Experience Kanchanaburi: Volunteer with Asian Elephants

Traveling to Kanchanburi Province

Located just two hours northwest of Bangkok is the Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand.Lush mountains and acres of sugar cane fields cover this rural province, and form a natural boundary along the bordering country of Myanmar. DSC_0343[1]On Friday morning, coffee mug in hand, I boarded a $3 bus to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok. 😀22268855358_76b9ffa826_oWhen I finally arrived in Kanchanaburi, I had finished my coffee, and opted to use the bathroom at the local bus station. :/

Now I have seen many unusual public restrooms while living abroad, but this was the first time I have been asked to remove my shoes. 😕22268855328_3c769196f1_oFrom the array of available bathroom sandals, I managed to find a sparkly silver pair, but it was a tight squeeze to say the least. Hah. 😛39610204201_176a139d3c_oI felt like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to jam my foot into her glass slipper.22268855258_58189cd3f4_o39610204241_e2400d1f8f_oTo make matters more comical, there were no bathroom hooks and the squat toilet was set on a raised potty platform, literally sopping wet. There was also no flush handle, but a bucket full of water that must be poured down the drain using a kitchen bowl. :/39580827882_963cf1c937_oImagine this circus act as I shuffled my way onto the slippery platform, balancing all my baggage above my head. Ladies and Gentleman. 😀 Get ready for the big show!39610232551_0ca31c23a5_oAbsolute nonsense! Luckily, my last yoga class paid off, as it improved my balance and I managed to escape that near disaster without a splash! Hah. 😉

Accommodation in Kanchanaburi 

Anyway, while in Kanchanaburi, I stayed one night at Bluestar Guesthouse. 😀

Only 5 USD for country living at its finest. DSC_0479DSC_0473A rustic little cabin nestled along the banks of the River Kwai.

History of Kanchanaburi

Now you may have heard of the River Kwai from the famous war movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai.The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai_posterThe movie is based on the true story of life in Kanchanaburi, post WWII. During this time, British POWs were forced by Japanese militants to build a bridge from Thailand to Burma, in hopes of building up their land base.DSC_0482The prisoners of war built the rail line under extreme heat, horrendous working conditions, and with an impossible timeline, such that over 13,000 men lost their lives. 22319761338_a9163b4282_cFor this reason, the connecting bridge was appropriately named, the Death Railway. DSC_0498Segments of the line are still functioning today, and visitors have the opportunity to walk or ride the rail. Quite eerie. :/
DSC_0506As well, visitors can pay their respects by visiting the neighboring memorial cemetery.DSC_0525DSC_0524Although Kanchanaburi has a grim history, it’s barely visible today.

Along the river are many shops and hotels, with a surprisingly hopping nightlife along the river. 😀

Party boats blasting karaoke musicDSC_0502Relaxing in the town square.DSC_0509Although my visit to the war memorial was incredibly humbling, my main motive for visiting this province was to volunteer for a worthy cause. 😀Thailand is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna; however, their most famous native species is also one of their most endangered. 😦

Today there about 6,000 Asian elephants in Thailand, which is a decline from 100,000 elephants just a century ago. 22444827152_0897284162_cThe wild elephant population declined mainly from poaching, deforestation, and domestication. Elephants were forced to work for logging companies, trekking camps, and as street entertainment. For nearly a century these domesticated elephants have suffered from being overworked and malnourished, in a less-than-ideal environment.

Luckily, things have been slowly improving. 😀

The logging industry has banned elephant labor, Thai laws have banned elephants from urban cities, and more non-profit organizations have created peaceful sanctuaries for these animals to live. 🙂

After searching internet reviews and personal recommendations, I finally found a good organization to support. 😀

Elephant World in Kanchanaburi Province was opened by a Thai veterinarian, in hopes of providing a natural retirement home for these domesticated elephants.22493741772_cc965f2bc8_c
Early Saturday morning, I was picked up in Kanchanaburi by Elephant World. Twelve other volunteers and myself hopped into an open truck bed and began our road trip into the mountains. 😀22457043925_0d6b99481f_c22457043905_81ef6930a4_cLook, I packed bananas to make some new friends! 😉22457043885_d134229943_cThe sanctuary in Kanchanaburi currently has 20 elephants, which is a lot of mouths to feed, considering an elephant eats around 300 lbs of food each day.
DSC_0201DSC_0202 They even care for water buffalo and other livestock.
When we first arrived, it was breakfast time, and we began by feeding baskets of fruit to the elephants from the feeding platform.
Observation bridge and feeding platform. DSC_0370DSC_0149DSC_0157 DSC_0192We hand-fed each elephant a bushel of cucumber, melon, corn and bananas. 😀 22270733118_6759c19454_cIn the afternoon, we prepared batches of sticky rice for the geriatric elephants. After 60 years of age, elephants lose their teeth and can no longer handle hard fruits. We prepared rice balls using rice grain, squash and moistened elephant pellets, all rolled into a calcium powder and fed to the older ladies. 😉DSC_0225DSC_0226DSC_0227DSC_0228DSC_0276DSC_0280DSC_0281DSC_0222Some of the animals suffer from physical and emotional damage from their lifelong abuse, while others are fortunate to have been rescued at an early age. 🙂
DSC_0285Other daily tasks at Elephant World include cutting bana grass, planting corn, and washing fruit to remove pesticides.
DSC_0459Munching on the sweet bana grass. 🙂 DSC_0460DSC_0462
Most produce here is covered in pesticides, which need to be washed off, since elephants eat the whole fruit, including rind and peel.22506969135_61380ae4ea_cPreparing fruit baskets. 22506969025_da9b6ee790_cThe organization is trying to grow their own crops, but must buy a lot of their food with so many mouths to feed. Donations benefit mostly food purchases, but medical supplies and miscellaneous items as well.DSC_0467The volunteer retreat cared for the volunteers as well by providing a delicious vegetarian buffet of battered squash, mushroom curry, fried eggs, spicy coconut soup and rice. 
DSC_0229DSC_0231DSC_0230Lunchroom lodge. 22320530749_efd2fe8f34_cLunch guest. 😉
DSC_0235Most people volunteer for one day, but I chose to do an overnight program. 🙂

I had a lovely wooden cabana with attached bathroom, and a private deck overlooking the river.DSC_0341DSC_0338DSC_0339Jungle surroundings. 🙂 DSC_0326During my extended stay, I chose to focus solely on working with one elephant named To-me. 🙂DSC_0328DSC_0181[1]To-me was born in 1964 and forced to work in both logging and trekking camps for years until she was rescued by the sanctuary. She is a grandmother, and also cares for the two youngest orphaned elephants in the herd.
DSC_0260Here she is caring for the young pups during play time in the mud. 😛
DSC_0261DSC_0258DSC_0248Testing out the waters. 😛
DSC_0242On my second day volunteering, I took To-me and her friend Gaina down to relax and play by the river. 
DSC_0371To-me and Gaina stopped a lot along the way, to eat grass and scratch their butts on the trees. 😛22320530639_ee5f3a239f_c22275029619_a98dcd28fc_cWorking and bonding with To-me was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 😀DSC_0377[1]DSC_0382DSC_0402DSC_0405After feeding her a bushel of fruit, we were able to take the elephants into the river to bathe with each other and play around in the water. 😀
DSC_0305[1]DSC_0300To-me playing with her best friend Gaina. Look how happy they are together! 😀
DSC_0433[1]Although these vocalizations might sound intimidating, these roars and grumbles are actually displays of extreme excitement as these two friends are reunited. 😀

Now these mahouts, or caretakers spend many years working with the same elephant. For example, To-me’s mahout has been with her for over eight years.
DSC_0311DSC_0314Overall, the motto at Elephant Word is, “We work for the elephants. They don’t work for us.”
What a tranquil environment and a beautiful spot to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. Cheers! 😀22318846670_0bd8a8f6bc_c22318847060_593f1bcf55_cAfter a long day, I walked with To-me and her caretaker back into the forest, where she stays during the night.
DSC_0330[2]DSC_0333DSC_0353[1]Elephants graze on food for 16 hours each day, and in the forest here, she can find lots of bamboo and grass to eat.
DSC_0351[1]They say elephants never forget, and I sure know that I’ll never forget my experience with To-me either. ❤  
DSC_033722319558568_a446fc1c9e_cVolunteering at the elephant sanctuary cost 120 USD for two days, including four meals and a cabana, plus roundtrip transportation. A fantastic organization to support, and a great way to educate everyone about the plight of this beautiful creature.DSC_0151[1]


Back to School

Anyway, now I’m back to school and the main focus of my first lesson was introducing myself to each class. 😀

I had a fun activity planned as the students were placed in pairs, and half the kids were given a picture of “Miss Megan” on an adventure around the world. Their task was to describe that picture for their partner to draw.collage 2
Check out the silly captions! 😀
collage 1It helped the kids learn more about their teacher, and helped me learn a bit more about their level of English and the classroom dynamic. Successful activity and quite a creative bunch! 😀

Well, the weekend is right around the corner and I’ll be moving into my new condo, as well as, celebrating Halloween in this crazy city. Stay tuned to hear all about it! 😀

6 thoughts on “Experience Kanchanaburi: Volunteer with Asian Elephants

  1. Omg Megan , Finn and I loved the elephant trip…he was so excited to see you and all the activities with Too-me. Glad you got to Thailand safe and sound. Hope all goes well with your new assignment….we think of you often. I can’t wait until Noah is off of school tomorrow and I can show him your blog. We have been using my globe to track you adventures. Be safe and know that there are people back home that miss you😊
    Love Ya, Kim


    1. Hello Kim and Finn!

      Glad you both liked the pictures of the elephants in Thailand. They are really such gentle and sensitive animals. What a blessing to be there with them! 🙂 I’m learning so much through my travels, and love hearing you enjoy reading about them as well. 😀 Also, thank you for the well wishes. I am missing you all back home and thinking of you always. ❤ Please take care, and have a safe and fun Halloween weekend. 🙂

      Sending lots of love,



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