These full and frank independent reviews are from travellers who have booked directly through Responsible Travel. They are not edited by us or any of the companies we work with. Find the real story, from real travellers below.
Steph Rigby review 19 Jun 2009
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
Being so close to the elephants was fantastic. You really do spend all day with them, feed them and even have bath time with them!
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Take as many antiseptic wipes and mosquito repellent as possible. Being so close to the animals means all types of bugs are around so you are more likely to get bitten throughout the day as well as night.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?
Whilst at the conservation certain volunteers went to a nearby village after a report that a tiger was seen near family homes. If a tiger was found then the conservation would have caught it and brought it back to the conservation for treatment and a new home. It was then I realised that the conservation is benefiting the community as well as wildlife.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
The conservation is fantastic for looking after wildlife and the local community, but the cleanliness of the volunteer bedrooms/bathrooms and the overall running of the conservation was disgraceful. I arrived on a Sunday evening and missed dinner so went to bed on an empty stomach. I was not introduced to any of the volunteers when I first arrived. The bedrooms were in a disgraceful state as the conservation relies on the previous volunteers to clean the room before they leave. Their toilets are traditional Thai (as in no flush but use a bucket and water) but they were blocked so had faeces on the bathroom floor. The long staying volunteers were not friendly to short staying volunteers and there was an obvious divide. I became very ill on the second day after one of their taxi drivers gave me contaminated mango and then I had a mosquito bite that became infected because of working near elephant faeces but when I told the volunteers who run the centre they just said get some cream from the pharmacy and cover with plasters. I was told to bring a mosquito net for my bedroom but it took 3 days for someone to put it up for me, there were no hooks provided so I had to wait for help. The only support I got from the conservation were fellow short staying volunteers. I was meant to be at the conservation for 2 weeks but after 5 days felt so ill that I left and had to organise alternative plans for a week in Thailand before my flight home to the UK. I know that I am not the only one who was disappointed with the conservation. There were many volunteers who left earlier than planned the week I was there. The main reason why people were disappointed was because what the organisers had described about the conservation and involvement with wildlife was completely different to reality. In the booklet it said we were required to have Rabies and other vaccinations to stay at the conservation, but whilst at the conservation no one actually checked any such documentation, you have to pay more than £100 for the ‘required’ vaccinations so you expect them to check you had had them. There were a lot of dangerous animals around the conservation, such as scorpions and snakes, but no one told us what to do if we found one or if someone was bitten - no safety talks whatsoever which to me is essential when in a foreign country with animals that you rarely get in your home country. Also I was told we would be able to finish volunteer work at 2pm each day and would be able to have time off to travel to other places, but when I arrived at the conservation I found that we had to work 6.30am to 5.30pm every day and was only allowed 1 day off a week. For the conditions you have to live in and the long hours you are required to work I do not believe I should have paid the amount I did for a 2 week stay and would love to have a refund for the week that I did not stay at the conservation purely because of ill health but I was told a refund was not possible.
Overall, extremely disappointing and needs a lot of improvement at the conservation if wanting to keep volunteers with them for the time they have paid. If possible I would like to make a formal complaint as I am deeply disappointed what I was told before going on this trip was completely different to when I arrived in Thailand. I look forward to hearing from you with your complaints procedure.
Read the operator's response here:
I would like to say again that we were extremely disappointed to read your feedback on the elephant project in Thailand as we take negative feedback very personally and we want all volunteers to have the best experience possible. It also came as a surprise as we ask for feedback from all of our volunteers and the overwhelming majority of feedback we get is incredibly positive about the centre, with over 100 volunteers working on the project in 2008.
1. Information provided to you - the information we give about the placement is based on the time we have spent at the centre, input from the staff at the centre and feedback from our volunteers. Through our feedback forms over the last 5 years our volunteers have confirmed that the information is fair and accurate. Having gone through your points we can't find any major discrepancies in the information we provide and we would consider it normal to receive more detailed information on arrival. The 'rules' you refer to are in place to protect volunteers in an environment working with wild animals and elephants, and also to help ensure that volunteers can live together harmoniously.
2. Immunisations including Rabies - we do not state that Rabies is required but we have since clarified that it was your GP who that told you to have it, I'm sure acting in your best interests just trying to make sure you were as protected as possible. Regarding the other immunisations, the reason for having them is for your own protection and health, and it is at the centre's discretion if they feel they need to ask for proof, which in most cases they don't as they trust volunteers will protect themselves appropriately.
3. Working days and hours - we do clearly state that it is a six day working week. I understand from our communication that the main issue is that you had to work 6 days before having a day off. This is normal for a short volunteering project and I would have thought that it would be expected that you would have to work 6 days before having your day off if you had only just arrived. I'm sorry if this wasn't clearer. Regarding the hours again I'm sorry if you thought the day would finish earlier leaving you more free time, but volunteers are always asking us to give them as much time with the elephants as possible and to help with other jobs so we try to ensure there is a always a full days work available. The centre relies on the efforts of volunteers to get the many jobs done so the work can be demanding.
4. Your arrival at the centre - I am surprised by your comments as according to the centre they had saved you some dinner and did give you some introductions, including where there is information about health and safety at the centre. It is a very long and tiring journey to Thailand, especially with the extra travel to the centre, so we do find that in our own experience things can seem more negative than they actually are. I'm sorry if there was any negative feeling from other volunteers and you will see the centre's comments about this, it's a major challenge for them to have so many people from different backgrounds working together but on the whole volunteers are extremely friendly and supportive to each other.
5. Your room - as you will see from the centre's comments volunteers are asked to clean rooms but they do also do cleaning. I would also like to add that the accommodation at this centre is of a much higher quality than most other animal volunteer projects in Thailand, although obviously lower standard than a hotel. I am very sorry about the blocked toilet which can not have been pleasant. The centre responded to this quickly and understood that the matter was resolved. Regarding the mosquito net, we would normally expect volunteers to help each other with this sort of small job, I'm sorry you feel you had to wait for someone to come and do it for you.
6. Your illness - I'm especially sorry you became ill, and one thing we have often found from looking after volunteers overseas is that perceptions can completely change when someone isn't feeling well. I can not agree though that you became ill from contaminated mango given to you, I can't see that you would know and if you did know it was contaminated I can't understand why you ate it. The fruit in Thailand is very different to the UK and mango is often eaten when it is green and unripe so is quite different. People can react quite strongly to a new environment and foods. I'm also sorry you had a mosquito bite that got infected but again you can not assume you got this from working near elephant faeces, due to the hot climate in Thailand it is very easy for bites to get infected. The centre gave you sensible advice, to get some cream and plasters, and were there to help further if needed.
Overall I feel you came to the centre with a different set of expectations than that of our normal volunteers and I'm very sorry the project didn't work out for you. We work with the centre because they are doing important work caring for rescued animals and elephants. Feedback from all of our volunteers confirms this but at the same time volunteers do need to recognize that the centre is set up primarily for its work of caring for animals not as a tourist lodge. The centre did try to get you to stay for your second week but ultimately it was your choice to leave to go to the beaches instead and I really hope you enjoyed your remaining time in Thailand.