Travel to the lush mountainous region of Northern Thailand around Chiang Mai, and contribute to conserving the Asian elephant by living and working with traditional elephant-keeping communities.
This internship consists of 3 aspects – community (teaching), plant biodiversity (with an emphasis on elephant foraging) and elephants. Each of these projects are run independently, but are integrated and highly relevant to each other. The community project consists of teaching English to children at the school and to the elephant keepers (mahouts), as well as supporting community efforts to reduce their financial dependence on their elephants.
The plant biodiversity project involves researching elephant foraging habits and working towards formulating a foraging guide based on the observations made on our elephants. Other biodiversity projects may include surveying biodiversity in the forests around the village, heading up night hikes to look for gibbons, porcupines, and other nocturnal animals, and identifying unique birds and insects. The elephant project consists of leading elephant health checks, studying the behaviour of our herd, and educating other volunteers about Asian elephants.
While each project has many established aspects, interns are encouraged to develop their own ideas and introduce new aspects to these projects.
Although you will be able to enjoy hiking with the elephants 5 days of the week, the rotation of the internship means your responsibilities will shift during the course of your stay.
All internships are geared at developing your leadership and role model skills, allowing you to develop a variety of key soft and hard skills that will put you a step ahead the rest of the pack. GVI have been running community development, education, and conservation projects since 1997 and our highly experienced field staff will help you gain and improve vital skill sets to improve your future job prospects.
After a successful internship, qualifying candidates may be given the opportunity to work for GVI or selected partner organisations in Thailand or in other countries around the world where GVI operate. Field work positions can be paid or unpaid, range in duration from one month to one year, and availability varies. Qualification for possible GVI positions is at the sole discretion of Global Vision International.
What's Not Included
During your first 6 weeks, you will work alongside other volunteers and learn about the day to day running of the project. Your days will be split between morning hikes into the Chiang Mai forest with the elephants and their mahouts. In the afternoons you will return to base where there will be lectures on elephant keeping and other training needed to assess the elephant's health and conduct surveys in the forest. The following 6 weeks will see you go through training sessions with previous interns/staff where you will learn more about the 3 aspects incorporated into this internship.
The final 12 weeks of your internship will be spent running and organising each intern project for one month each. Our elephant conservation internship will allow you to work closely with our elephant herd, their mahouts and the local community in an effort to promote sustainable eco-tourism.
You will stay in basic accommodation within a traditional Karen village. As this is a traditional community, you should expect to adapt and show respect for the environment and the culture in which you will be living as well as act a role model for both locals and volunteers. Over time you will become truly immersed as you learn the local language and cultural traditions.
What's Not Included
The population of Asian elephants and their habitat is rapidly declining. With less than 1,000 left in the wild in Thailand and around 3,000 in captivity, we are one of very few viable alternatives to the unshakable reality of their domesticated future within tourist camps.
Please note, we operate serious projects and internship programmes and as such we do not partake in riding elephants or having them demonstrate skills learnt from being trained.
The focus of the internship is on ensuring that these captive elephants are successfully reintroduced into a protected forest. Your contribution will help the conservation of this beautiful animal species, by providing the funding and hands-on support needed to keep this project going.
The overall goal of the project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living in their natural habitat, supervised by their mahouts.
How this project makes a difference:
Elephants can be very expensive to care for, and generally viewed as private property by locals used as a means of generating income, forced to make money through tourism because of a lack of viable alternatives.
However, as an unregulated industry, elephant tourism can be an ugly business. Elephants require a very specific environment, socially, mentally and physically to be able to thrive. With a huge increase in the demand for tourist camps elephants are deprived of the need of their self-medicating diet, highly migratory urges to move large distances, complex social interactions and brain stimulation. This can in turn lead to shocking health repercussions for the elephants.
Our volunteering with the local community aims to provide an alternative for elephants outside of camps so our villager’s elephants can live healthy lives in the forest that will ensure their long term conservation and survival.
What's Not Included
Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate in programmes assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems, but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield either before or after your programme. Many decide to travel after volunteering, solidifying the lifetime friendships established on the programme.
Our long term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI. Our Chiang Mai field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Thailand!
Chiang Mai is a quiet rural Thai village, giving you a unique chance to learn about the traditional Karen culture. Learn to cook Thai and Karen dishes with community members, and learn about everyday life in this traditional setting.
Included Side Trips
The location of this project is remote. Leaving Chiang Mai city you embark on a 5 hour journey into the mountains. On the way, we pass through the Doi Inthanon National Park (Thailand’s highest peak) and usually stop for a walk to one of the spectacular waterfalls.
Due to the remoteness, our programme is based in and around the village. The programme is field based which gives you the opportunity to explore the surrounding forests on the daily hikes with the elephants. Travel and side-trip opportunities from the village need special arrangements, but the prospects for immersing yourself in the local area and village culture are huge.
Optional Side Trips
While on the programme, there is ample time for you to plan side trips and organise transportation. These are not part of the programme and are best taken as a weekend trip or as an activity before or after joining the programme. We are always ready to assist, provide recommendations and up-to-date information. Locally, trips can be arranged to neighbouring villages and town like Mae Chaem and Mae Hong Son. These are great places to wind down, get a traditional Thai massage or explore nearby temples.
Though we are well off the main tourist route, opportunities exist for you to go bamboo river rafting, rock climbing, visit Doi Inthanon National Park, relax at a local resort/spa, and for something completely different... learn how to make a machete using traditional techniques!
Further Travelling Opportunities
Thailand is a country with a massive range of fantastic places that you could visit. If you have the time and budget, you could consider going to see the following; the waterfalls of the picturesque Khao Yai National Park, the local tribes of Nam Province, the beaches of Ko Tao and Mu Ko Chang Marine National Park, the golden kingdom of Ayuthaya, the temples and nightlife of Bangkok, just to name a few! Chiang Mai city abounds with tour operators offering a huge array of amazing side trips in the local province, throughout Thailand and beyond into neighbouring countries.
Senior Country Expert
Meet Cormac, our lovely Country Expert for Thailand and Costa Rica. This Scotsman is a rather eccentric guy and his fantastic sense of humour is one of his most appreciated characteristics. He achieved a Master's degree in History and Politics, and quite evidently can keep his own in any conversation on any topic.
His love for travelling started in his younger years already and since then he has explored New Zealand, Canada, the states, and South Africa! What is his one travel must-have? "A towel of course (for further information please read a Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)."
Mac particularly enjoys getting the chance to have a bit of banter on the phone with people who are really passionate about volunteering. He thinks of himself as Carl Frederickson from the movie Up. "Just a bloke who enjoys sitting in a comfy chair; I think we can all relate to that." Mac, we absolutely agree!
Meet Holly, our charismatic community co-ordinator. She has spent 6 months internin in North Thailand on an elephant project in the village of Huay Pakoot. She focused on the community and elephants, creating a curriculum for the school educating them about Asian elephants. She has degrees in primary education and wildlife and conservation.
Her favourite part about working for GVI is doing a job that she enjoys and is passionate about. To live in a "magically breath taking place, surrounded by a team of staff and volunteers all with same mentality to make a difference".
Phoebe van Doorn
Meet Phoebe, our brilliant field staff member in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She has spent many years working in Australia as a bushwalking tour guide, as a teacher’s aide with disable children and working her way up the hospitality ladder to assistant manager and supervisor positions. She has spent time traveling through South East Asia, parts of Central America and North America.
She has also volunteered at animal rescue shelters in Australia and spent 6 months as an intern (volunteering) with GVI with the Chiang Mai hub. She loved it so much that she decided to stay on as staff.
What attracted her most to GVI was the opportunity to live and work in a remote, culture rich community and of course the chance to work alongside elephants.
Elephant Field Staff
Meet Danielle, our fun loving Elephant Field Staff member in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She had never really travelled much until interning with GVI Chiang Mai (apart from a Kenyan Safari which encouraged her love and passion for elephants.). She joined GVI as an intern, and loved the project so much that she couldn't leave.
For her, the travel must-have is a positive outlook; "Every day may not be what you first expect, but only you have the ability to turn it around and make your experience memorable".
Her favourite thing about working for GVI is that her job is so unique and every day is different. Having the opportunity to partake in numerous traditional ceremonies and celebrations has given her so many unforgettable memories.
Meet Molly, our hard working country director for both Thailand and Laos. Over seeing operations in two countries is no easy task but Molly is more than capable.
She started volunteering and travelling at a young age, working in soup kitchens, with AmeriCorps, at animal shelters, as a Big Sister with Big Brother Big Sisters of America and as a Guardian ad Litem. She studied family development and psychology and loves to dance.
Her goal is to visit one country for every year she is alive. The most unusual place she has travelled to is Uzbekistan, on a trip beginning in Europe and ending in Southeast Asia. This is where she fell in love with Laos which began her journey with GVI. She started working for GVI back in 2012 and she is now based in Thailand. GVI has hubs all around the world and she has been lucky enough to visit the hubs in Nepal, Thailand, Laos and the office in South Africa.
Assistant Director of Programs
Meet Jill, our Assistant Director of Programs and line manager for Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal, Australia and Kenya programs. ‘Manow’ (lime), as she’s locally known in Thailand where she's based, taught English, environmental education and art in the USA and Thailand before joining us to set up a TEFL and Community Development Expedition. “I haven’t looked back since!”
When Jill isn’t working, she likes reading or doing just about anything energetic. “I devour books, love cooking and enjoy finding some time to get some exercise – yoga, dancing and aerobics are some of my faves.”
What does Jill like most about her job? “It’s great to see volunteers rising above the cultural and language barriers between themselves and the communities. That, and every day is completely different, which is the way I like it- it keeps me from getting bored.” Being ‘allergic’ to being bored has led to Manow doing some pretty amazing things. “I once ended up spending a week living in a cave with some Buddhist monks while I helped them build a small adobe monk hut.”