Throughout your experience you will have an experienced guide with you helping you get the most out of your time in Bangkok, Surin and the elephant village. Not only is your guide an elephant expert (as well as being a guide expert!) but they are also on hand to help as a translator with the local community when you’re sharing stories and enjoying learning about each other.
You’ll be hands-on with the day to day care of the elephants. You will assist with providing food and water, mucking out and helping to bathe them – great fun ! You’ll learn to work with the villagers to plant and harvest the crops needed to sustain the elephants’ vast appetite. You’ll also learn to safely ‘walk’ your elephant for daily exercise.
As a guest and temporary member of the community we encourage you to interact with the villagers. You may be able to assist with maintaining the village – basic repair and renovation work - as well as joining in with community activities. All the time you’ll be supported by a dedicated English speaking member of the team.
You’ll have the opportunity to learn to cook some delicious Thai dishes and be invited to give alms to the local monks. In the afternoons, the team will arrange some fun and relaxing activities such as swimming or a kayaking. You may even catch a fish or two after learning the traditional techniques as well as learning to make your own paper from elephant dung - nice!
Day 1 (Friday) Arrive into Bangkok and make your own way to our meeting point at the New Siam 2 Guest House. Your guide will be waiting for you from 2pm ready to welcome you to the experience ahead. The New Siam 2 is located right by the river in Bangkok and is a great base to explore a little bit of the city – and you’re only a short walk from the famous traveller’s heartland of Khao San Road with all its stalls, street food and lively bars. Your air-con room has an en-suite bathroom and wi-fi, and the guesthouse has a pool you can enjoy. At orientation you will learn about Thailand, it’s history, culture and modern day life; as well as what to expect from the next week or two.
Day 2 (Saturday) After a good night’s sleep (and/or a late night enjoying the Khao San scene), you’ll have breakfast before heading out with your guide to explore this magical and crazy city. You’ll take in some of the most important sights including Wat Pho, the longest reclining Buddha in the country, and Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, sample some fantastic street food and also head along the river – the perfect way to get a real sense of Bangkok life.
In the evening head out as a group for a tasty ‘welcome dinner’ introducing you to some of the delicacies ahead. Don’t worry – not all Thai food is super spicy, but if you’re game for a bit of adventure then your guide will definitely be able to make sure the spice level is high.
Day 3 (Sunday) This morning we head to Surin, usually by train (sometimes bus), a journey of up to 7 hours through the Thai countryside. Thailand’s trains are slow but full of character making the journey an experience in itself! On arrival in Surin, we’ll check in to our city accommodation with time to freshen up before heading out for a group dinner, introducing you to the very special delights of Isaan food, the local food from the region and some of the best anywhere in the country.
Your accommodation in Surin will be at the Maneerote Hotel. Conveniently located with lots to explore all around you’ll be a in an air-con twin-room with en-suite, wi-fi and a small balcony.
Day 4 (Monday) On Monday morning we’re off to the elephant village, in the countryside outside Surin. Here you'll immerse yourself into traditional village life and get up close and personal with one of Thailand’s most iconic creatures.
On the way to the village, you’ll stop at a local village market to stock up on food for the next few days. On arrival at the village you’ll settle into the small community, be introduced to the mahouts you’ll be working alongside and of course meet the elephants.
After a simple local lunch, you’ll help harvest food for the elephants, help feed them and then walk with the elephants to the local river where they enjoy their daily bath and scrub. A fantastic part of any day and you’ll see just how much the elephants enjoy their daily bath. In the evening you’ll cook together with your guide and sit down to yet more tasty local Thai food and enjoy the evening in the village. – you’ll become an expert at some tasty Thai dishes during your stay.
Your accommodation whilst at the village is in a dormitory style building, right by the elephants, and very country Thai style. Simple mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets and fans to keep you cool. There are ‘western’ style shared toilets and showers on site – nothing fancy but everything you need!
Day 5 (Tuesday) Enjoy a Thai style breakfast to build up your energy before you get to work cleaning out the elephants’ shelter – something that has to be done every day of course – and then harvesting more food for the elephants. This is a never-ending task, elephants eat up to around 15% of their body weight every day so you’ll certainly be kept busy. Then you’ll help feed the elephants before working together to cook up yet more delicious local food for lunch.
In the afternoon you’ll walk with the elephants again to the local river for their daily bath and then enjoy the river yourself as you head out on kayaks to explore the river and see things from a very different perspective.
In the evening it’s cooking time again – you’ll be fast learning all the Thai tricks of great food by now – before relaxing and enjoy sharing tales with your fellow travellers and community members
Day 6 (Wednesday) You’re set into the morning routine now as you first build up your energy with breakfast before cleaning out the elephant’s shelter. Once their shelter is clean, you’ll then head out for a very different sort of elephant activity where you’ll learn how paper is made from elephant poo, yes, that’s right, you’re going to make paper from poo!
You’ll return to base for lunch and in the afternoon have the opportunity to visit the local village school to learn meet the local teachers and students and run some simple English language / games activities for the students. The children love interacting with visitors and are all keen to try and learn some English and show off their skills!
It’s then time to feed the elephants – remember, they never stop eating – before then heading out to explore a small village market, the hub of all social life in rural areas. In the evening it’s time to cook a great feast again and then kick back and enjoy the local surroundings.
Day 7 (Thursday) Hopefully you’re now an expert on your morning duties as you start the day cleaning the elephants’ shelter, then harvest more food and help feed the elephants. Whilst the cleaning and harvesting can be hard work, remember that you then get to spend lovely time up close and personal with these wonderful animals.
In the afternoon you’ll harvest more food for the elephants and then walk again with them to the river for their daily bath. And the evening is another opportunity to hone your cooking skills under the expert guidance of your guide and then to enjoy the very special atmosphere in such a remote community.
Days 8 to 10 (Friday to Sunday) After breakfast you’ll have one last chance to clean out the elephants’ shelter, help feed then again and then say your goodbyes to these beautiful animals. If you’re doing the two-week option then don’t be too upset – you’ll be back here on Monday – but if you’re only on the 1 week option then make sure you give the elephants a big hug.
On your transfer back to Surin town you’ll stop at a small silk weaving community to see how Surin’s famous silk has been made for generations and perhaps buy the odd souvenir.
In the afternoon you’ll be back at the Surin hotel and have time to freshen up and relax before heading out for a lovely group dinner in town and then who knows, perhaps head out to explore some of Surin’s fantastic laid-back bars. It may be a relatively small town, but Surin has some great places to meet the locals, listen to live music and to enjoy a great night out.
If you’ve chosen the 1-week option it’s time to say goodbye on Saturday morning. Check out from the hotel is 11am and you can ask your guide to help organise onward tickets (by train or bus) to wherever you may be heading next.
If you’ve chosen the 2-week option, then your weekend is yours to enjoy and explore. Kick back and enjoy the charm and relaxed pace of Surin, the capital city of one of Thailand’s less developed provinces. Tourists to Surin remain a novelty and are often met with a warm welcome.
Subsequent weeks follow the same pattern as week 1 – head out to the village Monday morning, dive into village life getting to know your hosts (big and small, 4 legs and 2) ever better, then back to the city on Friday ! Your cooking skills will go from strength to strength, you’ll fast be becoming an elephant food harvesting expert and see how much better you are at making elephant poo paper this time around!
Your last day (Saturday) – goodbye, we’ll miss you!
Oh no …… no matter how long you’re here for, one of these Fridays it will be time to say goodbye to your newfound friends. Our team will gladly help organise your onward travel from Surin, just save some baht to pay your bus or train ticket locally.
There are heaps of options to Bangkok or to the Cambodia border, and even a direct bus to Chiang Mai if you’re travelling north. If it is time for home then try and book a late pm Saturday flight or even better Sunday.
Thank you for spending time with the community in Surin and for travelling to learn about and experience elephants in this wonderful part of the world.
While you're here...
You’ll stay in three different locations during your elephant experience.
Nights 1 and 2 – New Siam 2 Guest House (or similar)
A very pleasant and well-run hotel in a great location both to explore the river and nearby Khao San Road which is full of stalls, food and fun bars. Twin rooms with air-conditioning, en-suite facilities and wi-fi. And a nice small pool to enjoy. The hotel also has a pleasant pool side restaurant where you’ll have breakfast and can pick up any snacks you might want
Sundays and Fridays (also the middle Saturday for 2 week options) – Maneerote Hotel, Surin town
A simple but very clean hotel located in Surin town and walking distance from many shops and restaurants. Bright twin rooms with en-suite facilities, air-conditioning and wi-fi and each room also has a small balcony – perfect for hanging out any washing or just soaking up the warmth. There is a small restaurant / coffee shop in the hotel where you’ll have breakfast and also pick up snacks / drinks.
Mondays-Thursdays inclusive – The Elephant village
Whilst you’re with the elephants your accommodation is simple, rural Thai style in a large dormitory style room right by the elephants. What the accommodation lacks in facilities it more than makes up for in atmosphere and how often do you get to stay in the heart of a Thai Elephant village? You’ll have mattresses on the floor, pillows and sheets / blankets, fans to keep you cool and mosquito nets to keep the bugs at bay. The toilets and showers are shared. This isn’t The Four Seasons, but it is full of atmosphere and life and a great experience of Thai life.
Most meals are provided during this trip - arrange your own dinner on arrival day and lunch on day 3. For the 2-week option, arrange your own lunch/dinner on the Saturday/Sunday in Surin.
Facilities and the area
About the Project
Elephants have been part of communities in Thailand for centuries and Surin, where you’ll be based, has been famous for generations for its elephants and the mahouts who look after them. Whilst many years ago elephants were used as farming animals and even in the ‘army’ (where Western countries used horses, Thailand used elephants!) in modern times the elephants living with their mahouts have only be used in the tourism industry. For a long time this meant performing tricks or allowing visitors to ride on them, neither of which was good for the elephants.
Today in Surin, the elephants still live with the families who have looked after for generations but nowadays no longer have them performing tricks or offering rides to visitors (NOTE – there are still some locations in Thailand that do use elephants to perform tricks and to offer rides but these numbers are fortunately becoming less and less). Instead today the families look after their elephants as if they were part of the family and earn additional money to help look after them through programs such as this giving travellers the opportunity to spend time with and learn about the elephants and, as importantly, the communities where they live.
You’ll learn about and be involved with the daily life of the mahouts and the elephants – both the tough work of harvesting crops for the elephants and the more relaxing side of watching them take their daily bath! – and experience real rural life in the heart of Thailand.
Please note that we do not condone the riding of elephants by visitors. Riding of the elephants by customers is not allowed. The bond between the mahout and elephant is very special and culturally complex thus should be respected.