The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has put great effort into voluntourism (community-based tourism) in their country, and success has been the result. Supported by groups Local Alike, responsiblevacation.com, STA Travel, Matador Network, and more, the TAT has made experiencing Thailand in a unique, community-minded way both manageable and affordable. So stretch your philanthropic wings, fly over to Thailand, and contribute to making the world a better place.
Here are my top reasons you should take advantage of these unique opportunities:
1. You’ll walk among giants
On the first day of my visit to Thailand, I found myself feeding watermelon to a heard of giant elephants. It was an amazing up-close-and-personal experience you have to see to believe! Thailand is home to roughly 40 wildlife sanctuaries, so if you’re an animal lover you’ll feel right at home. We had the good fortune of spending time at probably the most popular sanctuary in all of Thailand, the Elephant Nature Park, home to about 40 elephants. The park is located in Chiang Mai and is operated by the most captivating person, Lek Chailert. In addition to feeding the elephants, your activities include bathing them, observing the Mohout training, and learning how to communicate with the elephants. It’s an experience like no other.
Tip: If you plan to ride an elephant, be sure to wear long pants. Elephants have very course skin that will do a number on your inner thighs.
2. The kindest people
The locals are some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. By living with, supporting, and socializing with the locals from each community, you’ll learn how these small villages operate in a self-sustaining environment. The people not only welcome you into their home but are also honored to give you insight into the foundation of their country. This will pretty much guarantee you returning home with an appreciation for the resources you have at your disposal (if you don’t already).
The above image features a group of locals I had the opportunity to play bocce with after a fantastic dinner at the home of one of our hosts. I lost the match, but the experience was a victory. They couldn’t have been kinder.
BTW: The dude in the red shirt is one of the ringers from the Thai national team. Notice the right throwing arm.
3. The pristine white beaches and pristine blue water
Thailand is renowned for having some of the most beautiful beaches and water in the world. It’s been said that the energy you feel from the water in Thailand is palpable. I can finally say that I’ve experienced this, and I 100% concur. One of the best parts of volunteering in southern Thailand is seeing these pristine marine environments first hand—and even better, seeing them with the guidance of the locals. With their lead, I saw beaches I might not have seen otherwise. They’re flawless.
Protecting the marine environment is a vital part of maintaining the island and beach communities, and volunteering is integral to the success.
Tip for dudes: Look into buying a square cut polyester swimsuit and wear it under your everyday shorts or board shorts. They’ll serve the same purpose as your boxer briefs (or whatever you rock) and stand up much better than cotton in the humidity. They’re also easy to wash and dry much faster. These days there are many options for you so if you’re not into mankinis (like myself) you have alternatives.
4. Around every corner lies another story
Thailand is a sea of endless imagery. If you’re a photographer, you’re really in for something since taking pictures in Thailand is a never-ending, euphoric, shutter-happy state of bliss. It never seems to end so bring lots of storage and external hard drives because I guarantee you’ll take a lot more pictures than you expect to. If carrying a camera around or photography just isn’t your thing, you’ll still be glued to the window with your head on a swivel as you travel through this incredible land.
Tip: As I said before the Thai people are very kind but like anyplace else be respectful. Ask first before sticking your lens in someone’s face. Every single person I asked was fine with having their picture taken but I always ask respectfully first. If you feel like tipping certain people then do so. This is also the time when having a guide comes in handy. They speak the Thai language making approaches very easy.
5. Help make the world a better place
Supporting local communities and their thriving ecosystem, working within elephant or animal sanctuaries, teaching English to kids in local communities, preserving the marine environment—they’re all options. But there are even more than that, so be sure to check on the websites provided below to discover what suits you best. The image above, of rubber trees in a self-sustaining community in central Thailand, captures just one example of how locals live off the land.
Tip: Bring bug spray. I suggest Deet at 30%. And read the instructions. It’s very strong stuff but necessary and efficient. Just applying a small amount keeps mosquitos and bugs away. Those who didn’t had bites regularly while we were traveling in wooded areas.
6. The temples
There are roughly 40,717 temples throughout Thailand, so no matter the region you visit you’re certain to come across some—and they are spectacular. The temple above is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or more commonly Doi Suthep, named after the mountain it’s located on. It’s located nine miles from Chiang Mai and after a long drive up the mountainside, an additional 309 stairs need to be climbed to reach the temple. If you’re not up for the stairs, a tram is offered as well. The cost is 30 Thai baht to enter the temple, which is a little less than $1 US Dollar.
Tip: Many temples require that long pants be worn while visiting, and some even require long sleeves as well for women. Convertible travel pants are a great item to bring for this purpose and are very versatile, as well. Simply bring the removable pant legs in your bag and attach them when needed. Without the required garb, be prepared to wait in long lines to receive and return the proper attire provided at the temple. Lines are long.
Tip: For great travel gear check out scottvest.com.
7. To educate
Teaching English to children can be one of the most gratifying opportunities you can experience in a lifetime. Voluntourism allows you this opportunity. We traveled to the island of Yao Noi to meet up with a group that had arrived earlier in the day and was teaching English to a local group of children. It was incredible! The kids were so full of life and amazing energy and possessed an eagerness to learn that I’ve only seen in a few other areas of the world. Almost every voluntourism package includes this option.
8. Thai food
If you’re a foodie or fan of Thai food, then choosing a volunteer trip provided by a TAT alliance group is a quickfire win. Guides and hosts both know the dos and don’ts of Thailand cuisine and of especially street food. For this reason, eating Thai street on this trip was an experience in itself. In my opinion, it’s where you’ll find some of the best the country has to offer. As long as you know where to go!
9. The hotels are remarkable
Because you’ll have options regarding how many days you’d like to volunteer, you might also choose to discover other regions of Thailand. That being said, the hotels in Thailand are incredible. I was fortunate to stay at several, including the Ratilanna in Chiang Mai, the Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok (in Bangkok), and the Anantara Phuket Villas.
While I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to stay with our gracious host family in Baan Hui Rang and to experience sleeping under the protection of a mosquito net, it’s also quite nice to hang your hat in a 5-star hotel or resort after volunteering. There are plenty of first-class hotels and resorts in Thailand, and if these options don’t fit your budget there are many that will. In many cities, you can find a great stay for as little as 20 (US) bucks! So do some research if you plan to travel after volunteering.
Tip: Place a shoe in your safe with your valuables to avoid leaving anything behind.
10. The unparalleled hospitality and generosity of the local hosts
The Thai hosts made sure we felt right at home during our stay. The two women in the image above were so amazing. They woke up long before us to prepare breakfast for our next journey. I was up at 3:30am for 4:30am departure and I’m not sure when they started cooking but they were almost done. Love them.
11. Morning offerings and blessings: Giving alms or bin tha bat
Nearly 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, and offering food and water to monks is one of the oldest and most common rituals. Every morning Buddhist monks travel throughout Thailand to receive offerings and in return for your offerings, give you their blessings. It’s a great way to start your day so don’t take offense if they don’t give you attention, a thank you or speak a word. This part of the ritual gives people the opportunity to do a good deed.
Tip: Traditionally, cooked rice, fruit, something sweet, incense, and water are offered and placed in the bowl that monks carry in front of themselves.
12. The exchange rate
The exchange rate from the US Dollar to the Thai currency (Baht) is definitely on your side (here are current rates). And since most voluntourism packages are all-inclusive, the bulk of your cost will be on airfare. Still, there’s lots of shopping to do while traveling through Thailand, so you’ll be glad to know the dollar goes a long long way.
Tip: Most taxis, tuk-tuks and shops don’t carry change to break a 500- or a 1,000-Baht note so be sure to travel with smaller bills.
13. The markets and bazaars
Thailand is home to some of the most remarkable markets and bazaars in the world. Two of them are located in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
The Night Bazaar in Chaing Mai is undoubtedly the most famous in the northern region of Thailand. Located on the northern part of Chang Klan, the bazaar is packed with hundreds of stalls and small shops. The high volume of foot traffic has made the bazaar one of the liveliest in Thailand. The bazaar offers a wide array of local hand-crafted items and artwork including carvings, clothing, jewelry, and more. There’s also fantastic food!
There are many markets in Bangkok but none is more bustling with life than the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market. It covers more than 35 acres and has roughly 15,000 vendors. This also includes the amazing food vendors that line the walkways.
If you come across something you like in your travels through Thailand but aren’t prepared to lug a heavy item around with you, chances are you can find it at the Chatuchak market near the end of your trip in Bangkok.
14. Get a dream job
And lastly, the tourism board has recently partnered with others to launch a “Dream Job” campaign that allows people across the US to apply for a variety of unique dream jobs. So upon returning from making the world a better place, you’ll potentially have the opportunity to return and have a chance at getting that job you’ve always wanted. Certainly worth have in a look!
Check it out here!
Here’s my photo gallery from the trip: