A family volunteer travel participant bathes an elephant in the Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand’s largest city.

The 9,000-pound gentle giant made its way into the river. She was prepared to wade in the water under the heat of the Chiang Mai sun. Enormous but playful. She was a part of the herd that was giddy to go show off by sprinkling water through her long nose. This is her kind of fun. She loved the routine: sucking up the water then tossing it back.

It was an ordinary day in the elephant sanctuary but not for the families who were as excited as the elephants. No, they’re not mahouts in the Land of Smiles. These luxury voluntourists (families, children, couples) have traveled to Chiang Mai with the support of Hands Up Holidays.

Elephant tourism is a popular attraction in Thailand but it has earned a negative reputation among animal rights activists. Many of these creatures are still in the streets and forced to beg money from tourists. Some are still beaten to teach them how to paint and perform tricks in front of an audience. But a true conservation effort is what elephant sanctuaries carry out daily. Their animals can roam freely and are not trained to appear in circus shows.

Hands Up Holidays’ partner organizations make sure to give you and your family an amazing travel experience. In the elephant center, you can get to know their caretakers and be taught how to prepare the elephants’ meals, aid in their treatment when they’re sick and of course, give them a refreshing bath in the river.

We receive a lot of inquiries from mothers who want to plan an educational and meaningful vacation for their children. And the experiences they get are truly rewarding. In her Facebook review about her recent trip with us, Sara Martz writes, “My family and I were lucky enough to work with Chris for our 30-day adventure in South East Asia specifically Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia… The hustle of Bangkok was mesmerizing. Front row at the Muay Thai fights, in depth tours of the temples, and of course street, food and markets. To the epicenter of the trip… kissing the elephants. We got to spend time with several different elephant rescue camps. As an elephant lover, I don’t know how we could of got any closer to these gentle giants.”

Families make the best voluntourists in animal rescue centers such as in Chiang Mai. Children learn to appreciate a new culture and the wildlife. In the center, they’ll get to learn how these animals were rescued from the streets and circus shows so they could be secured away from poachers.

Accommodation is never a problem too. Choose from a wide list of eco-friendly hotels such as the Anantara (a former British Consulate building that is now one of Chiang Mai’s best hotels) or the Four Seasons, which is just a 30-minute drive from central Chiang Mai. On your free time, take a moment to explore exotic hills of the place. Get to know and learn from the tribe people together with your children for a rewarding educational experience.

For more information on our luxury voluntourism packages in Chiang Mai and other wonderful destinations in Thailand, click here.

Chris Hill is the founder and CEO of luxury voluntourism provider Hands Up Holidays.