weeks£1,595

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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 to and from Chiang Mai on your start and end date
  • Accommodation on site
  • Three meals a day
  • Internet connection - normally available
  • Practical education on challenges facing elephant conservation

What's not included

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


  • The chance to gain a real insight into the lives of elephants and an understanding of the issues surrounding their future
  • Be part of helping these beautiful elephants rehabilitate in their safe new home. The elephants have often been abused as working animals and for street begging as well as often being disabled, blind or orphaned.
  • Watching the elephants Bathe in the River
  • The chance to sample delicious Thai cuisine on a daily basis
  • Great social life at the camp and the chance to explore the local village
  • Make friends for life in one of the world's most beautiful countries
  • An opportunity for veterinary students or qualified vets to learn from and assist the resident vets with the elephants and other animals at the sanctuary.

Volunteers joining this project will benefit from the life-enhancing experience of working hands-on in this very special project that aims of help protect a highly endangered species - the Asian elephant. 

Beyond the urban development of the town of Chiang Mai lives a very different place - a jungle where lush, tree-covered mountains are home to numerous species of wildlife.  Within this jungle lies this elephant sanctuary - which offers volunteers and visitors alike a unique experience - a chance to interact with elephants without exploiting them in any way.  These gentle giants, while revered in the country, are not free from abuse.  Every day wild baby elephants are captured and taken away from their mothers (who are often killed) and forced to undergo a torturous training to domesticate them - the phajaan.  The phajaan essentially breaks the spirit of the elephant, using fear of pain to train them to accept riders on their backs, perform tricks and even paint.  The Elephant Sanctuary offers a safe home for these creatures who have been broken in order to work in the tourist industry or in the illegal logging industry.

Founded in 1995 by Sangduen "Lek" Chailert, the the sanctuary gives these magnificent animals a new lease of life.  At the sanctuary there are no tricks to be performed.  There are no rides to be given.  No elephant paintings can be bought.  Here the elephants are allowed to live their lives free from bullhooks, free from abuse. 

The Park is home to more than 35 elephants, and each elephant has a story. One stepped on a landmine in Burma, taking away ½ of her rear foot. One was blinded by a Kwan in a fit of rage. One was pumped with emphatimes so that it could log day and night. For as horrible as each individual story was, the elephants all share a much happier ending, free to roam the forest and simply be elephants, given the medical care, the nutrition and the love to help them heal their wounds (with proper care, Asian elephants can live to be 70-80 years old).

The project base is also a sanctuary for more than 350 dogs which were rescued - Lek and her husband independently obtained boats to resue as many as they could -  from the destuctive Bangkok floods of 2011 and from the streets of Chiang Mai.  All the dogs are loved and live in newly-constructed shelters, but some roam free within the Park. 

Volunteers Activities

Volunteers will get the chance to work with an internationally-respected and celebrated conservationist - Lek - in a unique programme aimed at helping a highly endangered species.  Most volunteers leave with a proud sense of accomplishment and a deep satisfying feeling of having done something really positive.  Volunteers at the sanctuary will help to improve the plight of the Asian elephant and are able to feed and care for the elephants.  Daily tasks may include cleaning shelters including ele poo clearing, unloading, washing and preparing elephant food (it's amazing how much they can eat), cutting corn and grass by machete, digging and planting banana trees, putting up fences, creating mud pits and 'elephant gyms', or perhaps visiting a local school.

Student Vets and Animal Medical Specialists

An adaptation of this project is available for training and qualified specialists assist the resident vets.  Veterinary nurses and student vets can use this opportunity as part of their course work or professional studies. University assessment paperwork can be completed by the sanctuary veterinarian as part of the field work. Half of each day will be spend assisting and learning from the Park vets and the remainder of the day with other volunteers.  Applicants should be in a recognised full-time veterinarian study course or a qualified vet or veterinary nurse and copies of study or professional qualifications are required for access to these positions.  Please discuss this opportunity directly with Amanzi Travel. 

Daily Activities

Breakfast will be at 7.00 am and the day's work starts at 8.00 am. Evening dinner is at 6pm. Each day volunteers will help to prepare the food for the elephants and help with their feeding and care and watch them bathe in the river.  That really is a sight not to be missed!  Watch and learn how the elephants behave in their natural habitat and learn something of the challenges facing elephant conservation in Thailand and of the part played by the sanctuary in the preservation of the herd.  Enjoy the peace of this wonderful sanctuary - far off the beaten track - but only one hour from the fascinating city of Chiang Mai.

Other activities will include:

  • introduction to the area and meetings with staff and elephant mahouts
  • the chance to experience elephant families, learn how they choose their friends and see some of the problems facing elephants in Thailand to-day
  • help to construct and maintain mud pits for the elephants
  • meeting other volunteers, visitors and park staff from all around the world
  • in some cases volunteers may get to look after recently rescued elephants 
  • Helping to care for the dogs that have also found a safe home at the park

Please note: In order to ensure the elephants have as natural an enviroment as possible volunteers are no longer allowed to bathe with the elephants in the river.

Extra Information

Free time is enjoyed before and after lunch and dinner, when volunteers can enjoy tubing down the river, foot massages from the local ladies, cultural lessons, walks in the beautiful surroundings, socialising with other volunteers or just simply watching the elephants wander freely wthin the Park.

Volunteers are recommended to bring:

  • several long-sleeved shirts, gloves and several pairs of shorts, preferably ones that can be thrown away at the end of the proejct. They will very likely get muddy, torn and generally very worn out.
  • lots of small notes of Baht - there is a small bar and local masseueses, and large denominations may be tricky to change.
  • a dry sack - volunteers will want to have their cameras with them most of the time, but with messy jobs, the odd thunderstorm, and jobs around the river,  a dry sack will ensure the camera remains dry and safe.
  • a combo lock - a single key padlock is provided for the shared bedrooms, although a shared combination lock would be preferable so volunteers don't have to worry about who has the key at any particular time.

Getting There

Volunteers should arrive into Chiang Mai city on the Sunday before their project start date and spend the night in Chiang Mai.  Amanzi Travel can help with suggestions for accommodation in the city and full details will be in your pre-departure pack upon booking.   Volunteers will be picked up from their accommodation at around 8.00 am on Monday morning.  Alternatively volunteers can make their way to the Chiang Mai office on Monday morning.  Full details will be provided in your pre-departure pack upon booking.  All volunteers will be taken to the office in Chiang Mai to register and will then be driven about 60 km (90 minutes) north to the project base and will watch a video about life in the park along the way.   Volunteers will be returned to Chiang Mai city and your accommodation or the Chiang Mai office at approx 5pm on the Sunday at the end of their project.

Amanzi Travel holds an ATOL lilcence and can help with any flight requirements.  Please ask Amanzi Travel for further information.

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, Thailand, Chiang Mai Elephant SanctuaryChiang Mai, Thailand, Chiang Mai Elephant SanctuaryChiang Mai, Thailand, Chiang Mai Elephant SanctuaryVolunteers are awoken by the sounds of the elephants calling - what could be better!  Basic accommodation is in same-sex shared rooms, complete with bedding and mosquito nets.  Volunteers will share with at least two other people.  There are shared bathrooms with showers and western style toilets.  Volunteers should take their own towels and toileteries. Communal areas are equipped with free WiFi but the service can be intermittent and slow, and cell phone service is also limited.  A laundry service is offered for a small charge.

All meals are provided and the food is very nice, with a large buffet style lunch and dinner with many dishes to choose from, including Thai and Western dishes, a selection of fresh salads, fruit and vegetables in season.   Vegan and vegetarian food is always available and most other dietary requirements can be accommodated.

Breakfast is at 7.00am and dinner is at 6.00pm. There is a village with a small convenience store and a food market just outside the project base gates.

An elevated “skywalk” decking extends into the park, where big tables are used breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is also used at night for socializing - with amazing views of the Park.

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 Sanctuary

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 Sanctuary

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 Sanctuary

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 Sanctuary

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 Sanctuary

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 Sanctuary

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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