Thailand will always be one my favorite travel destinations, and I’m certainly not alone in thinking this. In fact, every year literally millions of people from all over the world choose Thailand as a place to spend their vacations.
And it’s hard to blame them. The country has everything that any traveler could ever want. There are, of course, the world-class beaches and inviting turquoise waters. But there are also lush jungles, exotic varieties of plants and animals, bustling cities, and mountainous landscapes.
Besides the scenery Thailand also has some of the happiest, most friendly people you could ever hope to meet, among the most delicious food on the planet, and an extremely low cost of living.
While all of these factors justify the country’s enduring popularity with travelers, the fact that Thailand is so blessed has arguably had a negative impact on some areas.
On the one hand, it’s great that so many tourists flock to Thailand, and it has certainly helped to lift much of the country out of economic difficulties. However, the travel and tourism industry tends to focus the majority of its marketing efforts on a few specific areas, meaning they have inevitably become a little overrun by tourists, especially in high season.
For me, and I imagine for many travelers, overcrowding is capable of ruining trips and taking away drastically from the authenticity of a destination.
So, when I was recently planning a 2 month trip backpacking around Thailand, I decided to make avoiding the crowds a priority. My other main priority was that I wanted do something a bit different. I’ve traveled a lot over the years, and I fancied a change from the same old travel formula. On top of this, I enjoy helping people and like to think of myself as an empathic person.
So I figured that the best way to satisfy all of these preferences would be to spend 6 weeks – the majority of my trip – working as a volunteer in Thailand.
Thailand might be famous as a tourist destination, but the continuing and endemic poverty throughout the country should not be overlooked. This makes it a very rewarding place for volunteers to work.
Here are some of the ways that volunteering helped me to experience the real Thailand, and why it was probably my best trip to date.
It got me off the tourist trail
Besides the fact that I got to help a great cause of my choice, volunteering also conveniently got me out of the tourist hotspots and into the real Thailand. My project was based in the Trat province of the country, which is a hugely overlooked region in the northeast of the country.
It was so relaxing being away from the crowds, exploring the beautiful region at my own pace and without feeling like just another faceless tourist.
I got to make a tangible difference
There are endless projects to pick from, with some organizations doing more good than others, and catering to different budgets. This is why it’s important to do your research and choose a good organization if you’re considering a stint as a volunteer.
Due to my love of computers and the fact I enjoy working with kids, I chose to teach computer and IT skills to schoolchildren. It was a brilliant experience, and most importantly I could see the positive impact of my work right in front of me.
Seeing the effects of your hard work is what makes it worth it, and for me it was the best part of the trip.
I made friends with amazing people
By working as a volunteer in a community, you quickly become a recognizable face around town. People know that you are there to help, and so you’re more readily welcomed into the community than you would be as a normal tourist.
This acceptance makes it far easier to chat to locals, and I ended up making all sorts of friends with the local Thais. As a computer teacher, I also developed a great relationships with the kids in my classes, and it was excellent to have an insight into their ways of life. I even managed to pick up some of the language.
If you want to experience another side of Thailand, volunteer
Volunteering in Thailand was probably the best traveling experience of my life, and certainly the most unique.
I can’t think of a better way to see beyond the tourist-oriented face of a country and experience what life there is really like, all while helping a good cause, so I would recommend it to anybody.