In this article, we take a look at what makes Thailand a prime destination for your gap year, what you can expect when you arrive, and some top picks for gap year programs.
A Gap Year in Thailand
If you’re one of the thousands of American students who are taking a gap year off before, during, or after college, you’re definitely part of a growing trend. In fact, studies have shownthat gap years abroad help you to discover more about yourself. Whether you are a student or someone in between jobs or careers, spending a gap year abroad is a wonderful way to enhance your life by gaining a new perspective on another culture and the world.
By volunteering abroad, you get to see a side of a culture that many tourists don’t see. Volunteering with the right organization in a structured gap year program provides a host of benefits, namely: translators, hands-on guides to the heart of a city, and a relationship with a meaningful program that is dedicated to having a positive and lasting impact on the culture.
What You Can Expect Upon Arrival
Thailand is one of the world’s most visited destinations. With its exotic culture, intense nightlife, pristine beaches and delicious cuisine, Thailand is always a favorite. But on the other side of paradise is reality: many Thai people still struggle to make ends meet. Few families in distant provinces can afford to send their children to proper schools. Refugees in northern hilltops face many difficulties. The changing environment needs preservation–and so do the rare animal species of Thailand.
You may find, upon arrival in Bangkok, that the language is your first difficulty. Thai people have their own alphabet and unique way of writing. That’s another reason why volunteering with a trusted charity organization is a good idea. You’ll avoid miscommunication when you have a translator.
Expect a tropical, humid climate. It’s warm the whole year in Thailand, like in most Southeast Asian countries. The rainy season is May to October, with some monsoon and rain showers lasting for days. Most volunteers love visiting in January or February, when the air is cooler. April and May are the hottest months.
But Thais do love air conditioning! Malls, restaurants and classrooms in the city will usually have air conditioners. Plus, it’s cheap to buy comfy, loose-fitting clothes from the many street markets available.
In Thailand, you’ll eat flavorful meals every day. You might even pick up some Thai cooking tips with your host family!
Top Programs For A Gap Year In Thailand
Volunteer opportunities in Thailand range from working with ethnic hilltop tribes to raising environmental awareness and teaching English to kids. Below are some top programs available for gap year students:
International Volunteer Headquarters
With programs in 35 destinations around the globe, International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) is one of the world’s top volunteer travel companies. IVHQ Thailand is based in Chiang Rai, a beautiful province in the north, full of history and scenic mountain ranges. Working with the hill tribes, you can teach English or care for children. If you prefer more intense physical work, join the Construction and Renovation project in Outside Work where you may have the chance to build a water tank, maintain a vegetable garden, or help paint a school. IVHQ offers programs starting at $320 for one week.
Chiang Rai enjoys a cooler climate and can drop to 15 degrees Celsius in December, so those Thai wraps you pack may come in handy.
“Volunteering with IVHQ in Thailand was definitely one of the best things I’ve done in my life. It is an amazing experience and I recommend everyone to do it. I grew as a person and gained a lot of confidence as well as responsibility. I am thankful for every minute there and I hope others will have an experience as good as mine in Thailand. Thank you.”
In Thailand, Love Volunteers is active in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Surin, Kanchanaburi and Koh Samui Island. They offer minimum stays of a week which start at around $500, for volunteers at least 18 years old. Besides making a difference, you’ll really enjoy this Thai experience. You’ll have the unique opportunity to sail down the Mekong River or Kok River in traditional rafts, or see the wonderful flora and fauna of Chiang Mai.
Ever wanted to feed or bathe elephants? You can join the Elephant Village project in Surin. If you prefer working with children, you can sign up for the Teaching English project on Koh Samui Island in the Gulf of Thailand. Native English speakers, with and without a teaching background, are a tremendous help to the Education Support projects in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There’s also the unique chance to help Buddhist monks learn and practice English.
Final Considerations Before Heading Off
Ultimately, it’s what you decide to do with your gap year that will make it meaningful. Spending your gap year in Thailand could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. You might find that your year “off” turns out to be what turns you on to what really matters in terms of your school, career, or life goals. Discover more volunteer abroad opportunities and packages with Volunteer Forever, and get planning and packing today!
Nikki Martinez · Guest Writer
Nikki Martinez was born to missionary parents who did full-time volunteer work in the Philippines, India and Thailand. She spent many years working with various charities in the Philippines--in orphanages, hospitals, disaster sites and the country's maximum security prison.