2022 Westgate Thailand Elephant Conservation Expedition
Written by Yusra Alsaleh
We arrived in Chong Sadao, Kanchanaburi and settled into our homestay cabins. The ride was a tad long but beautiful as we drove further away from the city and luscious greenery and rolling mountain hilltops welcomed us. After dropping our stuff off we met with Our Land, an organisation that works to protect and reestablish wildlife corridors in Thailand. We engaged in an informative session where we learnt about current efforts and challenges they face in Thailand when it comes to elephant conservation- particularly the protection of one of the last remaining wildlife corridors at the Southern tip of the Salakphra Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailands oldest wildlife sanctuary and protecting the path to an access point on the River Kwae often frequented by wild elephants and other wildlife.
After our session we geared up in swimming attire, fancy diaper-like lifevests and floated down the River Kwae! It was fantastic, fun, exhilarating and calming at the same time. The river route landed us right on the banks not too far from Our Lands eco self-sustainable village (which required a little hike to get to) and onto Our Land’s land. A few minutes into our hike we had to stop and rush back to available trucks as we were informed wild elephants were nearby and we had to avoid them. At the eco village we had a snake presentation, where we learnt about the different snakes in Thailand, how to react to bites and other fun facts about them (they rescue ~4,000 snakes from Bangkok every month!). After that we ate a delicious lunch and gathered around the fire pit. We began a group discussion about expectations when the unexpected happen- a wild elephant was heard by the jackfruit tree infront of the eco villages building! Although it was a common place for them to visit, it’s never announced and typically occurs late into the night. We spent the rest of the evening sitting quietly observing them whenever they came into view.
The next day was the first day of service and we rode out to the site. There we learnt a little about the environment, meditated, appreciated the jungle around us then got to work building a rock dam for an elephant water hole. Because of the presence of civilisation between where the elephants live (Salakphra Wildlife Sanctuary) and the reserve and River Kwae, a challenge faced is creating that corridor between. One of the ways Our Land helps mitigate this is by creating alternative water sources for them. By building a dam of rocks we would help filter the water and create a pool for them to have access to. The project was a lot of fun and very satisfying to work on. We took a break partway for some lunch and had some amazing coconut ice cream afterwards.
After our service project we made our way back to our homestay community for some rest and relaxation (while some students planned otherwise and went swimming) before visiting a wall that was built to keep elephants away (and then taken down by them too) and a very large dam. We ended the night with a make-your-own fried rice dinner, where we learnt how to make Thai styled fried rice on a wok. The meal was accompanied with fried chicken and fries (all super yummy!). We winded down the night with a discussion about goals, highlights and successes, challenges we’ve been facing, and activities we’re looking forward to in the days to come. Then we were off to bed to get ready for another day of service!
Written by Yusra Alsaleh
The past two days have been a whirlwind! As busy as Bangkok is, we have been too. From trying so many new delicious dishes to walking the bustling streets of the city, visiting temples (Wat Pho and Wat Arun) and riding on sky trains, subways, longboats and vans the students have embraced the opportunity for cultural exploration and travel.
By far the highlight for many was the Chao Phraya River tour, where we coasted down the river watching immense skyscrapers before us, juxtaposed by beautiful temples, royal palaces, lizards bathing on rocks, children swimming, families lounging on their house decks, and every passerby waving and smiling at us. I mean, who wouldn’t with a group like ours. The students have an incredible dynamic and friendship that is contagious. They’ve been supporting one another and encouraging themselves to embrace this experience together, because it is a trip of a lifetime and who knows if or when they’ll ever be back in Thailand.
Today, we are leaving the nonstop city life behind us and easing ourselves into a different kind of pace. We’re on the road to Chong Sadao, Kanchanaburi where we will be meeting Our Land and our home stay community. We’ll get to float down a river, visit a eco village, a tree house and hang out around a campfire.
Some foods we’ve had the last few days:
-Larb tod (Thai fried spicy pork ball)
-Fried snapper with fish sauce, served with fresh chilli pepper and sour mangoes sauce
– Deep fried pork knuckle with papaya salad
– Shrimp and vegetable omelet in orange sour curry
-Baked prawn with glass noodles
-Mangoes with sticky rice
– Lots and lots of snacks from lays nori seaweed, salmon cream cheese, salted egg and other funky flavors to bubble teas, Thai iced teas, lychee ice creams and more.
-Egg noodles in delicious clear soup with varieties of topping…crispy pork, pork dumpling, shrimp dumpling, crab meat, braised pork rib, boiled egg, mushroom, and bok choy.
Check out the gallery of photos from the group’s adventure thus far. Written updates to follow soon.