In November of 2013, I travelled from the southern hemisphere to the beautiful northern hills of Thailand. It was there that I stayed for 4 months, working on Elephant Conservation, travelling and hitchhiking solo across the almost-unexplored green hills of Thailand. Living and working alongside a harlequin band of people from across the globe, I discovered a land that has so much more to offer than just pristine beaches and an interesting nightlife.
I decided to take the path less trodden and had a working holiday in an Elephant Conservation Park near Chiang Mai, repairing enclosures, giving mud baths, gathering elephant poo and learning how to make paper from it. I developed a deep connection to the wide valleys, the thick green forest that seemed to stretch on forever in every direction, to the river that served as the pool; the dogs that just liked to give you company on a hot afternoon. I experienced so much with the locals who opened the doors to their homes, sated my appetite with amazing food and shared snippets of their daily lives in the beautiful valley as well as the many hardships they faced.
This was my first experience with volunteer tourism. There is a different pleasure to be had while contributing to something tangible. On one of my last sultry evenings there, I was feeding my adopted elephant Medo, when she touched my head with her trunk and gave me a sagely head nod. That was the moment when my heart literally got up out of my chest and walked over to Medo; to this surreal experience that these people (and I count elephants as people too!) had given me.
Sitting there in the shadow of the hills with just another week before I had to leave got me thinking. I didn’t realise how time had passed because that there is much joy to be derived from contributing to the happiness of others. Life is short so I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and experience the life of volunteer tourism. Not to say that chill-out vacations don’t have their own merit, but seriously the unique photos that you can capture while doing something random will take you to Instagram heaven! lol!