Explore this beautiful country to its fullest as you immerse yourself into the local culture and scenery of the Andaman region and the beautiful forests of Northern Thailand. Contribute to valuable conservation projects and make a lasting impact during your time in the country.
In the stunning coastal province of Phang Nga, you will join a team committed to the conservation of the regions coastal and marine ecosystems. Your time on this project will give you a holistic and well-rounded insight into the conservation issues facing the regions and the measures GVI teams are taking in response. Besides hands-on conservation activities, you will also be promoting various environmental education initiatives and delivering English programmes to the local community.
Please note our conservation efforts in this region are seasonal, so projects will vary throughout the course of the year.
While volunteering in the lush mountain forests of Chiang Mai, you will be working closely with local Mahouts (elephant keepers) as you assist with the rehabilitation of captive elephants back into their natural environment. During your time on the project, you will have the opportunity to learn about elephant history, behaviour, training, biology, social kills and more, drawing on generations of tribal knowledge from the Mahouts.
Although both projects have different goals, both are committed to conserving the various ecosystems in Thailand for the continuous survival of the different species that call these regions home.
Experience a unique adventure in this amazing South East Asia country; experience living and volunteering in Thailand; immerse yourself in the local culture; try exotic local dishes; participate in one of the many optional side trips on the weekends; explore beautiful coral reefs and limestone cliffs; get up close and personal with Thailand’s unique biodiversity; contribute to the long-term conservation of the endangered ecosystems; develop a well-rounded education on sustainable conservation, environmental conservation and community development; contribute to the rehabilitation of Asia’s endangered elephant and feel safe with the knowledge that you are making an important impact on the lives of these amazing creatures, the local community and the environment.
"My time spent in Huay Pakoot was unforgettable, <span id="98327536-aeba-4fc3-bd8d-ee6f90da65ce" class="GINGER_SOFTWARE_mark">unimaginably</span> rewarding and overall one thing I would definitely tell others to do. GVI has left me with wonder and an honesty that can only inspire you to go back and do more."
These updates cover all programs in this location
Chiang Mai Video
Throughout your stay in Thailand, the various projects you participate in will very much depend on the needs on the ground and the time of the year. From November to March, you may be involved in sea turtle research and conservation. The rainy season of May to October sees more terrestrial and community work such as mangrove research and planting, biodiversity surveying in nearby National Parks and environmental education.
Volunteers may also have the chance to take part in various environmental education workshops with the local community. Projects can vary from environmental education with the general community, schools, hotels and tour operators to English language teaching.
Accommodation will be small but comfortable with shared facilities, with enough space for people to relax together or in private. If you would prefer to stay in private accommodation while in Thailand, this location does offer upgrades. Contact us for more information, or mention to your Country Expert who will be able to assist you.
Your elephant adventure in Chiang Mai begins when the sun rises, with early mornings and long days spent in the field. After breakfast the local mahouts will lead groups of volunteers and staff out to where the elephants have stayed overnight.
Occasionally you will the opportunity to assist with a quick but thorough health inspection of the elephants, providing a few minutes of close contact time. The rest of your hike will be spent following the elephants as they move through the forest, socialising and foraging. During our time observing the elephants, you may help collect data on their social interactions, what food sources they are utilising and survey forest biodiversity.
Afternoons will see you returning to base where you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local community by helping to teach English, weave baskets, play football with the Mahouts and cook with your homestay family.
Weekends will be yours to relax, explore the nearby area or travel back to Chiang Mai for some sightseeing. Accommodation will be very basic, so you should be prepared to adapt and appreciate the living conditions that are sure to be very different from your home.
What's Not Included
Our aim in Phang Nga, Thailand is to better understand the effect of changing environmental climates in conjunction with the local communities. Our goal is to sustain the long-term conservation of the area and aid in the preservation of the natural environment.
The population of Asian elephants and their habitat is rapidly declining. With less than 1,000 left in the wild in Thailand, but around 3,000 in captivity, we are one of the few viable alternatives to the reality of their domesticated future within detrimental tourist camps. Your contribution to this project will help keep these elephants in protected forests and provide funding to keep the project running and offer alternative livelihoods to the local community. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socialising and foraging in their natural habitat.
Please note, this is an ethical volunteer program and we do not partake in riding elephants, demonstrating unnatural skills, or interacting hands-on with the elephants more than necessary.
How this project makes a difference
Your presence as a volunteer in Phang Nga will help protect some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and coral reef systems. By adopting a holistic conservation approach, we are educating the community on local environmental issues, dealing with the social and economic pressures that leading to the destruction of reefs, fish, coral and turtle populations and aim to end unsustainable food systems and development.
In Chiang Mai, elephants can be very expensive to care for, and are viewed as private property and a means of generating income for the local communities. The elephants are often forced into camps or street begging to make money through tourism in Thailand. The lack of viable alternatives for income from elephants is detrimental to their health and well-being.
As an unregulated industry, elephant tourism can be an ugly business. Elephants require a specific environment that provides them with social, mental, and physical stimulation to thrive. With a huge increase in the demand for tourist camps, elephants are deprived of their imperative self-medicating diet, migratory urges to move, complex social interactions, and brain stimulation, leading to shocking repercussions in the health of the elephant.
Our volunteer project aims to provide an alternative way for the elephants to bring in money for the local village while continuing to lead healthy lives that will ensure their long term conservation and survival.
What's Not Included
Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate on programs assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems, but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield, either before or after your program. Below is some information on trips and travel options in Thailand.
Included Side Trips
The location of our Chiang Mai base is remote. Leaving Chiang Mai city you embark on a 5 hour journey into the mountains. On the way, we pass through Doi Inthanon National Park (Thailand’s highest peak) and usually stop for a walk in one of the spectacular waterfalls.
Optional Side Trips
The Phang Nga province offers a myriad of amazing sites and scenery to discover! Explore the amazing Khao Sok National Park, including the stunning Cheow Larn Lake and 740km² of rainforest and which is home to elephants, leopards, tigers, deer, monkeys, lizards, birds, and the Rafflesia – the largest flowers in the world, 90cm across with a unique aroma… of rotting flesh! Take a day trip for a quick sample of the park’s delights or stay overnight and discover even more – perhaps in one of the jungle tree houses, or even on a bungalow that floats on the lake. Trek through the jungle, kayak around Cheow Larn lake visiting spectacular limestone caves, swim in idyllic waterfalls or just relax and see what you can spot!
Khao Lak is a very popular tourist spot close by, with beautiful, seemingly endless beaches, so many dining options you’ll be spoilt for choice and hundreds of spas offering massages and treatments at reasonable rates. With a wide range of accommodation options, from luxury resorts to hostels, Khao Lak offers you the chance to spoil yourself for a few days, whether you’re on a budget or looking to splurge a little.
The Similan and Surin Island groups, both under the protection of their Marine National Park status, are home to some of the best diving and snorkelling spots in the region. You can take a day trip, stay on a live aboard boat or even stay overnight on the islands themselves.
Phuket Island, about 90mins south of Khao Lak and renowned for its colourful nightlife is also a great stop-off for divers and snorkelers, but if you’re not the diving type you can explore Phang Nga Bay by speed-boat or sea kayak, stopping off at James Bond Island, made famous by the 1974 film ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ before visiting the floating Sea Gypsy village. Phuket is also very popular with surfers, playing host to annual surfing competitions, though there is a great ‘secret spot’ near Khao Lak… if you’re interested GVI staff will show you the way!
Neighbouring Krabi Province is a treasure trove for intrepid travellers; from the crystal clear Emerald Pond to the epic 1,237-step climb up to the Buddha image and stunning views at the Tiger Temple Cave to the enchanted scenery and pools of Than Bok Khoranee National Park to the shopping and late night bars of Ao Nang to the chilled out beaches of Koh Lanta Island to the parties of Phi, where ‘The Beach’ was filmed – the options are truly endless!
While at the Chiang Mai base, there is ample time for you to plan side trips and organise transportation. These are not part of the program and are best taken as a weekend trip or as an activity before or after joining the program. We are always ready to assist, provide recommendations and up-to-date information. Locally, trips can be arranged to neighbouring villages and town like Mae Chaem and Mae Hong Son. These are great places to wind down, get a traditional Thai massage or explore the temples.
Though we are well off the main tourist route, opportunities exist, before or after the program, for you to go bamboo river rafting, rock climbing, visit Doi Inthanon National Park, relax at a local resort/spa, and take advantage of everything that the Chiang Mai Province has to offer!
Further Travelling Opportunities
Thailand is a country with a massive range of fantastic places that you could visit. If you have the time and budget, you could consider going to see the following; the waterfalls of the picturesque Khao Yai National Park, the local tribes of Nam Province, the beaches of Ko Tao and Mu Ko Chang Marine National Park, the golden kingdom of Ayuthaya, the temples and nightlife of Bangkok, just to name a few!
Meet Molly, our hard working country director for both Thailand and Laos. Over seeing operations in two countries is no easy task but Molly is more than capable.
She started volunteering and travelling at a young age, working in soup kitchens, with AmeriCorps, at animal shelters, as a Big Sister with Big Brother Big Sisters of America and as a Guardian ad Litem. She studied family development and psychology and loves to dance.
Her goal is to visit one country for every year she is alive. The most unusual place she has travelled to is Uzbekistan, on a trip beginning in Europe and ending in Southeast Asia. This is where she fell in love with Laos which began her journey with GVI. She started working for GVI back in 2012 and she is now based in Thailand. GVI has hubs all around the world and she has been lucky enough to visit the hubs in Nepal, Thailand, Laos and the office in South Africa.
Conservation project coordinator
Meet Katie, our brilliant conservation project coordinator in Phang Nga, Thailand. She is experienced in environmental education, working within zoos and outreach programmes in the UK, teaching a huge range, from pre-school children through to university students.
From a young age she travelled to many unique and culturally diverse places with her family.
During her short term internship with GVI, at Jalova Biological Research Station, she developed and advanced her surveying, research and project development skills whilst working in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
Her must bring travel item is her trusty camera; "There is not a day that goes by where I don't encounter a moment that I want to capture, especially when exploring the worlds natural beauty."
Meet Dora, our insightful base manager in Phang Nga, Thailand. She has spent much of her life traveling, studying and volunteering all over the world. She grew up in China but felt the need to explore the world. She's lived in many different countries such as Egypt, Japan and the Phillippines,saying that she's not one to stay in one place for very long. She's also explored most of Europe an the west of the USA.
She has a BA in international relations focusing on the continents of Africa and Asia. She's also a certified, open water NAU diver.
Her favourite thing about working for GVI is how every day is different and how meeting so many new people has taught her so much about herself. She's a real life traveller and we're lucky to have her on board.
Meet Karissa, our vibrant country expert for our Cape Town and Thailand, Phang Nga, hubs. She loves travelling and has had her fair share of travelling too. Her first solo travel was to New Zealand to work as an Au Pair, followed by Fiji for over a year. She then travelled to Thailand, where she met her South African partner and worked as an English Teacher at a public High School.
Karissa is TEFL qualified and has first-hand experience of working abroad. What first attracted her to join GVI? “The amazing volunteer projects and stunning locations across the world.”
She moved to Cape Town in November 2015 from her home country, the USA, and is loving every minute of being able to call South Africa her new home!
Caroline Van Der Does De Willebois
Service Learning Manager Thailand
A conservationist and adventurer at heart with a passion for sustainable development and marine conservation. Caroline has a Master's degree in International Development and past experience working with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, educational marine conservation with the Marine Megafauna Foundation in Mozambique, and dive instructing in Thailand.
Caroline believes that GVI's combination of conservation and community development projects helps us to reach a true and sustainable impact in the field.
Her travels have taken her all over the world, but she is grateful to have returned to Thailand to join the GVI family and support and train others to have the best possible Service Learning experience!
Assistant Director of Programs
Meet Jill, our Assistant Director of Programs and line manager for Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal, Australia and Kenya programs. ‘Manow’ (lime), as she’s locally known in Thailand where she's based, taught English, environmental education and art in the USA and Thailand before joining us to set up a TEFL and Community Development Expedition. “I haven’t looked back since!”
When Jill isn’t working, she likes reading or doing just about anything energetic. “I devour books, love cooking and enjoy finding some time to get some exercise – yoga, dancing and aerobics are some of my faves.”
What does Jill like most about her job? “It’s great to see volunteers rising above the cultural and language barriers between themselves and the communities. That, and every day is completely different, which is the way I like it- it keeps me from getting bored.” Being ‘allergic’ to being bored has led to Manow doing some pretty amazing things. “I once ended up spending a week living in a cave with some Buddhist monks while I helped them build a small adobe monk hut.”