Practicing yoga through Seva; selfless service
Living a yogi lifestyle means practicing on and off the mat and sometimes that means being of service. My intention when volunteering for a week at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Thailand, was to do just that, practice Seva; selfless service. ENP is a sanctuary for elephants and other animals who have suffered at the hands of humans. Those who have been tortured into a life of servitude; providing rides for tourists, entertaining at circuses, used for begging, in ceremonies, for the logging industry, the list goes on. Learn more about that HERE (warning graphic content) Since returning I've received a lot of questions about the experience and I'm so excited to share it with you. My hope is that it inspires you to join the fight for animal conservation and to be of service to the community and world around you. Small changes can have big impacts.
What to expect: When you sign up for the Weekly Volunteer Program at ENP you are embarking on a life changing journey with lots of hard work, laughs, tears and so much more. Volunteer jobs change depending on the needs of the park on that specific day but for the most part you can expect to:
Clean and prepare elephant food
Maintain mud pits
Help in local villages
Care for dogs and cats
Unload food trucks
Clean water basins
What not to expect: ENP is dedicated to returning abused Elephants and other animals to a natural way of living. Sadly the animals can't be returned to the wild as that puts them in danger of being recaptured by poachers. Because of this ENP does everything they can to make their lives as natural as possible at the sanctuary. This means that while there is loads of interaction with the animals at the park don't expect to bath the elephants or approach them on your own. There is absolutely NO elephant riding at ENP. This is a sanctuary dedicated to protecting these animals. Riding them is part of the abusive tourist industry that these beautiful creatures are being rescued from.
YOU WILL have loads of interaction with the elephants but it will be on their terms. They'll approach you. I woke up every morning the elephants outside my room. I watched them take their morning walks, fed them, watched them play in the water, roll in the mud and interact with one another. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
This park is about an 1.5hr North of Chiang Mai. ENP picks up and drops off to most areas of the city including the airport.
The park is stunning and even magical at times. There are cats, dogs, water buffalo and elephants roaming throughout. Butterflies flutter throughout the tree-top and the landscape is breathtaking.
The rooms are minimal with beds, mosquito nets, and a night stand. You'll share a room with whoever you booked with or be placed with single travelers of the same gender. Bathrooms are outdoorsy. There are western style toilets and very simple showers. Water temperature and pressure are finicky to put it nicely but with all the beauty of the park this slight inconvenience is quickly forgotten.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served buffet style in a communal area that overlooks the park. Most options are vegan and everything is vegetarian friendly. Even meat eaters will be more than satisfied with the options. It was some of the best food I've ever eaten.
An observation deck also overlooks the park. Traditional Thai dances and the welcoming and closing ceremonies are held here. There are comfortable seats to spend your free time. Enjoy a cold drink with new friends or some quiet time reading or journaling. Thai massages are offered on the deck daily for no more than 180 baht (roughly $6). They're exceptional and I got one almost every day.
My time at ENP was one of the best experiences of my life. I can't express that enough. You will not leave this place the same as you went in. Spending time among the Thai people and the animals made me realize just how much I have in my life. It made me understand that people and experiences are what truly make a happy life. I will carry the experiences and friends I made at the sanctuary with me for the rest of my life.