Ok, so, as promised…the BIG story of Cambodia. If you’ve had a hunt around you’ll have noticed that I have spoken about the Temples of Angkor where I kept the story to just those, however, I did promise that should you desire, I would tell you of my Cambodia adventure…really I just want to tell you about the elephants ♥♥
In the other post, I spoke about how I came to my decision to go to Cambodia so I’m basically going to dive right in and tell you everything about the adventure.
Upon arriving in Cambodia, a guide from Reach Out Volunteers was there to meet me and some others that happened to be in the same group as I was that I had run into at Singapore airport.
Night one was your typical meet and greet with everyone followed by a tour of Siem Reap including nightclubs we would be visiting, restaurants we would be eating at and the usual safety talks- where not to go, what not to eat and definitely what NOT to say; I’m all up for wild adventures and this whole you only live once mentality but you’re technically in a third world country where tourists are preyed upon by petty thieves and rumors of corruption are rampant, so, listen.
After dinner of the first night, we were assigned to our groups and advised which volunteer activity we would be doing for the two weeks of our volunteer journey. I added an extra week to my trip which is super easy just follow the prompts. Anyway, this particular volunteer program was one-week building infrastructure at the local primary school and one week working with saved logging elephants. My second week was allocated to building infrastructure at the local primary school (which I’ll get to in another post) so guess what my first and last week was to be…ELEPHANTS!
Week One and Three-
From our hotel, the elephant sanctuary was a short eight-hour bus ride away. As you may or may not be aware, Cambodia is not exactly a first-world country and whilst it remained interesting, the trip was, well, terrifying. The rules for driving in Cambodia, there are no rules. The trip was one big ol eight-hour survival game with small and fast toilet breaks (which I wasn’t sad about). To be totally fair though driving in rural Cambodia is not a bad sight if you’re up for seeing a beautiful countryside.
After our day journey, we arrived at the Elephant Valley Project run by Jack and Gemma in Mondulkiri . You can volunteer through these guys without volunteering through Reach Out Volunteers; if you want just elephants then this is definitely the route, you will need to get yourself there and back again but the website and Jack/Gemma and team are super helpful and friendly and will answer any questions or concerns you have. If you want elephants and help touring a bit of Cambodia, Reach Out Volunteers in a solid bet…anyway,
During my week each at the sanctuary, everyone is split into two groups. Both groups get one full day watching, interacting with and feeding the elephants. The other days are half days with the elephants and half days working at the sanctuary; anything from harvesting food or helping maintain the sanctuary itself. There is hard work involved but there’s always someone to help and always something to do no matter your strength or fitness level. Not only is it fun but you can actually see what your time, effort and hard work is doing and how much it helps not only the elephants but those who look after the elephants, the land, and the locals…all that warm fuzzy stuff.
I spent a whole afternoon walking through thick banana plantations cutting and gathering the branches of these massive trees..because well, elephants looooove them!!
Then there’s the time spent with one of the most majestic animals on the planet.
I’m pretty sure this gorgeous creature is Milot; sadly she has since past away from natural causes but lived her best life until the age of 60 ♥♥
When you’re being taken into the new home of these wonderful animals the guides will fill you in on the sad pasts of the most gentle creatures you will ever see. From forced logging work, physical abuse, starvation and working in the tourism industry (DON’T RIDE THE ELEPHANTS!!!!) these beauties have been through it all; and continue to put their trust and faith in mankind, it’s OK to feel sad when you hear about it, I did, and during your time at the sanctuary you’ll hear their stories, see their progress and love them for their strength and courage…and attitude.
Some of these animals have been saved or released from their owners, others are rented from them (this keeps the elephants from being forced to work whilst giving local families an income so they do not need to force animals to work).
During your full and half days, there are times when you can be involved in the feeding and bathing of the elephants- both under the waterfalls and on land where you can scrub behind their not so little ears and other times you simply watch them interact with one another, each elephant with its own colourful personality. The more you watch, the more you see just how strong these wonders are and just want a little love, care and commitment can do. The friendly employees at the sanctuary will cook the most delicious authentic Cambodian food you ever did dine one, make your bed and offer warm and gentle smiles. There will be afternoons in between working and dinner when you can relax in the common room: watch the sunset, read a book, enjoy being away from technology and busy daily life, you definitely earn it!
I’m not even sure this post has done justice to everything that you will experience working and living with these gentle giants and I highly recommend you explore both websites if you are keen for the adventure of a lifetime. I could not encourage you more to see for yourself exactly what I’m trying to say. The Leaning Tower of Pisa will always lean, Stonehenge will always be made of stone but to actively be involved in the salvation, conservation, and preservation of the land and animals that roam is far more rewarding and magical than I will ever be able to put into words.
There’s nothing about these weeks that I regret. Meeting new people, developing a new appreciation for hard work and becoming involved in and watching what my volunteer work is doing to help stamp out (pun intended) the exploitation of these beautiful majestic animals is far more valuable than any selfie during sunset that I will capture. Not only was this whole experience a holiday but the stories I can home with were some of the most unique I’ve ever been able to tell and the closest to my heart. Also don’t forget your malaria pills, thick socks, and sturdy shoes…seriously.