5 ways to give back while exploring Thailand

Posted by Nick Paul on 26 July 2016

Thailand offers far more than luxurious hotels, full-moon parties and shady massage parlours. It’s a land bursting with natural beauty, and a local population which is one of the most welcoming and hospitable in the world.

If you’re looking for a more authentic and less touristy experience then teaching and volunteering in Thailand could be for you. While volunteering might sound like the opposite of a holiday, these experiences will reward you for the rest of your life. After all, that’s the best reason to travel – to experience and learn from new cultures – and if we can enrich the people and help with the challenges we find along the way then even better. Here’s how you can both make a difference and get a more authentic experience out of your stay in this fascinating country.

 

1. Volunteer at an Elephant Sanctuary

The Thai elephant is an official national symbol and a very important figure in Thai society and history. The country is renowned for its elephant rides and for many tourists, this is something to tick off their bucket list. Sadly, many don’t realise the brutal conditions these animals live in and the heart-breaking process it takes to make them submissive and rideable.

 

Many elephants in Thailand are ill treated for the benefit of tourism. Photo credit Lauren Carey.

Many elephants in Thailand are ill treated for the benefit of tourism. Photo credit Lauren Carey.


Thankfully there are people who are making it their life’s mission to change this and rehabilitate these animals. I can highly recommend volunteering your time at a reputable Elephant sanctuary as it will not only give you the unique opportunity of working hands on and building a relationship with these beautiful creatures, but it will also give you a deeper understanding about the issues faced supporting the fight against elephant abuse.

 

2. Teach English in Thailand

English teachers regularly describe their experiences with the local kids they tutor as truly enriching, something I’ve heard from countless returnees. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the Thai culture and form strong connections with these kind and giving people.

 

Teaching English is one of the best ways to form connections with local Thais. Photo credit TravelBud.

Teaching English is one of the best ways to form connections with local Thais.
Photo credit TravelBud.


Teaching English is more than just a job, it is cultural exchange and the local teachers and parents of the students make a big effort to include foreigners in the local way of life. This is a life-changing opportunity to experience Thailand as the Thais do, all the while helping children pursue their dream of speaking English fluently. If full-time teaching is not for you, there are also summer camp opportunities I can highly recommend which entail a month travelling around to remote areas of the country to teach English to underprivileged Thai children.

 

3. Conserve Thailand’s underwater paradise

With over 3000km of coastline, this place is an underwater tropical paradise and is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world; whether it’s open ocean seamounts, reefs, wrecks, walls, tunnels, caverns or pinnacles, Thailand has it.

 

Volunteering at GVI’s Marine Conservation project will give you the opportunity to dive alongside rare fish species and a ton of turtles.  Photo credit Shaun Marshall.

Volunteering at GVI’s Marine Conservation project will give you the opportunity to dive alongside rare fish species and a ton of turtles. Photo credit Shaun Marshall.


There are many conservation agencies across the country that are always looking for volunteers for different lengths of time. This experience will allow you to explore Thailand’s marine eco-systems, coral reefs and tropical forests, while supporting marine conservation, helping prevent the indigenous fish and animals from becoming endangered and learning more about environmental conservation in general. GVI’s Marine Conservation project in the picturesque Phang Nga Bay goes one step further where volunteers will not only be educated about the need for marine conservation in the area, but you will also be given the opportunity to raise awareness about importance and benefits of marine conservation, empowering local communities to actively conserve Thailand’s environment.

 

4. Spend time at a dog shelter

In Thailand, thousands of dogs live on the street. The reasons for this are many, but they have traditionally been seen as unclean due to the fact that dogs tend to scavenge and pick up diseases in the process.

 

Volunteers at dog shelters are helping reduce the amount of desperate dogs living on the streets of Thailand. Photo credit Justin Woods.

Volunteers at dog shelters are helping reduce the number of desperate dogs living on the streets of Thailand. Photo credit Justin Woods.


Another sad truth is that there is an illegal underground market for dog meat in Asia and Thai dogs are often picked up and sold across the border on the black market. For me, as an animal lover, this is what makes working for dog shelters like Rescue Paws so rewarding. You’ll be involved in the rescuing, treating, bathing and rehoming of these too-often neglected creatures. You also get to challenge perspectives within the Thai community, to show that these animals are loving and safe companions to keep if you’ve given them the right care and love.

 

5. Discover Wildlife Rescue

Thailand has a richly varied topography and range of climates which make it a hotspot for biodiversity; from mountain forests to world-renowned beaches, it is home to a wide variety of ecosystems.

 

Forming strong connections with endangered animals is a unique and enriching experience. Photo credit Justin Woods.

Forming strong connections with endangered animals is a unique and enriching experience. Photo credit Justin Woods.


Working at a wildlife rescue will see you helping to protect a variety of endangered animals such as otters, bears, gibbons and monkeys by fighting threats of deforestation, poaching, pollution, destructive fishing practices and illegal timber harvesting. Wildlife Friends Foundation offers different volunteer options to get involved and help keep this beautiful hub for biodiversity thriving.