After spending a week at Bees Elephant Sanctuary in Mae Chaem I am counting down the days until I can return!
Emily and Burm, the owners, picked me up at my hotel in Chiang Mai and after a 3 hour drive through beautiful, lush green forest (stopping at Doi Inathon National Park on the way) we arrived at Bees.
Accommodation is traditional thai style in a bamboo hut with a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net. Nights are spent listening to the myriad of geckos, cicadas and frogs in a very serene and peaceful setting.
On the first night there was a welcoming ceremony where the elders from the village came down and blessed us. Even though I couldn't understand a word of the blessing it was a very touching ceremony and they all took turns to tie a piece of string around our wrists and welcome us to the area and bless our stay.
My week passed so quickly. My favourite part was the days spent walking in the forest with the elephants. Bees has retired 2 elephants (aged 57 and 68) from a gruelling life in a trekking camp and hopefully they will be able to retire more. The elephants pass their days unchained and are allowed to roam freely in the forest. This is the first elephant sanctuary I have ever seen that actually encourages elephants to forage and relearn their natural behaviours. The mahouts do not have a ankus and the relationship between these two old elephants is beautiful to watch.I especially loved watching them bathe in the Mae Chaem river.
Other activities included teaching english to students at a local school, planting sugar cane and pineapples in the field and visiting the local temple.
The week cost me A$500 and included transfers, accommodation and 3 huge meals a day. Burm is an amazing cook and his papaya salad is by far the best I have ever tasted ( and I have tasted a few!). Lunch in the forest was catered for and presented in beautifully shaped and freshly cut bamboo crockery! He even made a bamboo kettle to boil the water for the coffee!
Besides the two elephants Bees is home to some delightful cats, dogs, turtles and a tortoise!
I loved my time here and would actually recommend people to book a 2 week stay as a week is simply not long enough. Also make sure to take a torch for the trip to the toilet (when I was there they had just installed a western flush toilet) in the middle of the night. Also take mosquito repellant and gumboots for the walks in the forest.
This is really a special place and by volunteering people are also helping a good cause.
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