Surin is said to be the “Elephant capital” of Thailand, and soon after arriving here travellers will realise why. One of the most amazing things about Surin is its elephants. They are revered throughout Thailand and the Live with Elephants programme is an amazing opportunity, not only to get up close and personal with them but to live in a genuine Thai community and experience real rural Thai life first-hand.
Surin is home to several hundred of these wonderful animals. Generations ago the elephants were originally captured from the wild forests to be used in farming and the military by Surin’s founding fathers. In more modern times, however, the use of elephants in logging and agriculture has become redundant and with a fully grown elephant eating huge amounts of food each day, these elephants are extremely expensive to look after. Many elephant owners (known as Mahouts) sold their elephants or took them to the streets of the big cities to beg for money from locals and tourists alike. Not a good situation at all for the elephants.
Located on the outskirts of Surin province lies the community of Tha-Tum. This community is home to approximately 250 people and over 30 elephants. Through many years of collaboration and programmes such as this we have been able to support mahouts in this village so that they no longer need to take to the streets and go begging with their elephants. Instead, the community focusses on giving visitors the opportunity to learn about elephants in Thailand, spend time with them and also experience living in the local community. Travellers spend four nights each week living in the home of one of the village elders and his family. This is a unique opportunity to see how life operates on a day-to-day basis. During your time in the village, three meals each day are included. There is also a small shop in the village where you can purchase snacks, drinks etc. You are able to help cook meals (a great way to learn some fantastic Thai recipes!) and join in with day to day activities in the village. It is important that throughout your time in the village (and indeed wherever you are in Thailand) that all travellers respect the local community, their culture, and way of doing things. Our local team member based in the village will, of course, help you with this
Participants must be 18 years or older at the time of joining the project. All participants need to have an open mind and flexible attitude for working in a new and different environment. You should bring energy and enthusiasm to learn about elephants in Thailand, the community and the culture of the local area. You should be fit, healthy and willing to work outdoors in the project.
Volunteer Roles & Responsibilities
- Learning to interact with the elephants
- Helping to feed, walk and wash the elephants.
- Work alongside the mahouts planting and harvesting crops
- Make elephant dung paper
- Explore the local community
- Learn to cook delicious Thai food
- Assist with work in the local farmland
- Kayaking on the local river
- Interact with the locals whilst all the time knowing you’re supporting the elephants of the community and ensuring their well-being for years to come.
Volunteer Work Schedule
- Friday: Arrival in Bangkok
- Saturday: Orientation, Bangkok Tour and Welcome meal. The orientation will cover a range of topics about your experience and give you to opportunity to ask questions as well. The Bangkok tour is a great introduction to this amazing city covering some of the well known and lesser known highlights and the day ends with a tasty group Thai meal.
- Sunday: Transfer to Surin by train and enjoy a typical North Eastern Thai meal
- Monday to Friday: Elephant and village activities. As a rough guide you can expect the following:
- Breakfast - 07:30 am to 08:30 am
- Programme hours: 09:00am – 4:30pm
- Lunch - 11:30 – 12:30
- Dinner - 07:00 pm onwards
- Friday: Return to Surin town and enjoy a delicious group meal before heading out to explore the town
- Saturday – it’s either time to say goodbye (1 week experience) or head out and explore Surin over the weekend.
As a VolSol volunteer you are provided with best of living standards available in Thailand. Our dedicated coordinator and staff will assist you with your airport pick up, stay, meals and even weekend sightseeing and travel. Arrive in peace and have the best time of your life.
This programme starts when you arrive at the ‘meeting point’ from 2:00pm on your start day. All the information on where the meeting point is and how to get there will be sent to you as part of your welcome information and your local on the ground representative will be there ready to greet you and get your experience off to a great start.
All travellers are provided with an orientation and a Bangkok tour before travelling to Surin to meet the elephants and the local community. The Orientation session covers areas like, local Thai culture, greetings, locations, transportation etc.
Participants are provided with sharded, twin room, accommodation in a Guesthouse / Hotel for two nights in Phra Arthit area in Bangkok on arrival. Whilst in Surin town you’ll stay in a pleasant town centre hotel in twin shared rooms and when you’re at the elephant village you’ll live in simple but clean homestay / dorm style accommodation.
Transport to and from the elephant village is provided along with your transfer from Bangkok to Surin on Day 3. Please note that transport from Surin at the end of your experience is not included but the local team will help you organise tickets for wherever you want to go!
Whilst all meals when you are at the elephant village are included, you will need to budget for your own food when you are in Bangkok and Surin town – please allow around $10 a day for meals in Bangkok and Surin town. There are plenty of great eating options and one of the real joys of travel in Thailand is being adventurous and trying the huge array of delicious food throughout the country.
During your Free Time
Surin may be a relatively small town but there are lots of very friendly, laid back bars, restaurants and coffee shops to explore and even some life music venues giving a great taste of Thai life. Also, don’t miss the amazing street food market in the evenings – you’ll be blown away by the choices and taste sensations on offer. Don’t forget that our team is on hand to suggest the best places to visit and to help you get your bearings.
The city is an extremely friendly place to stay and Surin locals are well known for their hospitality and sense of fun. Surin Province once belonged to the Khmer empire (now Cambodia) and you can see the Khmer influence in many of the ancient Temples scattered around the town and Province.
Please Note: -An application fee of $199 is charged over and above the program fee as an application payment. (A 4% international banking fee is charged at the time of payment) Please Note: -An application fee of £165 is charged over and above the program fee as an application payment. (A 4% international banking fee is charged at the time of payment) Please Note: -An application fee of $289 is charged over and above the program fee as an application payment. (A 4% international banking fee is charged at the time of payment) Please Note: -An application fee of €189 is charged over and above the program fee as an application payment. (A 4% international banking fee is charged at the time of payment)
What are you Paying for?
- 24 hrs Assistance and support from Staff
- Comprehensive Pre- Departure Information
- Meet up in Bangkok to get the experience started
- Two night hotel stay in Bangkok with guided city tour
- Accommodation in Surin
- Transfers to and from the project
- Travel & Medical Insurance (Available at an extra cost)
- Certificate Of Completion (Upon Request)
What's NOT included?
- Visa Fee
- Return Trip to Airport
- Some Meals
- Any prestay in Bangkok due to Test and Go Scheme
FAQ's Application and Program Details
VolSol recommends that all interested international volunteers should apply well in advance.
As we have limited spots available in our programs and we serve on first come first basis, it is strongly recommended to apply for the program and reserve your spot. You can book your spot in the program by filling an online form and pay the application fee.
Once you complete your application, your individual 'My Account' will be active in which you will receive your placement confirmation after which you can pay the program fees.
You can pay the program fees later as well in installments, but 45 days before the program starts.
We encourage our participants to volunteer in a group. We take special care in providing you a placement and also customize your itinerary to make sure you get exactly what you are looking for. Also, we can design special group programs for groups of 5 or more. Our programs are designed to be safe, affordable and offer a great group volunteering experience to the volunteers.
In our experience of more than 15 years, we have facilitated volunteer programs for college groups, university groups, high school groups, group of families, group of couples as well as groups of colleagues.
Your programme starts when you arrive at the meeting point of the programme from 2:00pm on Day 1 of your experience. The meeting point details will be sent to you as part of your detailed programme information and is the Phra Arthit area of Bangkok, very well know and easy to get a taxi there from either the airport or from anywhere else in the city. Please do aim to arrive between 2:00pm and 5:00pm on the day but our representative will remain at the meeting place until all travellers arrive.
The first two nights of your experience are in Bangkok, within a short walk of the travellers hub of Khao San Road, a great place to explore, and on Day 2 you’ll have an orientation session, a fun tour of some of the highlights of the city and a tasty group welcome dinner. On Day 3 you’ll transfer to Surin by train (occasionally by coach if the trains aren’t running!) and have one night in Surin town before transferring to the elephant village on Day 4.
All transfers to your programme location are included in your experience and managed by the local team. For the elephant experience you will transfer to the village on Monday morning and return to Surin town on Friday afternoon.
The Elephant experience is pretty packed and includes sightseeing in Bangkok and then of course your time living with and learning about the elephants and the local community. There is free time during your programme to relax, soak up the atmosphere and to enjoy chatting with your fellow travellers and the local community of course – and, in particular during the ‘summer’ months of March – May where temperatures can get into the high 30C’s we make sure there are plenty of breaks so you don’t get too hot / tired!
If you are doing the 2 week experience you will have a free weekend in Surin town which gives a great opportunity to explore and enjoy this lovely area. With friendly people, great laid back coffee shops, bars and restaurants it’s a great town to get out and about to explore. Your local team are always on hand to advise on the best places to head to and to let you know what’s going on in the town that might be of interest.
You’ll spend 4.5 days a week in the elephant village (you transfer back to Surin on the Friday afternoon and your whole time in the village is part of your experience. Our local team will make sure that activities are planned with the heat in mind so that you don’t overdo anything and you can expect to be busiest in the mornings and then again from mid-afternoon onwards making sure you miss the hottest part of the day!
Flights and Visa
Most volunteers participating in a short-term volunteer travel experience in Thailand can enter the country with a 30 days tourist Visa which is available to the majority of nationalities on arrival at the airport itself. It is also possible to attain a 60 days tourist visa prior to the arrival in Thailand.All travelers need to complete the necessary requirements such as obtaining Thailand Pass prior to arrival in Thailand.
Health and Safety
Your safety is of prime importance to us and we provide our travellers with 24/7 in-country support. Our in-country team works to provide a smooth, safe and comfortable experience for all our travellers.
Thailand is generally a very welcoming and safe place to visit for travellers. Thai people are known for their hospitality and welcoming nature to people from all over the world and Surin itself is particularly famous for it’s warm and friendly community. Crime rates involving visitors are low although as with anywhere in the world it’s advisable to be careful late at night and not to have items of high value with you / on show. The majority of issues travellers to Thailand have are related to alcohol and we ask all our travellers to know their limits and, when going out, to go and return as a group! The key as in many countries is to always respect local people and the local culture remember that you are not in your own country so things will always be a little different!
All travellers to Thailand at this time are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. These rules are set by the Thai Government and are always liable to change.
In terms of other vaccinations. Whilst there are no other compulsory vaccinations needed to travel to Thailand we always recommend that you visit your local doctor / travel clinic who can offer their advise.
In general terms, Thailand and Surin are healthy places to visit. You may encounter the odd upset stomach as you get used to different food / spice levels and you should always drink purified / bottled water but Thailand is actually a very healthy place to spend time. We do advise that you wear long trousers / sleeves in the evening and use mosquito repellent to avoid bites as much as possible and mosquito nets are provided in the elephant village at night.
Accommodation and Living
VolSol provides accommodation for you throughout your programme. In Bangkok you’ll stay in a Hotel / Guest House in twin rooms with en-suite facilities, air-conditioning and wi-fi. In Surin town you’ll stay in a small hotel, again in twin rooms with en-suite facilities, air-conditioning and wi-fi.
In the elephant village your accommodation is more simple and you’ll stay in homestay style dorm accommodation in with one of the village elders. You’ll be in shared rooms with mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets and fans to keep you cool. There are ‘western’ style bathrooms and warm showers that are shared amongst all travellers. What the accommodation in the village lacks in terms of ‘luxury’ it more than makes up for in the atmosphere and the opportunity to live in the community and so close to the elephants.
You’ll have a welcome meal in Bangkok, introducing you to some of the classic Thai dishes and also when you get to Surin highlighting some of the amazing food of North Eastern Thailand where you’ll be based.
When you’re in the elephant village three meals a day are included to make sure you keep your energy levels high and taste buds happy. Food at the village will be simple but hearty Thai meals consisting of rice with meat and vegetables and also noodles with meat and vegetables.
Please do let our team know if you have any special dietary requirements / needs and of course vegetarian / vegan diets can be catered for (although please don’t expect the variety of dishes you may be used to at home)
When meals aren’t included this is a great opportunity to be adventurous and explore Thailand’s famous cuisine. Even the simplest of restaurants or street food stalls will set your taste buds alight and you could easily try something different every meal for a year and still not cover all the wonderful food available.
The key here is to make sure that you are comfortable and can keep as cool as possible! When you’re in Bangkok and Surin town you might want to make sure you have a pair of trousers / shirt / t-shirt for when you go out and about at night and please do remember that some Temples do require you to cover your shoulders and legs.
When you’re at the elephant village it’s t-shirts and shorts all the way – although please do note that Thailand is quite conservative and short shorts are not suitable and that t-shirts should not be too revealing!
Please do bring a swimming costume / shorts. There is a small pool at your Bangkok hotel and you’ll also be able to swim in the local river at the elephant village. However, please do note that in the countryside most women would swim in shorts and a t-shirt rather than a ‘bikini’
For the evenings it’s good to have long trousers and long sleeves to protect yourself from mosquitos and, during the ‘winter’ months (November to February) it can get cool at night so a hoody / light jacket can be useful.
Don’t forget a hat (super important when you’re out in the fields and with the elephant), sunglasses and sunscreen.
And shoes wise – running shoes / trainers are ideal for most time on the trip (don’t bring your newest most precious ones, they will get dirty) coupled with sandals / flip flops for the evenings and relaxing
Of course most of our travellers arrive with a mobile phone and we know how important being connected is to most people. It’s very easy to pick up a local SIM card to use when you’re in Thailand (you just need your passport with you when you buy it) and if your handset is ‘locked’ don’t worry – you can buy a cheap handset very easily to use during your time here.
Mobile phone coverage is pretty good in Thailand although in rural areas you might find that internet connection is slow and a little patchy – don’t expect to be streaming movies when you’re at the elephant village!
There is free wi-fi at both your Bangkok and Surin town hotels but when you’re at the elephant village it’s a great opportunity to enjoy a bit of digital de-toxing. Phone signals still work in case of emergencies but please don’t expect wi-fi or a great data signal even with a local Thai SIM card.
Yes, but please make sure you let your local team know when you arrive and give them full information about what you can and can’t eat.
Please do note however that there will be less variety than you may be used to, particularly in rural areas, and outside of the major cities, whilst of course vegans can be catered for, food is likely to be quite basic. Veganism is still pretty rare outside of the bigger cities in Thailand and almost unheard of in very rural areas where people tend to eat what’s available.
Most of your core expenses are covered but you will need to budget for some meals and drinks and any activities etc not included in the itinerary. We recommend a budget of around $100 a week is more than enough to cover most things and the thirstiest of travellers!
We recommend that you make sure you arrive with some Thai Baht or change some money on arrival at the airport.
ATM’s are available throughout the country and accept most overseas bank cards but do note that there is a fairly hefty transaction fee applied (+/- 150THB each time you use the ATM)
When you are in the elephant village you will need to take cash with you (make sure you take some out before you leave Surin town) for snacks, drinks etc
We don’t recommend Travellers Cheques for this programme. They aren’t accepted at every bank and can take a long time to change.
Connect with Past Volunteers
To read alumni interviews, visit ?the Meet a Volunteer section on our website.