I met Jonathan, we fell in love, and then we got married. Happily ever after? I’d like to call it “Our Happy Beginning”. Our first adventure as husband and wife was our volunteer honeymoon. Three weeks of exploring Thailand sounds amazing right? However, our one week of volunteering was not only our favorite, but the most amazing and life changing experience for us as a couple.
Volunteer Honeymoon – Deciding where to go
The best decision we’ve ever made while planning our wedding was waiting to go on our honeymoon a couple months after the big day. Planning a wedding already is a large production in and of itself, and we wanted to take the time to plan to go somewhere and do something meaningful on our honeymoon.
We had decided we were going somewhere we both had never been to (which was hard considering my husband had practically been everywhere for his company Explore Inspired) and we wanted to do something to give back. Thailand it was!
Truthfully, we based this decision entirely on my obsession with elephants. We knew a little about the horrors of elephant riding, logging, and entertainment, until some extensive research when we came across The Elephant Nature Park.
The Elephant Nature Park
The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary that started as a personal venture for an inspiring woman named Lek Chailert. Born and raised in Thailand, she always had a love and passion for the elephants. Now, they have not only elephants but free roaming dogs, adoptable rescued dogs, adoptable rescue cats, water buffalo, and many other species that live and are cared for in the sanctuary.
Overall cost of our Volunteer Honeymoon
The total cost for our volunteer honeymoon week at The Elephant Nature Park was 12,000 Thai Baht. For us this was $363 each for the week, which turned out to be about $50 USD a day per person.
This included transport to and from the sanctuary, breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, water, and room and board.
As volunteers we also enjoyed watching traditional Thai dancing, learning to speak basic Thai, and danced the night away with fellow volunteers at a super fun dance party (the veterinarian had the best dance moves), all included In price of our stay at The Elephant Nature Park.
When we got there
Arriving at The Elephant Nature Park was out of a fairy tale. Just meters away from the van were one of the world’s most magnificent creatures, eating corn stalks and carrying on as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
Before they lived there, most of them had suffered tremendously before arriving to their safe haven. The reality is that 68 of the 70 elephants that reside in the sanctuary had been rescued from horrible previous lives.
Some had been used in illegal logging, some were used for street begging, others for extensive tourist riding, and each one had gone through “Phajaan” where they crush their spirit.
Phajaan is an ugly practice where they rip baby elephants from their mothers, tie them up, beat them with chains, hooks, nails and whips for days until their spirit is broken and they become submissive to the human’s wishes.
Seeing the documentaries the founder Lek, had put together was absolutely heartbreaking. Our orientation day was tough.
We were so sad and wanted so badly to get to work and help already!
Our Volunteer Honeymoon accommodation
On the first day we arrived we had orientation, lunch, and got our room keys. Every couple had their own room. Singles were paired up with other singles, and we all shared the communal showers and toilets. Each bungalow had two floors with rooms and a porch of bathrooms.
There was no hot water and sometimes the toilets didn’t flush.
We grabbed our key and headed to our room to unpack. When we got there we saw two twin beds pushed together, a giant pink bug net covering it, a chair, a cabinet, a fan, and a picture on the wall. There was no television, Wi-Fi, or air conditioning. It was simple. It was all we needed and we were so excited to embark on this little adventure together.
We dropped our 4 bags and headed to check out the rest of the site. Exiting our corner room we realized the porch right outside us overlooked the elephant stalls. We couldn’t believe we would be able to see them every morning and evening!
I for one was very nervous about the food situation. We are vegetarians and both of us have some food intolerances so I know it can be difficult at times to find the right meals 3 times a day 7 days a week. We were elated when we heard that all of the food at The Elephant Nature Park was vegan! And it was absolutely delicious!
Every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner food was served buffet style with hot and cold foods, ripe fruits and vegetables, and some of the most outstanding noodles and soup I had ever eaten. With chefs like that both Jonathan and I could be vegan forever!
Beer, wine, sport drinks and other snacks were available for purchase on site as well.
The Daily Schedule
Our day started every morning bright and early. We would grab our coffees around 6:30 and head over to watch the elephants walk to the river in front of the beautiful Thai sunrise. We would sit there and take in the views and fresh air while watch these amazing creatures, guided by their trustee mahouts (elephant trainers/caretakers), leave their stalls and head out for the day.
At 7am the breakfast buffet started. We would grab our delicious breakfast and sit down with the friends we had made at the park to discuss our jobs for the day, laughing at the ones who had poop duty.
Each day we had two jobs: one in the morning right after breakfast and one in the afternoon after lunch. Each job was rewarding, and some jobs were harder than others, but all of the jobs were manageable considering they were two hours long.
We would do everything from clearing the brush in the woods surrounding the sanctuary, to picking up poop, to making rice balls and washing fresh fruits and vegetables, and decorating their stalls with tasty treats and food for their bedtime incentive.
Our favorite job on our volunteer honeymoon was the elephant kitchen. We unloaded trucks of watermelon, washed zucchini, and made sticky rice balls. We would do our best to try not to drop any of the produce but cried laughing when we did anyway. After the two hours we brought barrels full of food and hand fed some of the elephants.
Feeding the Elephants
This was the most amazing experience. The way they grabbed each piece of food, balanced it so delicately on their trunks, and threw it into their mouth was unreal. I never thought I could love elephants more than I already had, but I did.
At the end of each tiring and rewarding day, we would grab some beers and head up to the upper deck to hangout with our new friends.
There we would laugh and learn about one another, where they’re from, how they discovered ENP, where they were off to next and everything in between.
We had plenty of free time on our volunteer honeymoon and we could choose what we wanted to do. Some people opted for the Thai massages on the upper deck, some wanted to rest, some spent time in the Cat Kingdom and then there were people like my husband and I who opted to go volunteer to walk the dogs in our spare time. Of course we also had to get the massages as well (I mean you can’t not get a $5 full body massage everyday while in Thailand!).
Walking the dogs
Jonathan would take a pup “Snuggle Pot” for a jog every afternoon to help him lose weight for his upcoming flight to his forever home in England. I loved walking the dogs and feeling like we were giving them the love and attention they deserved.
Each dog came from different situations but all of them were found homeless. We wanted to be flight volunteers and help bring some of these dogs to the U.S. to finally have a forever home, but unfortunately our flights did not match with appropriate layovers for the dogs.
One day, we were headed to the dog kennels and we saw a woman round the corner from the street entering back into the sanctuary. She was attached to two puppies, one was a little polka dotted shy girl and the other was a crazy little boy.
These two, along with another pup, had been found hiding in a drain at a Thai military camp. They were rescued just before they were to be put down. I instantly I fell for this little shy girl, and thought she would be the perfect little sister for our 4 year old cattle dog/beagle mix Benji back home.
After a few days of convincing my husband, we filled out an application, and she was going to be ours! Two days after landing in Boston, we picked up our little Ellie from New York and brought her home to meet her big brother. She is now living the life of a little princess. Learn more about adopting Ellie here.
Looking back at our time on our volunteer honeymoon at ENP, I am forever grateful we found this place. Staying the week allowed us to actually make a difference, fall in love with our “honeymoon baby”, and make amazing friendships we would continue to see throughout the remainder of our trip in Thailand and even back in the states.
Spending the week with the love of my life, make-up free, dirty, sweaty and stinky, taking cold showers, laughing about picking up poop, was so much fun.
The atmosphere was light, and every single person there wanted to make a difference. There is a lot of love in this sanctuary, and we will definitely be back.