Thailand Elephant Conservation Global Citizens

Explore the lush mountainous region of northern Thailand and contribute to vital elephant conservation efforts.

Program information

Join GVI and discover Thailand. Students will explore and participate in conservation and environmental awareness projects that contribute to the United Nations Development Goals (UN SDGs) #4: Quality Education and #15: Life on Land. Volunteers will have the opportunity to support essential community and conservation project work in and around the traditional Karen community of Huay Pakoot. Visit local markets, hike through tropical jungles, view spectacular waterfalls, go bamboo water rafting, and participate in traditional Thai cooking and basket-weaving classes.

What's Included
Parent Info
Support & Safety
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Speak to alumni

Program overview

Experience the breathtaking mountainous area of Chiang Mai when you arrive in Thailand. A peaceful town which is home to many temples, the group will be able to take in the sites and enjoy the local cuisine.  

After that, there will be the opportunity to further explore Thailand and learn about its culture. The group will visit Mae Chaem, where time might be spent hiking to see spectacular waterfalls or visiting the local market. Or there may be the option to take a language lesson to learn the local language, Pakinyaw. The group could also take a day to visit a buddhist monastery and learn about the practices and traditions of Buddhism. 

For the service component, groups will focus on activities such as promoting and increasing ethical elephant tourism as well as working on sustainable community development initiatives to create a viable self-sustaining ecotourism program for the village. As well as contributing towards the UN SDGs, the experience will offer insight into conservation issues facing the region and the measures the GVI team and their partners are taking in response to them.

During your time on this program in Thailand, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more about Thai culture, helping you kickstart your journey toward becoming a global citizen.

*This overview is an example of the activities and project work that students might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date and can be discussed further with your group enrollment manager. The overview shown here has been followed by our staff and group volunteers in the past.

Choose your bespoke itinerary

Select one of three expedition types where the activities are customised to meet your group’s specific goals.
Impact expeditions
Advanced activities
Communication skills
Emotional intelligence
Conservation initiatives
Community projects
Most Popular
Challenger expeditions
Comprehensive activities
Leadership skills
Explorer expeditions
Exciting activities
Cultural sensitivity
Positive mental health

Program details


The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date.

Day 1

Welcome to Thailand! Hit up a local street market and learn how to order food in Thai. Then head to base and get to know your new friends over a traditional Thai feast.

Day 2

Health and safety training is followed by an introduction to the local Karen community’s culture and history, including the role elephants play in the community, different conservation practices and a traditional blessing.

Day 3

Start the day with a hike through the jungle to learn about ethical elephant monitoring. You'll also learn about the local Pakinyaw language, including a few basic phrases to use throughout your trip.

Day 4

Conduct elephant conservation surveys that contribute data to vital citizen science databases before being led on a very special journey through the forest by a Karen elder sharing their expertise on traditional plants and medicines.

Day 5

Hike up to a cave, where you’ll get an up-close and personal look at the role bats play in the ecosystem. Later, you’ll debate the complex ethics of animal tourism.

Day 6

Continue contributing to local conservation efforts through elephant monitoring. Then immerse yourself in Karen custom and culture with a traditional jewellery making class.

Day 7

Spend your morning contributing to a community development project. After lunch, return to the forest to help conduct elephant health checks.

Day 8

Today is all about food! Hear from a local coffee farmer about his relationship to the land, elephants and Starbucks. Then learn how to make traditional Karen dishes with local ingredients and traditional cooking methods.

Day 9 – 10

Using traditional navigation techniques, hike through a deciduous forest and conduct bird and gibbon surveys. Spend the night camping in the forest, and discuss what you’ve learned about conservation and Karen culture around the fire.

Day 11

After a team reflection session, spend the day at a vibrant street market and experience local handicrafts and traditional street food. A perfect chance to put those language lessons to the test!

Day 12

Learn about the significance of Thailand's royal family and visit the famous chedis (Buddhist stupas) in Doi Inthanon National Park. At the summit, you'll be treated to spectacular views of Northern Thailand.

Day 13

Learn traditional Muay Thai self defence techniques. End the day with a special final dinner, celebrating with your new friends, reflecting on your achievements and discussing your impact.

Day 14

It’s time to say goodbye. Before heading to the airport and home, make sure you know how to stay in touch with your new friends and take a few final photos to remember your adventures.

What’s included?

What's Included
A rest and relaxation activity/excursion
24/7 backup and support
A dedicated trip co-ordinator
Access to local medical facilities
Comprehensive health and safety procedures (Emergency Action Plans and Risk Assessments)
First aid equipment
All meals
Group leader and teacher
Highly experienced and well qualified GVI field staff
In-country transport is arranged
Pre-departure information
Up-to-date safety and country information
What's Excluded
Pre-departure withdrawal insurance
Travel insurance - unless otherwise stipulated
Medical insurance - unless otherwise stipulated (medical aid details will need to be provided)
Flights - unless otherwise stipulated
Personal kit
Additional spending money - maximum of $200 allowed

Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

GVI is a proud member of the Gap Year Association.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.

Support & Safety

We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.


View support and safety protocols


View risk mitigation

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01 Sep, 2022

A couple things I want to highlight is that food was ALWAYS ready on time. This made a big difference and i think mentioned it every day. There was never waiting around for food or ...


31 Aug, 2022

Fantastic and memory marking

Nishay Bhaga

17 Aug, 2022

Excellent. It was engaging, interesting and fun.

Kiara Luis

17 Aug, 2022

GVI is a great experience. I made many new friends and learnt many new things. I enjoyed myself greatly.

Emanuele Lionetti

17 Aug, 2022

It was pretty incredible to see a lot of marine life, I was really close to all of the animals I saw!


16 Aug, 2022

It was fun, I highly recommend this and what an experience

Thina Mpinda

24 Jul, 2022

9/10!! Food and accommodation was good game drives and bush walks were lots of fun. Activity in the community was eye opening and I learnt so much info about conservation.

Agnieszka Latka

24 Jul, 2022

What a privilege to be part of GVI's first corporate program. I wish I could describe more eloquently how meaningful this experience was for me. The volunteering activities we part ...

Matthew Hopf

21 Jul, 2022

The whole program overall was extremely insightful and taught me so much I loved helping the community and the 2 game drives were amazing.

Lili Becker

21 Jul, 2022

I think it was overall a really memorable experience.

Imran Lodhi

26 Jun, 2022

One of the best experiences In my life and a huge thank you to Vanessa, Brookland, Gay and Carrie for all your help, care and support. They are absolutely amazing and an inspiratio ...

Anna Legra’di

01 Jun, 2022

The programs were overall pretty good i loved every moment especially when we went out boating.

Liam Detert

31 May, 2022

This was a once in a lifetime experience and I will remember this forever. This trip was truly exceptional. It wasn't just the animals I saw things or things I learnt, but the peop ...


30 May, 2022

I loved this trip. I learnt a lot of new things and got to know people.

Zayana Variava

28 May, 2022

It was a unforgettable experience. I learnt a lot and I'm so glad I signed up for the program. Will treasure the memories forever and use everything I learnt in the future!

Mark Berenyi

24 May, 2022

I loved my experience here, because we did some extremely engaging and fun activities, and I clearly felt that we actually did something for the environment.

Bernadette Fagan

24 May, 2022

To volunteer with GVI is an experience that will change your life forever - in the most positive way. Do it if you possibly can!

Josh De Smedt

23 May, 2022

Overall a pleasant and enriching experience. Students were given the opportunity to learn and grow and have fun in the process


21 May, 2022

We enjoyed and appreciated the generosity and professionalism in GVI staff from the early stage about communication to the farewell. Everything has been well coordinated and clearl ...

Jaiden Rama

21 May, 2022

My experience was amazing and I enjoyed how GVI is so caring towards the environment.

Marlene van Rensburg

20 May, 2022

How wonderful to experience the bush in such a hands on way. The permaculture community garden was a humbling and uplifting experience. Thank you for this opportunity.


17 May, 2022

It was truly enriching in its purest form. I believe I gained so much from just committing to it.

Alexander von La Chevallerie

16 May, 2022

I wish in all honesty that the trip would go on forever. It was such a good experience from the community service to game drives. I have changed.


04 May, 2022

It was a good experience and I would recommend it to other people

Stephen Scott

30 Apr, 2022

This was a once in a lifetime trip. It significantly exceeded my expectations. The planning was seamless.

Bianca Ribeiro

10 Apr, 2022

The way the program was structured was really helped the way we we understood things. Nothing was rushed and they took their time explaining.

Samantha Dore

09 Apr, 2022

The program gives you an excellent experience. I definitely learnt a lot. I will definitely not miss the bugs but I will miss all the quality time I shared with everyone.

Kiera Howard

08 Apr, 2022

I really enjoyed this journey and learned so much.


28 Mar, 2022

I would rate my time here a 10/10. I really enjoyed all that we were able to do and I had a lot of fun.

Sean Smith

25 Mar, 2022

Very good program. Exposes participants to the bush and local community. A really great opportunity for the youth interested in making a difference in the world.

Dillon Feinstein

05 Mar, 2022

The facilities were really good and very clean. All the planned activities were very educational. All the staff were amazing. Definitely one of the top camps I have been on.

Rick Silverman

17 Feb, 2022

Six stars out of five; it was that good! GVI took great care of us and handled all logistics flawlessly. The program itself was very engaging and helped us better understand the cu ...


15 Feb, 2022

The GVI programme in Tenerife has been such rewarding, fun, thought and action provoking experience for both students and us as teachers. Cant recommend GVI highly ebough.


15 Feb, 2022

It was a wonderful experience. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity.

Jaynal Rama

06 Jan, 2022

The experience is really worth it - you make friends and the learning is fun. The animal tracking was enjoyable. The food, travelling and rooms were nice. Amy and Ryan were tops.

Megan Cable, Ohio State University

08 Jun, 2018

My name is Megan Cable and I work at Ohio State alongside Brittany Savko. I was the staff lead for our May trip with GVI Costa Rica. I wanted to write to you to let you know we ...

Chris MacDonald, Stella’s School

08 Jun, 2018

We had a great experience in Nepal this year. The work project was awesome! This is mainly due to the site preparation by GVI and their affiliates in the village of Bandipur. ...

Matty Leadbetter, Newton International School

08 Jun, 2018

I thoroughly recommend GVI to anyone; whether you are an educator looking to take a group away, or an individual looking for a career break. I took a group of my students to Sou ...

Rhiannon Harvey, Duke University

25 Jul, 2017

I want to work as a marine biologist, so this program was a unique (and fun) way to experience several different methods of marine conservation, like sea turtle husbandry, biodi ...

Kevin Hwang, Duke University

25 Jul, 2017

My experience these past two months has been rewarding, educational, and transformative. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct service and have an impact on the surrounding commun ...

Emma, Duke University

25 Jul, 2017

I have known that I want to be a veterinarian since I was three years old. As such, I began surrounding myself with animals and science at a very young age. In high school and e ...

Erin McCarthy, Endicott College

17 Mar, 2017

The opportunity to come to South Africa and work with GVI has been life changing. As nurses in the United States, we are often times not exposed to many different cultures. Comi ...

Kori Kosiorek, Endicott College

16 Mar, 2017

This opportunity has been life changing. I wasn’t expecting much before getting to South Arica, but upon arrival and for the past two weeks all of my memories and experiences ha ...

Erin, Endicott College

16 Mar, 2017

Coming to South Africa to work with GVI was a once in a lifetime experience. I feel as if I gained so much knowledge and was able to be immersed in a captivating culture. I hope ...

Brittany Bushy, Endicott College

16 Mar, 2017

My experience in South Africa has been life changing. I really enjoyed how GVI also incorporated learning about the African culture as well as volunteering. My absolute favorite ...

Abagail Harris, Endicott College

16 Mar, 2017

I thought this experience was unforgettable! The amount of things that we saw and people with interacted with was unreal! I learned and improved my nursing skills by teaching th ...

Karen Young, Duke University

09 Nov, 2016

This trip has been a life-changing experience. I started the trip unsure of how I would adapt to Indian culture, I have found myself loving learning about more. Their customs, m ...

Harshel Garg, Duke University

09 Nov, 2016

I’ve learned more than I ever imagined I would. I didn’t know that some of my best teachers in life would come from such unexpected places. I had started the trip unsure of how ...

Genevieve George

09 Nov, 2016

I couldn’t think of a better way to learn about this amazing country and the experience was more than I could have asked for. This trip was so well organized and jam –packed wit ...

Eric Martin, AFS

09 Nov, 2016

Through the scholarship program that AFS gave, I was able to go to a place that not only gave me a great travelling experience, but a great chance to make friends and serve othe ...

Elissa, Wellspring Learning Community

09 Nov, 2016

Throughout this trip I grew as a person while helping others and challenging myself. This trip has been enlightening getting to know how the new environment around me works and ...

Mohamed, Wellspring Learning Community

09 Nov, 2016

When we first reached Nepal I was actually surprised because it looked exactly like Uganda where I used to live because of how there were many mini shops and they’re tightly pac ...

Amal, Wellspring Learning Community

09 Nov, 2016

Coming to Nepal was a new thing for me. I’ve always wanted to help people around the world and this was the best and greatest opportunity for me to come here, try new things and ...

Matthew Leadbetter

10 Sep, 2014

GVI have looked after us from the very beginning, but most importantly for me they ensured that our trip was an exact fit to what we were looking for. I thoroughly recommend GVI ...

Susan Greaney

08 Jul, 2014

The GVI team has done wonders for this lovely community! The students who participated have been thrilled at the amazing results from their efforts! We would love to come back a ...

Tim Douglas

02 Feb, 2014

Having spent 10 years planning and leading school adventures for young people I have experienced first-hand the benefits and valuable life skills that group travel brings. I hav ...

Your Impact

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

GVI Chiang Mai’s programs work in collaboration with the local Karen hill tribe community and village of Huay Pakoot. To promote sustainable ecotourism, we work with the elephant-keeping community to assist monitor the introduction of elephants into their natural habitat after their previous lives in tourist camps.

Your contribution will assist in keeping these elephants in protected forests, continuing the conservation of these beautiful animals and what remains of their fragmented forest habitats, as well as providing funding to keep the project running. We also offer alternative livelihoods and English lessons to the local community. Upskilling in English helps facilitate a self-sustainable ecotourism industry. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socialising, and foraging in their natural habitat – supervised by their mahouts (elephant keepers) from the local village.

Elephant Surveys

We work with local mahouts to track elephants in the forest – collecting behavioural data through observation, taking note of the following:

  • Two-minute interval activity budget on each elephant.
  • Interaction with other elephants.
  • Vocalisation recordings (written not audio).
  • Monitoring stereotyping behaviour.

Every week we do a health check (eye drainage, tongue check etc.) It’s important to note that we have a hands-off approach.

Gibbon surveys

We gather data from song and visual surveys of white-handed gibbons, assisting scientists in expanding their understanding of gibbon ecology and conservation status in the Chiang Mai region. Typically, you’ll assist in survey planning, GPS tracking, camera trap setup, photography, gibbon sound recording, data sheet entries and database input.

Biodiversity Hikes

We conduct day and night biodiversity hikes, recording any species we see, including birds, gibbons, bats, snakes, reptiles, lizards, amphibians, frogs and toads. We add the images to iNaturalist and eBird.

Quality Education

We work with the local government school – with both teachers and students. Our school-based teaching involves English language, health and wellness workshops, environmental education workshops and sports activities. Our community-based lessons involve adult and child learners in the community. These are often informal evening sessions, based around what the learners want to learn.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). We want to be able to measure our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, so all our staff and volunteers know which UN SDGs they’re making a substantial contribution to. This also helps our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you’ll be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. Then, once on base you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also insight into how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Project objectives


GVI Chiang Mai Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase and promote ethical elephant tourism.

2. Support a stable herd of elephants living naturally in the forested area of the village.

3. Create a viable self-sustaining ecotourism program for the village.

4. Improve standards of living and job opportunities for people in the Huay Pakoot village.

5. Enhance sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area.

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.

Our 10 ethical commitments


Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.


Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.

Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.

However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.

Program ethics

No orphanage programs

We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.

Learn more
Child and vulnerable adult protection policy

Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.

Learn more
No medical volunteering

We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.

Learn more
No disability support programs

We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.

Learn more
Aligned to local objectives

Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.

Local employees remain employed

Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.

Local employees remain focused

Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.

Speak to alumni

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Get a first-hand perspective

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