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Volunteer experience #2: Naucrates Sea Turtle Conservation Project

Naucrates is an NGO based in Italy with a project site in Thailand, focusing in turtle conservation since 1996. Their Thailand project is based in an island called Koh Phra Thong (Phra Thong Island) located about 200 km north of Phuket, Thailand. They monitor the beaches in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands to find and protect turtle nests, as well as observing wild turtle behavior. When necessary, they also relocate turtle nests to increase the number of hatchlings.

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Image source: Naucrates

How to get there:
Take a bus to Kuraburi (10 hours from Bangkok, 3 hours from Phuket). Exit the bus station, turn right, find Boon Piya Resort on your right, just about 100-200 meter from the bus station. In front of the resort entrance there’s a small office for Boon Piya travel service where you can arrange taxi and boat to go to Koh Phra Thong. You’ll need a taxi to go to the pier (70 baht/$2 for motorbike taxi, or 150 baht/$4.30 for a car taxi), then a boat to the island (150 baht/$4.30). The boat usually departs around 10-11 a.m but there is no fixed schedule so it is advised to book a day in advance to make sure the boat waits for you. The boat ride takes about one hour and along the way some very lucky people with eagle eyes might spot endangered dugongs.

If you arrive in the afternoon, spend a night at one of the few accommodations in town. Boon Piya Resort and Thararin Resort are within walking distance from the bus station, both cost around 200-500 baht/$6-$13 per night. I stayed at Thararin last time because Boon Piya was full. It is located just 50 meter farther than Boon Piya from the bus station. I found the Thararin’s owner was very friendly. She invited me for lunch and dinner together with her family, then she took me to a watermelon festival in town and later that day to the night market.

In Kuraburi you can find some ATMs, 7-11, and occasional night market where you can buy last minute ’emergency’ stuff for the island, such as flip flops, sarong, tshirt/shorts/long pants, and rechargeable torchlight as low as $3!

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The pier at Kuraburi. Get a taxi/motorbike taxi to get here.

2boat ride

The boat ride.

3tapayoi pier

Tapayoi village, one of the villages in Koh Phra Thong. This was where I landed (not in the water, don’t worry!)

 

The accommodation:

There are two accommodation sites. The first one is P Nok’s resort where you get a wooden bungalow shared for 2 people with attached bathroom. There is an upstair common area where you can relax, read books, listen to music, or talk to Nok the owner about his life in the island and how lucky he was when the 2004 tsunami happened. It is about 10-15 minutes walk away from the beach. So you can have afternoon swim and watch the sun set after working.

The second site is homestay at Lion’s Village. You’ll get your own room upstairs with a shared bathroom downstairs. The people at the village doesn’t speak English but they are very nice to hang out with and you’ll be surprised that somehow you just understand each other without speaking a common language.

The activities:

  • Early morning walk and walk and walk, with countless beautiful sunrise during your stay and sometimes accompanied by these cute energetic doggies.
    dog dog

    A dog whose name is Dog. She’s probably one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met ❤

    snowy dog

    Snowy, an ultimate crab chaser. She’s never tired!

    When you find turtle tracks and nests you have to record the details. If you have to do night monitoring, don’t miss the starry sky and the milky way.

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  • If you find a nest in a less ideal location, you’ll have to relocate the nest to a better site. We did a relocation when I was volunteering there. You can read my full story here about nest relocation as published by Naucrates blog.
  • Turtle talk. Don’t miss this one! Well, you can’t miss it anyways. It’s a one-hour presentation by Naucrates Field Leader, explaining about turtles: a few different species, the difference of each species, the behavior of wild turtle, the nest and hatching statistics found in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands since Naucrates has been there.
  • Wild turtle behavior observation. You’ll have to do a mini 5-minute hiking to reach the top of a hill and record wild turtle behavior when you see them.
  • In the afternoon you can do kayaking and snorkeling to learn more about the local marine life, guided by a Naucrates staff or volunteer.
  • All time favorite activity: napping on a hammock on a sunny beach.hammock.jpg
  • About once a week the staff and volunteers go to neighboring islands – Koh Ra and Koh Kho Khao, to monitor the beach and look for turtle track/nest.
  • Beach cleaning once in a while, though I did not experience it during my stay.
  • When I was there we did some work for the museum at Lions’ Village. I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the museum too. Some students from Tapayoi came together with their teachers. Naucrates also educate the locals about the importance of conservation, both mangrove conservation and turtle conservation.naucrates drawing.jpg

The food:

Mostly Thai food, I mean very yummy homemade Thai food (think of thick curries, soups, stir-fried veggies, grilled fresh fish, marinated chickens, with fried banana fritters or fresh tropical fruits as desserts), with several options for western breakfast (their fruit muesli yogurt and banana pancake were good!), available option for vegetarian and vegan (though ‘meat’ is considered only beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Fishballs, crab sticks, and other processed food are considered ‘vegetarian’). For vegans, watch out for fish sauce and shrimp paste used as seasonings in the dishes.

Occasionally you will experience yummy Italian pasta at Horizon Eco Resort. Horizon is one of Naucrates’ supporters. This is also where you will spend a lot of time (I spent mine in one of their hammocks), and also our meeting point in many occasion. The most important thing is they have free wifi for volunteers!

Not to miss: fresh young coconut sold for $1 at Horizon Eco Resort, and Pa Nee’s coconut ball, i.e traditional snack made of sticky rice flour with sweet peanut and brown sugar filling, covered in shredded coconut. Yum!!

Recommended duration: 2-4 weeks.

Recommended time to visit:

End of January to March. Based on this year’s season, January was when the turtles first lay their eggs, and starting in late February you can start to see some hatchlings!

turtle hatchling naucrates

Image source: Naucrates

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Book directly from Naucrates website as it is much cheaper (as low as €205/$235 per week for long term volunteers) than booking through a volunteering agency. Link here.
  • Be physically fit to walk long distance (about 10 km every day, 4-6 days a week). Bring very comfortable shoes to walk on soft sand, such as sneakers or coral boots, or simply walk barefoot if you’re comfortable with it (some staff and volunteers including me prefer to walk barefoot).
  • The observation site is located on top of a small hill, so you have to hike a little. It was only a 5-10 minute walk to the top, and the staff and I did it in flip flops, but some volunteers prefer sneakers for safety.
  • Bear in mind that electricity is limited, and western comfort is very limited. Bring stuff that can keep you and other volunteers occupied that do not need electricity.

What to bring:

  • Sarong, for sun protection instead of sunblock. Sunblock is harmful for the corals and by avoiding sunblock we help to reduce plastic bottle trash. Moreover, if you stay for long term, it’s more practical to bring a piece of sarong instead of bottles of sunblock, right?
  • Wetsuit, (again) for sun protection instead of sunblock. Even waterproof sunblock formula can be easily washed away when you swim and it need constant re-applying. Wetsuit can protect you longer and (again) more practical to pack. If you don’t have a wetsuit and don’t want to buy one, consider of bringing a t-shirt for swimming instead.
  • Hat and sunglasses. Read above, I’m not going to repeat again what they are for.
  • Mosquito repellent (consider natural ingredients such as citronella or lavender or geranium). Mosquito coil and lighter can be bought in the island.
  • Head light. This one is a must. You will start your day just before sunrise and have to walk in the dark. Consider bringing a rechargeable light instead of using batteries, not only because battery is difficult to find in the island, but also because it contains harmful chemicals for the environment.
  • Snacks and comfort food. Limited choice of snack and food is sold, so for snackers my suggestion is pack your favorite yumyum.
  • Speaker for music lovers.
  • Books. You’ll have free time in the morning or afternoon.
  • Card, board games, or other activities that doesn’t need electricity.
  • Small, pocket size and low watt clip fan, just in case the room in Lion’s Village is too hot for you during the night.
  • An open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit:)

 

Coming up next: volunteering at Phangan Animal Care for Stray (PACS). Stay tuned!

Read more about my tips on volunteering while traveling here.

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Volunteer experience #1: Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, Chiang Mai

Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation focuses on rescuing stray dogs and cats, and spaying/neutering any dogs and cats they can find, including ones in remote villages where the villagers cannot afford vet bills. It is also the only cat shelter in Chiang Mai and maybe even the only one in Northern Thailand. They adopt dumped and sick pets, and up to this date they have sheltered over 600 dogs and 100 cats. It is located inside a housing complex about 40 km north of Chiang Mai downtown, far from everywhere but everything was provided in the house.

The owner is friendly and would take us for meals, grocery shopping, or just hang out in a coffee shop on our day off. Meals and accommodation are provided in exchange of donation. Meals are mostly local food (white rice or sticky rice, with a few dishes for sharing) but you can also buy groceries and store them in the provided fridge.

santisook cat shelter

The cat shelter, big and clean. The cats seem happy, don’t they? 🙂

How to get there: Flight to Chiang Mai, then from the airport it’s still another 1 hour car ride. I was already in Chiang Mai so it was easier to go to their place. You can take a yellow taxi/song thaew from the city, but if you’re going straight from the airport it’s better to arrange your own transport, such as airport taxi or charter a red taxi/song thaew. It is also possible to ask the foundation to pick you up. They may be or may not be able to pick you up depending on their schedule.

The accommodation: upstair facilities for volunteer in a modern house, next to their cat shelter. Nice room with attached bathroom, aircon, and ceiling fan. There’s a communal area with shared fridge, hot water kettle, TV, DVD player, and some other basic stuff. Very nice accommodation.

The food: Meals are provided downstairs, most of them are local Thai food. You will sit on the floor and share the dishes with their staff. If you cannot eat local food, western food can be arranged too but you will have to pay for it, or stock up on bread and instant noodles. For vegetarians, it’s possible to ask for vegetable dishes only so they can prepare it. It’s best to say that you want to eat only vegetables instead of saying “no meat”, because sometimes they still put fish or seafood as they are not considered as ‘meat’. For vegans it’s a bit more difficult because they still don’t understand the vegan concept and still use fish sauce, shrimp paste, oyster sauce, etc in the dishes.

The medical facilities: Let’s be honest here. The facilities were VERY basic. You’ll operate on a wooden table, outdoor, with non sterile examination gloves, with no drip because I.V cathether and I.V fluid were considered too expensive. If you’re lucky someone can help you with I.V injection for top up dose, but don’t expect too much. There was nothing sterile, all tools were sterilized by alcohol and iodine solution. I donated a sterilizer but it arrived after my volunteer period ended, so I don’t know if they use it or not. If you volunteer or know someone who volunteers there, it would be nice to have some updates about it.

santisook medical

This was the surgery site at one of their dog shelters. That table was where I spayed and neutered the bitches and dogs.

The activities: treat the resident cats and dogs, perform health checks when necessary, treat rescued/dumped pet that they often get, spay/neuter dogs and cats in villages – sometimes in a nearby village and sometimes in another shelter which was 10 hour car ride away from them! They are very dedicated in controlling the stray dogs/cats population and if you have the same mission, this is the right place for you to volunteer.

What I enjoyed: when there is no surgeries or treatment, you’ll be taken to the countryside to see the local life, enjoy the mountain view, soak in a hot spring, see the Chiang Mai city, try Thai tea and Thai coffee, visit local temples, shop in local markets, and most importantly just relax. The founder will make sure that you are comfortable and are enjoying your stay.

What I dislike:

  1. You’ll probably be the only person with medical knowledge (unless there’s another volunteering vet) so there’s nobody to back up your opinion if they say you mess up, even though their reasons do not make sense scientifically. I heard them complaining about a cat died weeks before I arrived, blaming the vet and assuming that the cat died of brain damage 5 days after spay because the vet’s hands were not sterile when she spayed the cat.
  2. No gratitude and appreciation of what you do. I speak Thai and understood the conversations they had, even when they were talking about me and other volunteers. What they said in English in front of you and what they said in Thai were completely different. Don’t trust their sweet words. I also understood when the villagers said “Thank you very much, this is for the vet” while handing over some fresh produce from their backyard or other souvenirs, but everything disappeared so I and other volunteers never received anything.
  3. Okay this one is a bit personal. Before leaving the shelter, I donated a new sterilizer, an imported one as it was difficult to find a portable sterilizer in Thailand. It arrived after I left, unfortunately they forgot to tell me they had received the sterilizer, then they forgot to take pictures, and then they forgot to send the pictures to me. It took them over a month to send a single picture as you can see below. Well, I hope they don’t forget that they have a sterilizer now and hopefully they will remember to use it for future surgeries.santisook gratitude1
santisook gratitude.png

What they promised vs what they actually did. They promised a thank you letter in the picture, but it seemed like they can’t be bothered typing proper messages after receiving their gift.

Recommended length of stay: 1-3 weeks.

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Bring your own basic medical tools and references such as stethoscope and medical books.
  • It’s recommended to donate sterile gloves, swabs, drapes, I.V catheters, I.V fluids and giving sets if you have extra to spare.
  • Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent!
  • Come with an open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit 🙂

 

Up next: Volunteering with Naucrates Turtle Conservation Project in Koh Phra Thong, Thailand.

Read more about my experience in volunteering while traveling here.

2

Pattaya Field Surgery Trip

This is just the short version. The full story, day-by-day details, and more pictures of the trip can be viewed here.

On September 25, 2015 I went from Chiang Mai to Pattaya to volunteer with Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation and do free spay/neuter clinics for stray dogs and cats. 900 km covered in 15 hours car ride! I know it was such a long tiring trip, but you know, I can’t say no when it comes to helping animals. And after a hot shower, finally it was time to sleep. We had a queue stray dogs and cats to neuter the next day. Oh dear….

The next morning, we started quite late because we were so tired from the previous day’s long trip. Thanks to Neo from Pattaya Animal Coalition (PAC), the one who organized for this field spay and neuter program, for being so understanding and let us sleep an hour longer before a long surgery day!

We sterilized the tools by using Glutaraldehyde, which is known to be toxic, but is within our budget to spay and neuter over 300 stray animals. We used pet pads as disposable drapes. As you can see from the pictures, even the drugs we use are very basic too. For example, Nembutal is a dangerous drug which is no longer used to anesthetize animals but it’s commonly used to euthanize them.

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Surgical tools soaked in a solution of glutaraldehyde.

Disposable drape, cut from a pet pad.

Disposable drape, cut from a pet pad.


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Today’s site was a hidden animal shelter outside Pattaya. With two vets did the surgeries, who are an Australian vet and me, we managed to spay 9 female dogs and 3 male dogs in 6 hours of our first day. Subtotal: 12. Total: 12.

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Dr Renae from Australia is doing spay.

I was just starting the first spay of that day.

I’m just starting the first spay of that day.

The next day we did surgeries at a beautiful countryside house, which also serves as an animal shelter. The shelter houses at least 300 dogs,100 cats, and 1 cow.

Dr Renae and I are doing spay on the second day of the trip.

Dr Renae and I are doing spay on the second day of the trip.

The surgery started around 11 a.m and ended around 6 p.m. 2nd day: 9 male dogs and 13 bitches. Subtotal: 22. Total: 34.

On our third day, we did surgeries in an ordinary house located within a small village. I heard people came since 6 a.m in the morning to queue for the surgeries. It makes me happy to see how people care about the animals and want to get them fixed, even though they don’t have money. It’s probably my main reason why I volunteer to do these free spay and neuter clinics.

Namfon from Santisook is talking to villagers and pet owners, arranging the queue for surgeries.

Namfon from Santisook is talking to villagers and pet owners, arranging the queue for surgeries.

Dr Renae is doing the first spay of that day.

Dr Renae is doing the first spay of that day.

The 3rd day was the highlight of the trip! We did nearly 12 hours of surgeries, finished at 9.27 p.m and managed to neuter 3 male dogs, 10 bitches, 11 toms, 13 queens! Subtotal: 36. Total: 70.

On our 4th day we went to a Thai navy base. I’m glad to see that the government also contribute and show their care for stray dogs in this country. Just by seeing their hospital it gave me a big smile in the morning.

Finally, a better vet hospital facilities.

Finally, a better vet hospital facilities.

Everyone at the military base seemed to be curious of what we were doing and would like to watch closely. This, however, made me nervous and I felt that if I had done something wrong, they would have punished me for it!

Can you see my nervous face for being watched closely by the military staff? LOL.

Can you see my nervous face for being watched closely by the military staff? LOL.

4th day: 23 dogs and 1 bitch. Subtotal: 24. Total: 96.

The next day, we continued to neuter all dogs at the navy base. We did all the male dogs that day and wanted to continue by spaying all the bitches. Unfortunately, they did not mark the spayed bitches and mix all the spayed and intact bitches together. It is almost impossible for us to check the bitches one by one and try to find which one is spayed and which one is not.

Now let’s talk about the importance of ear notch. Every spayed females, be it dogs, cats, or other animal species, should be marked with ear notch or tattoo when they are spayed. This way we can distinguish them from the intacts and it makes a vet job a lot easier in the future.

Those lucky boys to have this cute vet scrubbed their balls with tender loving care (before cutting them off!).

Those lucky boys to have this cute vet scrubbed their balls with tender loving care (before cutting them off!).

5th day: 26 dogs and 3 bitches. Subtotal: 29. Total: 125.

On our last day, we decided to go back to the first day’s site and neuter all the cats and a few remaining intact dogs.

We had plenty of time today and I did some of the prep before surgeries.

We had plenty of time today and I did some of the prep before surgeries.

6th day: 4 bitches, 5 queens, and 10 toms. Subtotal: 19. Total: 144.

This was the last day of my trip. My back was paining terribly, my fingers have blisters from using scissors, artery clamps, and needle holders, my fingertips and fingernails were brown from touching glutaraldehyde. It was a tiring trip, but thinking about 2 vets, each did 46 hours of surgeries and neutered 144 animals altogether in 6 days, it gave me a feeling of accomplishment!

Here is a group shot for the full team! From left to right: Dr Vincent, Dr Liz, Dr Renae, Namfon, May (restaurant owner who treated us free dinner that night), Neo from PAC, Tong, Atinuch, and a staff from May's restaurant.

Here is a group shot for the full team!
From left to right: Dr Vincent, Dr Liz, Dr Renae, Namfon, May (restaurant owner who treated us free dinner that night), Neo from PAC, Tong, Atinuch, and a staff from May’s restaurant.

We already planned for our next trip to Pattaya or surrounding area around the end of this month. Excited!

If saving animal is your passion and you want to contribute to our spay/neuter clinics, check this crowdfunding campaign and spread the words!