Volunteering at an Animal Shelter in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand
In 2016, a few months after quitting my job (can’t remember which one), I decided to volunteer at Baan Unrak Thai Animal Sanctuary in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand. What I liked most about the sanctuary was that it practiced a no-kill policy. At the time of my visit, they had around 50 dogs, 10 cats, and a goat.
In 2007, a British traveler Gemma Ashford came to Sangkhlaburi to volunteer as a teacher for Burmese refugees. However, she soon began to notice the horrible condition of the street dogs scavenging in the town market. These dogs bore every mark of abuse — some limping, others bearing open and festering wounds. Many of them also carried diseases.
With her own funds and donations from family members and non-profit organizations, Gemma was able to start buying food and medical supplies for the animals.
Soon after, Baan Unrak School donated some land, and that was how the sanctuary was born. Since then, it has continued to grow with the help of international volunteers.
Volunteers Needed at Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary
There is always work to be done at the sanctuary, from walking dogs, grooming, cleaning, DIY jobs, to raising local awareness. Everything you do will make a difference and help improve the lives of the animals there.
However, this is not a fun day trip to the petting zoo. I know there are many ‘voluntourism programs’ out there that make you pay some money to be taken to orphanages or tribal villages or animal sanctuaries, where you spend a day socializing and taking photos with them, and you go home thinking that you’ve really made a difference.
Please do not expect the same here. This sanctuary relies entirely on volunteers to keep it running. The tasks that you’ll be doing are not all glamorous and some can be hard work. Here, you shed tears, sweat, and (maybe) even blood.
If you are a veterinarian, vet nurse, vet assistant, or student, you can apply for a paid position at Baan Unrak. They are always in need of people with veterinary skills, both for specific projects such as spay camps as well as for day-to-day treatments at the sanctuary.
Every day, with that many dogs in one place, there are usually at least one or two with some kind of health problems. On top of that, the local villagers also send in their pets, farm animals, or rescued strays for treatment because the nearest veterinary clinic is at least an hour away.
How to Get to Sangkhlaburi
Sangkhlaburi is a small village located in a province called Kanchanaburi, which is approximately 7 hours’ drive from Bangkok. You have a choice of traveling on a direct bus from Bangkok to Sangkhlaburi, or on two separate buses from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi and then from Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi. The direct route is more convenient but can be slower.
I took the direct route. Once I got to Sangkhlaburi, I hopped on a motorbike taxi to get to the shelter. It was possible to walk (15 minutes) but it was very dark and there were no streetlamps.
Due to language barrier, I had some miscommunication with the driver. He took me to an orphanage school, thinking I wanted to volunteer there. Luckily, one of the teachers knew the place I was looking for and translated it to the driver.
What to Bring When Volunteering at Baan Unrak
Sangkhlaburi is a remote village surrounded by nature. I’d suggest you to bring clothes that you would wear for a day hike in a tropical country, such as T-shirts, tank tops, shorts, and long pants. Other items may include:
- Insect repellent
- Sturdy hiking shoes/sandals for walking the dogs. Trust me — it’s a workout.
- Towels and toiletries
- Warm clothes for the cool season (Nov – Jan), when temperatures can drop to 10°C at night.
- Basic first-aid kit
- Sanitary products (tampons are generally hard to find in rural parts of Asia)
And most importantly, make sure the clothes your bring are the ones that you don’t mind getting dirty or ruined!
Where to Stay in Sangkhlaburi
Depending on availability, volunteers can stay at the Volunteer House just around the corner from the sanctuary. The two-story basic Thai-style house features an open kitchen on the upper floor, 2 bathrooms (with cold showers), 2 toilets, and 5 non-A/C bedrooms sleeping up to 12 people. Beds, sheets and mosquito nets are provided. The current rate is THB150 per person per night.
For those who prefer a bit more privacy and comfort, there are several guesthouses available nearby at reasonable rates.
I spent my first night at the Volunteer House because I arrived very late and there was no time to find alternative accommodation. The place was okay but rather cramped, with several rescued animals (cats, a baby squirrel, and a rabbit) roaming freely inside, so I was more than glad to move to a guesthouse the next day. I had a private room for only THB130 per night (this was in 2016).
What to Expect at Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary
Volunteers work on a daily roster with 1 day off per week, to be determined by the sanctuary manager. But if you would like specific days or extra time off, they will try to accommodate your requests where they can.
Morning Shift: 8.00 a.m. – 12.00 p.m.
Afternoon Shift: 2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.
Volunteers are also expected to be flexible, as the hours may vary depending on how many volunteers are in the sanctuary and what happens during the day.
A typical day begins with walking the dogs at 8 a.m. As soon as you unlock the shelter gate for the first time in the morning, you will be bombarded with a cacophony of excited barks. They just can’t wait to go on that walk!
Some of the dogs will go on leashes, some may need harnesses, while some can go without. It all depends on their levels of obedience.
Several volunteers will stay behind to clean the cages, replace bedding and prepare food for the dogs so that they will come home to clean beds and a food bowl ready in their cages. Talk about 5-star treatment.
After the dogs return, volunteers will continue cleaning around the kennel areas, raking dead leaves, refilling water bowls, and washing the beddings.
At 2 p.m., after lunch, it’s time to go back to the shelter. Food for the animals is prepared for the second round of feeding.
The bigger and more active dogs will have to be walked again, while the smaller ones will be released from their cages for some playtime in the sanctuary compound.
During my stay, there was one dog with paralyzed hind legs. We had to keep a close eye on him to make sure that his legs didn’t get stuck in his wheelchair and that the other dogs didn’t play too rough with him.
In addition to the daily tasks mentioned above, there are always plenty of other projects such as sanctuary repairs, maintenance, painting, and lots of cleaning.
Volunteers are also encouraged to play and engage with the animals at the shelter whenever possible. This may seem trivial, but is actually an important task. Socializing the dogs will help them become more comfortable around people, thereby increasing their chances of getting adopted.
Health & Safety
Volunteers are advised to get tetanus and rabies vaccinations in order to work safely with the animals. This is only a precaution. If you have pre-existing allergies or medical conditions that require medication, be sure to bring enough supplies with you, as you may not be able to find them locally. Also, bring rehydration salts if you’re not used to the hot and humid weather.
Fights may occasionally break out between the dogs and there are several ways that volunteers can help diffuse the situation. There are also specific protocols to follow when dealing with severely injured or aggressive animals. These will be briefed to you upon arrival to ensure that you are able to work safely and comfortably.
In any case, it is always wise to equip yourself with a good travel insurance to protect yourself should the unexpected happens. World Nomads provides the most comprehensive coverage for travelers worldwide.
Other Ways You Can Help
Volunteering for a cause that means a lot to you can possibly be one of the most fulfilling experiences you can get in your lifetime. But not everybody has the time or the money to travel to Thailand. Here are other ways you can help apart from volunteering:
You can either make a one-off donation or set up a recurring payment. Every little amount helps. Besides cash, you can also donate supplies such as dog food, drugs, bandages. syringes, and other surgical equipment. Click here to see the list of items needed.
Most of the animals at the sanctuary are waiting to find permanent homes. Go to the adoption page, look at the pictures, read the profiles of each of the animals, and see if you can’t find any that captures your heart.
You can adopt from anywhere in the world (except Australia). If you’re unable to come personally to Thailand, they can arrange for someone to fly your new best friend to you.
Sponsor an Animal
Adopting an animal is a huge responsibility that not everybody can commit to and that’s perfectly understandable. However, if there’s any particular animal that you’ve taken a liking to and would like to help out, you can do so by making a monthly financial contribution. This money will be used to pay for its food, healthcare, and other expenses.
Be a Flight Volunteer
Final Thoughts on Volunteering at an Animal Sanctuary in Thailand
I only volunteered at Baan Unrak for one week. On my last day, as per their tradition, they took a photo of me — and another traveler who was also leaving on that same day — right before they sent us off.
It was a truly invaluable experience for me, especially because I don’t have much opportunity to interact with dogs in my own country. Malaysia is not a dog-friendly place, and neither is Thailand, apparently. Some abuse cases are so horrific that you simply can’t imagine anyone — much less the friendly, soft-spoken Thais — doing something like that to an animal.
I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who wants to make their stay in Thailand more meaningful. Forget elephant rides or playing with drugged tigers — if you want interaction with animals, this is the way to go.
Do visit their website if you wish to volunteer, donate, adopt, or sponsor an animal at Baan Unrak Thai Animal Sanctuary. Or help me spread the word by sharing this post!
Have you volunteered with animals before? If yes, where did you do it, and how was your experience? Comment below.
Nice informative website!I hope you still have many interesting trips ahead.
Unfortunately the link to the Baan Unrak Thai Animal Sanctuary doesn’t work anymore. They have a new website which is:
and a new Facebook page:
Would you mind to update the link, so potential volunteers find their way to the Animal Sanctuary?
Have a great day,
Hi, Mara! Thank you so much for notifying me. I have updated the links in the post.
Have a great day!
Hi Ummi! This is so interesting! Thank you for having such a good heart to help those animals. Keep it up a good work ya. Much love!
Thank you for your support, Yaya. I love animals, so volunteering at this animal sanctuary in Thailand was enjoyable for me. But it did sometimes get tough emotionally when we rescued very sick or injured animals.
seronoknya baca pengalaman sis jadi volunteer kat sana, memang aktiviti yang sangat baik dengan mendekati nature dan berkhidmat untuk mereka yang memerlukan
Mmg pada sesiapa yang nak escape from the city kejap, tempat ni memang best. Tenang, dekat dgn nature, dan xramai tourist. Baru boleh rasa life sebenar kt Thailand mcm mana.
such a nice experience. good for you to taking care of animals in animal santuary. nice sharing btw
Thank you, Aiman. Hope you enjoyed the article. By the way, the animal sanctuary relies entirely on volunteers and donations to keep it going. If you feel like contributing, do check out their website. 🙂
seronok cx baca pengalaman ummi jadi volunteer dekat sanctuary thai . ummi got a kind hearted. tak semua orang mampu dan mahu untuk jadi volunteer. tahnaih cx ucapkan. sesungguh seronok tengok ummi buat kebajikan seperti ini. haiwan juga perlukan perlindungan, kasih sayang dan kelengkapan.
Terima kasih. Saya memang suka dgn haiwan. Jadi, pengalaman volunteer di Thai animal sanctuary ni adalah satu pengalaman yang sangat berharga dan menyeronokkan bagi saya. 🙂
Such a wonderful job. I love reading all these wonderful stories. These pet need love and care from us. Hope I have the chance to visit these place.
Glad you enjoyed this article, Betty. And I do hope you’ll get to visit the place someday. 🙂
Beruntungnya Ummi dapat pengalaman yang jarang orang lain dapat. Comel nya baby squirrel tu… Keep it up!
Haah, comel sangat baby squirrel tu. Masih belum bukak mata. Kami kena feed dia susu dgn botol kecik setiap jam, dan urut perut dia supaya senang buang air. 😄
habis PKP boleh plan dah ni.. hee~ best baca kisah Ummi travel, jaga diri dan salam kenalan dari akak..
Salam perkenalan, kak Siti. Terima kasih sudi support blog saya, dan jaga diri juga. ☺️
I really adore your great work and you have such a great experiences tho… I would like to try this some day in my journey for this kind of volunteerism
Thank you! Volunteering abroad is a great way to make your travels feel more meaningful, especially if it’s for a cause that is close to your heart. But since travel is not possible right now, there are animal shelters in our country that also need volunteers, like PAWS and SPCA.
Waa so proud of you laaa Ummi.. kalau anak Sis yang sulung dia suka laa volunteers macam ni. Nanti nak tengok laa web dia, kot boleh laa buat donation kepadanya..
Ya, disebabkan pandemik Covid-19, Baan Unrak animal shelter ni kekurangan volunteer, sebab border Thailand pun masih tutup. So, kalau mampu, boleh la kita sumbangkan apa yang patut. 🙂
wow. kagumnya bila ummi ke sana utk program volunteer gini. back to nature. animals. heaven!
aida xde skill merawt haiwan sgt. certain haiwan, aida tak brape berani. mesti tak boleh nak join group ni ha ha ah ha 🙂 itu yg kagum dgn people yg dpt spend masa and keberanian spend masa bersama merawat haiwan. terbaik la 🙂
Thank you, Aida. Saya pun takde apa2 skill merawat haiwan. So, yg tu kita biarkan experts je yg buat. 🙂 Kerja saya kat sana, bersihkan kandang, cuci kain, bagi makan, dan bawak jalan2.
thailand memang the best place if we want to escape from the city. i have never imagine myself volunteering. maybe its about time to explore new exciting opportunities
Yup, why not? 😁 But since travel is not possible right now, you can also volunteer in Malaysia. If you like animals, you can try volunteering with PAWS or SPCA.
I sebenarnya br tahu ttg volunteer animal ni. Ms pergi pulau meow dekat pekan pahang. Dan jumpa rmi international volunteer kat sana
Pulau meow kat Pahang? Ni baru first time saya dengar. Ok nanti saya google.
Thanks for sharing this, now i know there is such lovely and caring animal shelter in Thailand.
Yup, I do hope you’ll visit this animal shelter in Thailand if you have the chance 🙂
Seronok u dpt buat keje volunteers ni merata2 tmpt. Experience are priceless. I wish i had time like u masa muda2 buat all these things.
Agreed, experience is priceless! And i wish I had started traveling at a younger age. But it’s never too late! Better late than never.
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