Ban Ta Klang, or Elephant Village, is a tiny village of mahouts (traditional elephant trainers/keepers) in southeast Thailand, near the Cambodian border. These mahouts and their families have lived there raising elephants, along with growing rice and other crops, for centuries. Many of them identity as Gui people, an ethnic minority in Thailand with roots in what is now Cambodia.
The village is about a 9 hour bus ride from Bangkok, with the nearest “city” (aka, place with a mall lol) being Surin about 1.5 hours away. If I needed my city fix sooner than later, I often motorbiked all the way to the nearest airport in Buri Ram, with 1.5 hour flights to Bangkok.
The months I spent teaching English in this village were magical. I look back now and wonder how I did that (lol), because it truly was isolation defined. Life in the village was slow, peaceful, simple…and nothing I would’ve signed myself up for, had it been up to me.
But looking back, I can see that this was a necessary and transformative experience. I wouldn’t change a thing.
As the only native English speaker for miles, I had the pleasure of teaching all the children in the village from preschool to the Thai equivalent of 12th grade. And it was those students, the Thai teachers, and their families that made the “isolation” worth it.
Ban Ta Klang taught me things about kindness, altruism, generosity, and a spirit of loving your neighbor that I may never have learned in the States. To this day, when I’m wavering between being helpful or minding my business (the American way!), I tap into the Thai mindset and can immediately take joy in the sacrifice of lending a hand. I have sooo many stories of complete strangers going out of their way for me in Thailand. It’s enough to completely revive your faith in humanity, seriously.
I’m forever shaped by my experiences throughout Thailand, but the most impactful moments happened right here in the Elephant Village.
(photos by me)