Travel and Volunteer in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia

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Updated for 2024

With many Southeast Asian countries removing quarantine and COVID-19 testing requirements, the region is regaining its status as a favorite corner of the world for globetrotters. Tucked between the Indian and Pacific oceans, and at the intersection of major geological plates, the area is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations despite the fact it regularly endures earthquakes and volcanic activities. Still, visitors can’t resist Southeast Asia’s year-round tropical climate, gorgeous beaches, rich and varied cultural encounters, fabulous food, and low cost of living.

Home to some of the world’s most beautiful Buddhist and Hindu temples, Southeast Asia’s craftsmanship is awe-inspiring. Its architecture is enduring, as these religious testaments have lasted for centuries. Many temples are protected – and some even rebuilt – thanks to their UNESCO World Heritage status. While you’re volunteering in Southeast Asia, be sure to visit the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in Thailand, or Prambanan and Borobudur in Indonesia.

Know Before You Go

While it’s doubtful you’ll be able to visit them all in one journey, there are 11 Southeast Asian countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam.

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The climate doesn’t vary much in this region. In the equatorial parts, which include Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines, there are two seasons – wet and dry – with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. Some areas receive more than 60 inches of rain each year. The mainland, or Indochina region, which includes north/central Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, experiences hot wet, and dry seasons, with temperatures climbing as high as 104! At the opposite end of the climate spectrum, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar have mountains so high that snow falls every year, and Indonesia and Myanmar boast permanent glaciers.

People have been here for a long time. Archaeological excavations in Southeast Asia, a landscape characterized by mountain ranges, plains, and plateaus, date some fossils to one million years ago! Historically, it’s a culturally diverse region, home to 620 million people speaking more than 1,000 of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, and a mix of major cultures from India and China.

People from India began to migrate into Southeast Asia, traveling across the Bay of Bengal, and down rivers into the various countries of the mainland. These immigrants brought the Sanskrit inscriptions with them, which are still part of the modern languages of Thai, Lao, Burmese, and Khmer. Then, around 4,000 years ago, people from southern China and Taiwan began to trickle into the archipelagos of East Timor, Indonesia, and the Philippines, as well as Malaysia on the mainland.

Historically, religions in Southeast Asia were predominantly Buddhist and Hindu, until Islamic teachings spread throughout Southeast Asia around the 13th century. This fact was documented by Marco Polo, an Italian merchant, and explorer who visited Sumatra in 1292. Islam is the state religion of Malaysia and Brunei and is practiced by 85% of the population of Indonesia, however, Muslims are a minority in Singapore and the southern Philippines.

Southeast Asia’s recent history is rife with colonization by other powerful European countries, including Great Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, and even the United States, until Japan conquered virtually all of the territory (with the exception of Thailand) during World War II. Still, Thailand’s treaty of peace allowed Japan to establish military bases there. The war years were a time of great hardship for the people of Southeast Asia, but eventually, these countries gained their independence.

Today, some countries of Southeast Asia are experiencing what’s called the “Tiger Cub Economies,” a time of high rate of economic growth achieved by employing an export-driven model of technology and economic development. This model is used by South Korea Taiwan, and the cities of Hong Kong and Singapore, collectively known as the “Four Asian Tigers.”

Yet, with this newfound wealth, and despite being one of the most fertile and resource-rich regions in the world, there is widespread corruption and wealth remains in the hands of an elite few. According to Natalia Soebagjo, chair of Transparency International Indonesia, “Southeast Asia is home to some of the richest, fastest-growing economies, as well as some of the planet’s poorest people. Battling corruption is an integral part of sustainable growth and reducing income inequality.”

When you plan your tour of Southeast Asia, you can help counter the negative aspects of corruption by traveling responsibly and volunteering with sustainable programs that lift up the vulnerable communities here. From teaching conversational English to schoolchildren to helping conserve iconic animals such as elephants and orangutans that draw ecotourism, and even building a community center or repairing a temple, there are worthwhile outlets for your energy and enthusiasm, as well as tasks that will enrich your soul.

Keep reading to learn more about volunteer travel organizations that deliver high-quality programs and experiences, while maintaining safety and affordability, in Southeast Asia!

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International TEFL Academy

Do you want to get paid to live abroad as a professional English teacher in Southeast Asia?

Founded in 2010, the International TEFL Academy (ITA) is renowned for offering globally recognized TEFL certification courses in over 20 locations around the world. Renowned for its Level 5 Ofqual accreditation from TQUK, ITA has established a vast network of partner schools throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. ITA certifies about 6,000 individuals annually, with alumni teaching in over 80 countries. The academy provides a range of courses that meet international standards and include practical teaching experiences. Another notable offer is their guaranteed job placement program in Asia, where participants are matched to positions in approved schools that best meet their preferences with top salaries. 

All ITA TEFL courses – including online TEFL classes –  include live practice teaching & employ a state-of-the-art curriculum taught by highly credentialed and experienced instructors. In addition, all ITA students receive lifetime job search assistance that includes personalized guidance from our team of expert advisors. To learn more & begin your journey, download your free TEFL Guide now.

Teach English in Thailand

Head to the ‘Land of Smiles’ and teach English in one of Asia’s fastest-growing markets. Destinations abound for teaching English in Thailand too. You can choose to teach in the bustling city of Bangkok, journey to the beaches of Phuket, or experience the jungles of Chiang Mai. It’s up to you. If you have a 4-year degree and TEFL training through ITA, obtaining a job in the location of your choice shouldn’t be a problem. English teaching jobs are in abundance in primary schools, language centers, universities, and other educational institutions. Salary is quite solid, typically between $1,000 – $2,000+ monthly, and usually more than enough to live comfortably in Thailand.

Teach English in Vietnam

Head to Vietnam and teach English in one of Asia’s fastest-growing markets. Enjoy low living costs, delicious cuisine, and stunning landscapes. To teach, you’ll need a TEFL certification and a bachelor’s degree. Native English speakers are preferred. Average salaries range from $1,100 to $1,500 per month. TEFL courses are available in Ho Chi Minh City, or online. Benefit from comprehensive job placement support, cultural orientation, and 24/7 in-country assistance. Make a difference and explore Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage. Enroll now for an incredible journey.

International Volunteer HQ

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) has built its reputation as a trusted, low-cost volunteer program provider since its launch in 2007. IVHQ offers more than 200 affordable volunteer programs worldwide; including the following Southeast Asian countries:

IVHQ partners with local NGOs and organizations that invite volunteers to gain meaningful experiences. IVHQ volunteers receive a comprehensive information booklet in preparation for their trip and guidance from an experienced team of volunteer travel experts who will ensure you are well prepared for your trip.

With online training, airport pick-up, program orientation, safe accommodations, and meaningful volunteer work, IVHQ offers outstanding Southeast Asia volunteer programs that support the long-term goals of host communities in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. 

The IVHQ team can provide recommendations for tours or trips that you can take during your free time and on weekends, as well.

Volunteer in Cambodia

Join IVHQ for a volunteer program in Cambodia and while you’re in-country, visit Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, or Battambang. Program placements you can consider include:

  1. Teaching English to schoolchildren
  2. Working with NGOs in the areas of human rights, health, and gender issues
  3. Caring for children 
  4. Special needs care for children aged 5 to 18
  5. Animal care for abandoned cats and dogs in need at shelters
  6. Volunteer in a pediatrics hospital assisting and observing local staff 

In-country orientation covers everything you need to know for your stay in Cambodia, and once you’re ready to start your program, a coordinator will escort you on your first day volunteering, introducing you to the placement staff. Each day, you’ll be assigned a duty roster, and work and hours are dependent upon the project and location.

You’ll stay with other volunteers in a shared house or homestay in Cambodia, and during your weekends and free time, you’re encouraged to explore temples, national parks, and beaches. Learn more and apply here.

Volunteer in Lombok, Indonesia

Is Bali looking a bit overcrowded? Experience the untouched paradise of Lombok with IVHQ’s volunteer programs. Enjoy white sandy beaches and a rugged landscape, perfect for making a difference in local communities. Located in Senggigi, IVHQ offers trusted projects, including Turtle Conservation, Construction, Health Education, and Teaching. Highlights include year-round project options, airport pick-up, orientation, accommodation, meals, and 24/7 in-country support.

Intern Abroad HQ

Intern Abroad HQ provides affordable and flexible internship opportunities for students, graduates, and young professionals around the world. They offer a wide range of internship programs across various fields that focus on providing immersive experiences that combine professional development with cultural exchange, helping participants gain practical skills and global perspectives. Their programs are designed to be accessible, with options for customized start dates and program durations, allowing interns to tailor their experiences to fit their personal and professional goals.

Intern in Bali

Intern in Bali with Intern Abroad HQ and explore stunning beaches, lush rice terraces, ancient temples, and volcanoes. Choose from a wide range of programs including Event Management, Marketing & Sales, Media & Communications, Tourism & Hospitality, Fashion & Textiles, Food Science, Finance, Architecture, and Civil Engineering. Enjoy accommodation in shared lodging with a private room and bathroom. Start dates are every Monday, with internships lasting from 8 to 24 weeks.

Intern in Thailand

Intern in Thailand with Intern Abroad HQ and develop underwater research skills while enhancing your scuba diving proficiency. Contribute to meaningful underwater research, monitoring, restoration, and conservation projects. Gain in-depth knowledge of coral reef ecosystems, their threats, and ways to protect them. The program includes mentorship from marine biologists, scientific dives, and surveys. Interns enjoy accommodation, start dates every two months, and internships lasting from 4 to 12 weeks. Explore the attractions of Koh Tao and the beauty of Thailand while contributing to marine conservation efforts.

GoEco

Founded in 2006, GoEco features more than 150 projects across the globe, including numerous high-quality volunteer programs in Southeast Asia

Whether you want to work at an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia or be a medical volunteer in Vietnam, GoEco is an excellent organization if you’re looking to travel and volunteer in Southeast Asia. Additionally, GoEco conveniently offers 24-hour support and travel insurance for volunteers during the program.

Volunteer in Bali

Volunteering in Bali offers diverse and impactful experiences. At Bali Sea Turtle Rescue, join a dedicated team on Nusa Penida Island to care for and release rehabilitated sea turtles, enjoying turquoise beaches along the way. The Construction and Renovation program involves helping rebuild and develop local communities by renovating buildings, fostering cultural exchange, and making a lasting difference. The Education in Bali initiative places volunteers in Ubud, teaching English in underdeveloped villages, inspiring sustainable futures, and providing an immersive cultural experience. Each program enhances your Bali experience and allows you to contribute meaningfully.

Volunteer in Thailand

Volunteer in Hua Hin, Thailand, and give back to the local community by teaching English in schools. Immerse yourself in Thai culture and enjoy beautiful beaches during your free time. Assist in the renovation of inadequate housing and local buildings, improving the lives of families. Volunteer at an elephant sanctuary near Bangkok, where rescued elephants live chain-free. Join a Wildlife Rescue Center, aiding in the rehabilitation of endangered species. Experience family-friendly volunteer programs, making a difference together in the stunning Hua Hin region.

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad is an organization that offers volunteer and internship opportunities around the world. They provide a variety of programs in the following Southeast Asian countries:

Participants can choose from short-term projects lasting a few weeks to long-term placements. The organization focuses on making a positive impact on local communities while offering volunteers and interns valuable experiences and skills development. They support volunteers with comprehensive pre-departure information, in-country support, and cultural immersion activities.

Intern in the Philippines

Interning in the Philippines offers diverse opportunities to gain practical experience and make a significant impact. For example, the Physical Therapy Internship allows you to help treat people with disabilities at a community rehabilitation center established by a former intern. You’ll conduct house-to-house visits, showing patients and caregivers exercises they can do at home, supervised by a qualified physical therapist. 

The Occupational Therapy Internship involves assessing and treating patients at a rehabilitation center, conducting home visits, and creating home exercise programs. You’ll exchange knowledge with local staff and students, enhancing your skills. 

The Medical Internship lets you learn from doctors in hospitals or health centers, participate in medical outreach, and gain experience in various departments such as emergency, surgery, and obstetrics. Each program offers flexible start and end dates and aims to improve the quality of specialized care while providing you with invaluable international work experience.

Volunteer in Cambodia

Volunteer in Cambodia and teach English to underprivileged children in Phnom Penh. Gain valuable teaching experience in kindergartens and primary schools, improving students’ conversational English through interactive games. No prior teaching experience is required, just a passion for helping children.

Alternatively, join the childcare program in Phnom Penh and support early childhood development. Organize educational activities, improve hygiene practices, and assist local staff. Experience Cambodia’s rich culture and history while making a positive impact on disadvantaged communities. Both programs provide accommodation and the opportunity to explore Cambodia’s beautiful sights in your free time.

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI) is an organization that facilitates volunteer and intern placements worldwide. IVI offers a range of programs in various countries, including:

IVI aims to support sustainable development and cultural exchange, providing volunteers with opportunities to contribute meaningfully and immerse themselves in new cultures. The organization emphasizes ethical volunteering, ensuring that all projects align with the needs and priorities of local communities.

Volunteer in Laos

Volunteering in Laos offers a unique and rewarding experience through various programs. In Luang Prabang, volunteers can teach English to students aged 10 to 25, focusing on conversational skills, basic grammar, and creative lesson plans to inspire future education. 

The Kindergarten Teaching program engages young children with fun activities, songs, and games, helping them develop confidence and communication skills. Volunteers also assist with daily care and educational tasks. 

For those interested in hands-on work, the Construction program involves renovating schools, temples, and community buildings, improving local infrastructure, and creating a healthier environment for children. 

Volunteers live in a shared dorm in the picturesque city of Luang Prabang, with easy access to local attractions and amenities, making their stay both impactful and enjoyable.

Volunteer in Vietnam

IVI offers opportunities in bustling Ho Chi Minh City and the beautiful beach area of Phan Thiet. Teach English to college students or kindergarten children, support a local NGO providing low-cost meals, care for children with special needs, or shadow medical professionals in a government hospital. All programs include accommodation, meals, airport pickup, local transportation, orientation, and 24/7 support. Experience Vietnamese culture while making a positive impact on local communities.

Volunteering Solutions (VolSol)

Established in 2006, VolSol aims to provide meaningful travel experiences that benefit both the volunteers and the communities they serve. Their programs cover diverse areas worldwide, including the following Southeast Asian locations:

With a focus on responsible and sustainable travel, VolSol ensures that volunteers make a positive impact while gaining valuable cultural insights and personal growth. The organization provides comprehensive support, including pre-departure information, in-country assistance, and accommodations, ensuring a safe and enriching experience for all participants.

Volunteer in Malaysia

Volunteering in Malaysia offers unique opportunities to contribute to wildlife conservation and community development. The Sun Bear Conservation Volunteering Project allows volunteers to work at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, caring for the smallest bears in the world and contributing to their habitat conservation. Volunteers engage in animal care, construction, and renovation work. 

Another program, the Borneo Wildlife Safari & Volunteering Experience, immerses participants in the rainforests of Borneo, focusing on wildlife population observation, habitat restoration, and community development. 

Families can also join the Family Volunteer Adventure, working together on wildlife conservation and habitat restoration while exploring the beautiful Sabah region. These programs provide hands-on experience, cultural exchange, and the chance to make a meaningful impact.

Intern in Thailand

Intern with Volunteering Solutions in Thailand for valuable work experience in healthcare and journalism based in tranquil Chiang Mai. Medical interns work in hospitals, choosing departments like general surgery, orthopedics, and dentistry. Journalism interns contribute to a top magazine in Northern Thailand, engaging in editorial, multimedia, content writing, web design, and marketing. Interning in Thailand offers a rewarding experience, providing essential skills and opportunities to explore the country. Programs range from 1 to 24 weeks for medical internships and 4 to 24 weeks for journalism internships.

Global Vision International (GVI)

Global Vision International (GVI) specializes in award-winning and high-impact conservation and community development programs. Founded in 1997, GVI places 2,000+ people in volunteer and intern programs each year. With programs in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australasia, and Africa, GVI projects are designed toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, allowing volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to contribute to responsible projects. GVI partners with prolific organizations such as Save the Children, The Red Cross, WWF, SANParks, and The Jane Goodall Institute, as well as smaller, community-based organizations with grassroots initiatives.

GVI hosts programs out of the following Southeast Asian countries:

Volunteer to Teach English in Cambodia

Go on a spiritual journey with GVl’s English teaching volunteer program in Cambodia. This opportunity allows you to visit Kampong Cham, a city on the Mekong River, and teach English to Buddhist monks from the local community. This a great way to give back to communities and learn about their education system. You will have the chance to teach both children and adults. You’ll work closely with Cambodians during one-on-one lessons, workshops, and classes on numeracy and literacy.

Cambodia is renowned for its pristine tropical beaches and rich history of Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which you can enjoy during your two-week travel adventure to Southeast Asia. Highlights of this trip include:

  1. Working closely with the novice Buddhist monks
  2. Exploring Kampong Cham and appreciate its natural beauty and attractions
  3. Immersing yourself into the Cambodian culture and learning some of the languages
  4. Visiting iconic landmarks like the Royal Palace or the National Museum of Cambodia
  5. Sustainably impacting the lives of people through educational initiatives
  6. Growing personally and professionally and developing your teaching ability

Your orientation will provide you with everything you need to know, including a foundation of the Khmer language. Accommodation is basic but comfortable and centrally located. Communal meals are held with the other participants. 

While in-country, be sure to travel north to see Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world! Also visit the Royal Palace, a distinct landmark in Phnom Penh and the official residence of King Sihamoni. Another stop is the National Museum of Cambodia, home to an array of the finest Khmer sculptures. Read more here.

Volunteer in Chiang Mai with Elephants and Wildlife

Thinking about a trip to Thailand? GVI offers two internships and two volunteer abroad placements in Chiang Mai. All projects here take place in Mae Chaem District, a five-hour journey into the mountains, at the Karen elephant-keeping communities. The people here have shared a sacred relationship with elephants for hundreds of years.

If you’re looking for an internship, consider Elephant Conservation, which invites you to assist with biodiversity studies, and help rehabilitate rescued elephants in a sanctuary. Another internship possibility is Wildlife Conservation, a placement that allows you to help conserve animal populations and promote sustainable ecotourism.

Looking for short-term placement, but also want to work with elephants? A conservation volunteer program that invites you to help rehabilitate elephants rescued from tourist camps might be a great option. If you’re a fan of the sea, then a marine and wildlife conservation volunteer project will let you contribute to ongoing sustainable development programs.

Your project focus may change based on the needs of the community and the time you choose to travel, but regardless, your work will be both impactful and varied. Accommodations are in a shared house, with upgrades available if you prefer a private residence, and in your free time, GVI invites you to explore Thailand, enjoy the cuisine here, and make friends and unforgettable memories. Learn more and apply here.

TEFL and English Teaching Apprenticeship in Thailand

Earn your TEFL certification while completing a six-month English teaching apprenticeship in Thailand with GVI. Spend 24 weeks gaining valuable fieldwork experience in Phang Nga, known for its stunning natural beauty and authentic Thai culture. The program includes three months of intensive training with GVI, followed by a three-month work placement at a local educational institution. Immerse yourself in Thai culture, develop intercultural perspectives, and kick-start your career in teaching English abroad. With comprehensive support and a guaranteed job offer within 18 months, this apprenticeship offers an unparalleled opportunity to make a lasting impact.

Ready to Travel to Southeast Asia?

Dreaming about the Land of Smiles and all the things you can do and see in Southeast Asia? Hanging with elephants? Check. Full Moon Partying? Check. Snapping pics at Angkor Wat? Check. Jungle trekking? Check.

Instead of trying to check everything off your travel list and getting temple overload, consider quality over quantity and narrow down your itinerary. Give yourself time to enjoy the exotic experience of touring and volunteering in Southeast Asia and, if you can’t see it all, come back next year. As the Tiger Cub Economy continues to grow, this region of the world will only improve.

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