By Jack Doherty – 1 week volunteer
My decision to volunteer at the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary was a spontaneous one, only having around a week and a half to prepare for the trip. I was quite anxious about some aspects of the experience, like the customs of the Karen village and communicating with the village people, and also the hiking. Having not much time to get ready, I felt I was leaving Australia quite unprepared, clothing, fitness level and footwear wise. I arrived in Chiang Mai with no shoes or pants appropriate for my stay at the sanctuary, which resulted in me having to hike in extremely cheap sneakers fortunately the hikes were much easier for me than I had thought.
We leave for the hikes around 8:00am each morning, the anticipation of seeing the elephants definitely made the first steep stretch easier. Having phone service once you reach the top of the hill also adds motivation. The weather in the mornings of my stay was quite cool, which made the hikes fairly pleasant once you reached the top of the first large hill and it flattens out. After the first hill, the surroundings turn very green and jungle-like. The terrain of the area is comparable to Tasmania, where I am from, very green and hilly, however the forest here is full of tropical plants that people in Tasmania would pay a lot of money to buy in plant shops. The first hike of the week feels the longest, probably because of the excitement of seeing an elephant in the wild.
Seeing the elephants for the first time was amazing and the long hike was worth it for sure. I first saw Gen Thong running down the path, excited for the bananas we had carried on hike. As we were feeding him, his aunty Mae Doom slowly appeared, soon after Too Meh emerged from the forest, both where happy to receive bananas. After feeding, we hung around the elephants for a while, watching them forage and tear down trees and vines. We then set off to find Boon Rott, luckily he was close by. He was a far more sociable elephant and seemed to really enjoy the company of people. A great week and a great experience!