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From the Ground: New Kanchanaburi Tour with Elephants

By Nicole Long & Jay Austin,

We are excited to announce a new 2 day Kanchanaburi Option.  Kanachanaburi is beautiful and for guests with the time, we highly recommend visiting this region to take in more of Thailand’s recent history and beautiful countryside.  This particular option combines the historical significance of the area with a more active, philanthropic element with a visit to ElephantsWorld. This nonprofit organization was founded in 2008 and considers itself a “retirement home” for elephants who are too old or have become injured working in the tourism industry.  We love this tour option for returning guests who have been to Thailand before, and want to spend time with elephants in a sustainable setting, without needing to return to Chiang Mai.  This option is also great for families as there are discounted rates for kids aged 4-11, and children under 3 years are free!

Here’s what you can expect from this two-day tour, which can be combined with any itinerary:

Day 1: Bridge Over The River Kwai

You will be met at your hotel in Bangkok at 7:00am and taken by minivan to Kanchanburi. Enjoy the beautiful views along the way, with your guide available to answer any questions you may have. Your first stop will be the WWII Museum and Donrak POW Cemetery, before continuing on to the infamous bridge over the River Kwai. You can walk across the bridge and take some time to soak up the atmosphere and watch the river go by before taking the original “death railway” train to Krasae station, stopping for lunch at a local restaurant. Later you will board a long-tailed boat and head up river to your hotel with wonderful views of the jungle along the way. After checking in to your floating accommodation, enjoy your dinner before watching a Traditional Mon Dance performance.

Day 2: ElephantsWorld Day Program

After an early breakfast, check out of your hotel and coast down river to meet your driver, who will transfer you ElphantsWorld’s camp, located approximately an hour from the town of Kanchanburi.  When you arrive at the camp, you’ll join the other participants for your introduction to the camp and ElephantsWorld’s mission, which is to provide sanctuary for sick, old, disabled, abused and rescued elephants. You will have the opportunity to meet and feed the elephants and meet their mahouts. You will assist with preparing food for the elephants by cleaning fruits and vegetables, and preparing sticky rice for the elderly giants. Afterwards, you and the group will break for lunch. Work off your lunch by planting fruit trees and/or gathering food for the elephants’ afternoon meal before helping the mahouts to feed sticky rice balls to the older elephants. Then it’s to the river for bath time! Enjoy getting wet with these gentle giants as you bathe and scrub them clean. Finally, give them the fruit and vegetables you collected earlier before saying goodbye to your new friends. You will depart the camp at approximately 4pm and head back to Bangkok.

Please note: We recommend bringing a change of clothes as you will get wet in assisting with the elephant’s bath.

Diving with Purpose – Koh Rong Sanloem

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

By Jay Austin

Koh Rong is one of the more popular Cambodian islands off the coast of Sihanoukville, but as with most popular island locations in Southeast Asia, they can be easily overrun by tourists for simply this reason. Koh Rong Sanloem, on the other hand, is only in the early stages of tourism and offers a quieter, more relaxed version of the traditional beach holiday. The island is dotted with resorts which you can only move between by boat as there are no proper roads on the island. The sand is white, the waters are clear and here you have the opportunity to join in the early stages of actually growing a coral reef!

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

The most populated village on Koh Rong Sanloem is M’Pai Bei Village and although the accommodations on offer are still quite basic, there is a decent array of Western and Cambodian restaurants, all within easy walking distance of one another. A visit to M’Pai Bei is not complete without spending some time with the team at Save Cambodian Marine Life, a not-for-profit organization which is dedicated to cleaning and maintaining the waters of M’Pai Bei Bay.

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

The scuba diving in M’Pai Bei is not world class by any means, but a visit to this area of the world allows you to dive for a wonderful purpose, assisting Australian couple Chris & Dianne Martyn in maintaining and growing their coral nursery. This kind of delicate work calls for more accomplished divers (PADI advanced level or higher) who have solid buoyancy control so as not to damage anything in the nursery, but if you are already an Open Water certified diver you can participate in an Advanced Open Water Course through this organization.

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

If you are not a certified scuba diver, never fear, you can still assist in the great work these people do. A number of snorkel reef cleans and beach cleans are scheduled every week as part of the PADI Dive Against Debris program, calling for volunteers to assist the team in keeping the waters around the village clean and free from harmful debris such as fishing nets and plastic.

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

If you are looking to spend some time on the beach in Cambodia, this is a wonderful way to support a community based project whilst enjoying the tropical waters!

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

For those who are seeking more established, resort style accommodations, Saracen Bay located 20 minutes away by boat offers beachfront villas on a 4km stretch of sensational white sand that can be experienced for less than half the cost of other beach resorts in Southeast Asia. Koh Rong Sanloem is one of those places you need to see before the rest of the world discovers it!  (Ask National Geographic who just featured our hotel partner Lazy Beach and Koh Rong Samloem Island among the 21 Best Beaches in the World!)

Photo Credit: Jay Austin
Photo Credit: Jay Austin

From the Ground: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai was founded in July 2014 is a joint initiative between Chiang Mai locals and Karen hill tribe mahouts who were concerned about the welfare and conservation of elephants in Thailand. The sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project designed to raise awareness and educate people about a proper elephant care and the plight of the Asian Elephant. The Sanctuary is comprised of 5 spacious locations (Mountain Village, Tranquil Valley, Paddy Field, Hilltop Paradise and Waterfall Grove Sanctuaries) and 30 formerly mistreated elephants. A visit to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an affordable alternative to visiting the more long-standing elephant conservation projects in Chiang Mai such as Patara Elephant Farm and Elephant Nature Park, which are also frequently fully booked. This is a great alternative for families too, as children under the age of 3 are permitted entry for free, whereas they would be charged by the other organizations.

Here’s what you can expect from a day at the Elephant Sanctuary:

Chiang Mai: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’s Full Day Visit

You will be picked up from your hotel between 8:00-8:30am in the morning, and travel with fellow tour participants around 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai to the Karen village and Sanctuary. Breathe clear mountain air as you drive through the beautiful agricultural countryside of Northern Thailand, and get a glimpse of local life outside of the city. When you arrive at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary around 10:30am, an English-speaking guide will walk with you through the adjacent Karen village, and teach you a little about elephants and the local way of life. Get changed into traditional Karen clothing, listen as your guide tells you more about the Sanctuary, grab some bananas and sugar cane for feeding, and you will be ready to meet the elephants.  In small groups, you will meet and interact with each of the friendly elephants personally. Learn about elephant behavior, and discover the unique and interesting history of each elephant as you touch, play, feed, and photograph them. Once you have met and spent time with each of the elephants, you can retire to a relaxing platform overlooking a picturesque river and jungle. There, you will enjoy a delicious lunch of traditional Thai food and fresh fruit, before being re-united with your elephant friends. At this point during the day, you will walk alongside the elephants to a nearby river and join them for a bath in the refreshing water. Here, you will have the opportunity to bathe and brush the elephants while they enjoy wading through the water. Next, it will be time for a therapeutic mud spa. Feel free to get muddy as you cover the elephants in a protective layer of mud. Have fun playing with them and watch as they joyfully frolic in the mud spa. When it’s time to say goodbye to the elephants, you can take some final photos with them to preserve this precious memory, then head upstream and wash off your remaining mud, or relax with a swim in the fresh, clean water. Finally, you will change clothes and take a scenic walk back through the Karen village. You will then part ways with your local guide, and return to Chiang Mai, experiencing the drive through picturesque rural scenery in the pleasant glow of the afternoon sun. Return to your hotel between 5:00-5:30pm.

Please note: Today you will get wet when you help with the elephants’ bath. Please bring appropriate clothing for this, as well as a towel and change of clothes. We recommend you also bring a hat, sunscreen, walking shoes, bathing suit and towel.

Note: As always, we take pride in our standards for philanthropic travel and animal treatment when recommending any experiences to our guests touring in Southeast Asia.  We only recommend experiences that we feel are beneficial to both the local people and animals.  We hope that the increased attendance to genuine conservation programs will help encourage others to lift their standards.


From the Ground: New Mey Chrey Floating Village Tour

Photo Credit: Jay Austin

Mey Chrey is one of the only year-round floating villages in Siem Reap Province. This village, unlike many others, is made up of purely Cambodian residents making it one of the most authentic displays of Cambodian ‘floating’ culture available. When putting this tour together, we focused on finding a family our guests could visit and interact with in order to avoid the voyeuristic way that most tourists currently see this and other villages like this in Cambodia. This tour is designed to spread the money brought in by tourism a little further into the community.  Guests will have the opportunity to purchase snacks from local shops and to be paddled around by their new local friends to get an in depth look at day-to-day life in this kind of village.  This experience is unique as most tourists visit floating villages on large boats and don’t have the chance to meet the residents of the village.

Tours that support animal welfare in Southeast Asia

During our years of experience in Southeast Asia, Journeys Within has found that environmental protection and animal welfare throughout the region is in its infancy. Many struggling families make ends meet by catching endangered creatures to eat or sell. Others keep animals for labor, show and sport. Indeed, if you look closely at the many temples within the region, you can see evidence of animals such as elephants being used in farming, logging and warfare for hundreds of years, and these sacred animals are considered an integral part of the local culture.

As Journeys Within Tour Consultants and Directors personally inspect every tour and hotel, we have been witnesses to both best- and worst-case scenarios in regards to the treatment of animals. A core pillar of our company philosophy is that we believe that a tour company not only has a responsibility to its guests, but also a responsibility to the communities and environments within the countries in which we live and work. For this reason, we have been very careful to select tour and hotel partners that share this belief. We declined to send our guests to support tiger experiences, such the one at Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Temple (known as the Tiger Temple), more than 10 years ago because these tours did not (and still don’t) provide healthy environments for the tigers.

Animal welfare in Southeast Asia has understandably been featured in the media lately and there is a strong public outcry to cease and desist any activities associated with animals. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these are generally not wealthy communities, and without sustainable programs to support and protect animals such as elephants and tigers, these amazing creatures are in danger of being neglected, euthanized or hunted due to lack of funds to care for them.

We recommend a middle path and wanted to share a few animal experiences that are doing amazing work in helping to protect endangered species within Southeast Asia in a safe and sustainable fashion. Journeys Within offers tours specifically tailored for guests who have a strong interest in wildlife and conservation, such as the Cambodia Conservation Tour, where guests can be sure that the animal interactions that they are supporting truly give back to the local animals and people. Here are some of our favorites:

  • The Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri serves as a sanctuary and recuperation center for elephants in need and for retired elephants. The elephants are released back into a natural habitat. Guests can visit and observe the family groups as they forage in the jungle and the elephants choose whether or not to wander up and say hello to visitors.
  • Sam Veasna Center (SVC) provides wildlife viewing trips with exclusive access to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) sites across Cambodia, where travelers can view a variety of rare birds native to Cambodia. This non-profit strives to provide an alternative sustainable livelihood based on eco-tourism for the local communities in return for no hunting and land use agreements.
  • The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Phnom Penh cares for and rehabilitates animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. We highly recommend the Bear Care Tour, run by the non-profit Free the Bears which offers a “behind the scenes” tour of the world’s largest Sun Bear Sanctuary.
  • The Nam Nern Night Safari in Laos is a boat-based tour into the core of the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. This adventure provides a rare opportunity to view protected wildlife through a program that is designed to support alternative livelihoods for the locals who have grown up hunting and tracking by retraining them as naturalists and guides, and generate community support for conservation of tigers and other wildlife by donating a portion of the funds to the local community for schools.
A Sun Bear at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.
A Sun Bear at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.