29 Jan Volunteering in Thailand
We’re itching to get back to Asia when travel finally returns so, when the Tourism Authority of Thailand asked us to share memories of our time in the Land of Smiles as part of their #ThrowbackThailand campaign, we were happy to oblige. With that in mind, here’s a look back at our experiences volunteering in Thailand and projects we’d love to volunteer with in the future.
How to choose ethical volunteer work in Thailand
Before you start any kind of volunteer work, it’s important to make sure the organisation you work with is ethical. We always thoroughly research who we volunteer with and avoid any kind of work with children and orphanages. Generally, we look for non-profit projects that have been set up by or in conjunction with local groups, we also check recent volunteer reviews and if there’s a fee, find out exactly where that goes.
Dog volunteering in Thailand
Picture a valley in the forested north of Thailand where elephants rescued from the logging and tourism industry roam freely. Welcome to the Elephant Nature Park, a paradise for abused animals to live out their lives in natural surroundings. Set up in the 90s by Lek, who has dedicated her life to rescuing elephants, the park offers an ethical way for tourists to volunteer with and learn about Thailand’s most iconic animal.
When the 2011 Bangkok floods hit, Lek and her partner Darrick also rescued over 2,000 street dogs and brought them back to the park, launching the Dog Rescue Project. Today, they provide a home to hundreds more stray hounds, some rescued from the illegal dog meat trade. While many live among the elephants, others are placed in huge outdoor runs with play equipment and there’s a full-time vet to provide medical care.
As huge dog lovers, when we found out about the Dog Rescue Project on a trip to the ENP, we signed up immediately. During our volunteer placement at the Dog Rescue Project I remember waking up to misty mountain views and the roar of elephants, then enjoying long days caring for the animals with volunteers from all over the world. We spent hours walking and playing with the dogs, as well as cleaning cages, feeding, bathing and de-ticking the animals, all the while surrounded by incredible rural scenery.
A few years later, on a trip to Thailand’s sun-baked southern islands, we also had a chance to check out another amazing animal rescue organisation: Lanta Animal Welfare. Launched by Norwegian expat Junie Kovacs, the shelter has done an incredible job of rescuing and rehoming street animals locally and overseas. They’ve also sterilised and treated over 15,000 dogs and cats, dramatically reducing the street animal population on Koh Lanta.
Volunteers lead hourly tours where you can learn about how the shelter is run and meet some of the residents. If you have more time, you can also drop in between 9am and 5pm to play with the cats in their Kitty City. We particularly loved walking some of the dogs during our trip to Koh Lanta, giving them some one-on-one attention.
Thailand volunteer placements we’d love to do
There are tons more incredible volunteer opportunities in Thailand that allow you to give back while you explore. Here are a few that we’d love to take part in when we can finally return to Thailand.
This global organisation brings communities together for regular rubbish clean-ups. Local branches of Trash Hero operate across Thailand and include beach, countryside and city clean-ups. All you need to do is connect with a local chapter and turn up at the next session to take part. What’s great about Trash Hero is that they also run educational programmes to raise awareness about the environment and help communities reduce and manage waste.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
Set in Phuket’s idyllic Khao Phra Thaew National Park, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project aims to return these intelligent creatures to the wild. Sadly, the species was almost poached to extinction and has suffered the negative effects of deforestation, as well as the pet and tourism trade. This project focuses on rehabilitating captive gibbons and to date, has successfully re-released around 50 back into the forest. We’d love to volunteer with the project, tasks include caring for gibbons at the centre or helping with re-release missions.
Paper Ranger was launched by a group of Thai university students who decided to transform discarded scrap paper into handmade notebooks for children who don’t have access to stationary. They’ve made over 200,000 notebooks for kids all over Thailand, including members of the Hmong and Karen hill tribe communities. Volunteers can donate one-side used paper to the cause or sign up to make notebooks at their base in Bangkok.
Have you had any experiences volunteering in Thailand? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.