Volunteering at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Call me crazy, but this past February I used a week of my vacation time to travel half way around the world . . . to work! Granted I was on the beautiful tropical island of Phuket in southern Thailand, but still, I was not lounging on the beach and partying into the wee hours as many do at this popular tourist destination. (Ok, I did get half a day at Nai Yang Beach, plus an amazing Thai massage!) Instead, I was volunteering at Phuket’s first ethical sanctuary for elephants, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary (PES). Continue reading


Top Ten Thailand

Tried and true as a vacation destination, Thailand is both safe and exotic, with wonderful people and a diverse range of activities for all ages and interests. We spent two weeks in the “land of smiles” this past June with our two daughters, and found plenty to love about this Southeast Asian nation of 70 million. Here are 10 compelling reasons to visit Thailand . . . or go back for another visit:

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A Heatwarming & Humbling Visit to Elephant Nature Park

IMG_6524In an earlier blog post, I wrote about why our family would not ride elephants while vacationing in Thailand. At the time of that writing, we hadn’t yet gone on our trip, but my research into the subject revealed the dark side of elephants in the tourist industry. I learned about the cruel training methods used to make these remarkably intelligent and empathetic animals compliant enough to do tricks and allow humans to ride them. I also realized how tourists perpetuate this grim situation through a misguided desire to experience elephants in these ultimately exploitative ways.

As disturbing as all of this research was, it also led me to the discovery of a place where elephants are allowed to live freely and happily, and whose founder is working tirelessly to change the way elephants are treated and perceived. That place is the Elephant Nature Park, located outside Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Our one-day visit, booked months in advance, was for me the most highly-anticipated day of our three-week adventure in Southeast Asia. My expectations leading up to our June 21 visit were sky-high, and I’m happy to report that our actual experience soared even higher.
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Why Our Family Won’t be Riding Elephants in Thailand

Photo credit: ElephantVoices.org, Petter Granli

Photo credit: ElephantVoices.org, Petter Granli

The idea of travelling to Thailand conjures up many romantic and exotic images – from the frenetic streets of Bangkok, to gilded temples and giant Buddhas, to palm-fringed islands, and of course, elephants, Thailand’s national symbol. All of these scenes in one way or another make the “Land of Smiles” a bucket list favorite for many, including our family. This summer, we’re heading to Southeast Asia for three weeks, with most of our time being spent in Thailand. Continue reading