Thailand

Openmind Projects

I spent about 6 months working in the Openmind Projects Office in Nong Khai.

I found the staff here were very friendly welcoming, and I soon felt at home and able to contribute to the development of the organisation. Working alongside local staff and trainees was a great way to experience the very different culture of Thailand, and learning to adapt to a new and strange workplace was also valuable.

As a small organisation, you truly feel that you are joining the team - whatever type of program you are on. You can see for yourself how highly valued your contributions are. OMP's local expertise and grassroots set up means that you know that volunteers are being sent to projects where they are needed and can help.

I highly recommend the Volunteer & Cross Cultural Training. I learnt a lot through it, and have seen many volunteers come and go who found it equally beneficial. OMP continues to provide a high level of support to volunteers beyond the training, too.

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Mar 26, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
10
Value:
10

Frontier

Over all, the South East Asia trip with Frontier was amazing! Both the team leader Rachel and the assistant Kelly we're excellent and great at their job. I never felt like I couldn't go to them with a question or a problem. If any of the volunteers didn't want to take part in the assigned activities there was always something more to do.
Travelling through Thailand and Vietnam was worthwhile just because there's so much to see. Having the volunteering section in Cambodia between the travelling parts was nice to break up the otherwise long 10 week journey.
The only real problem was the initial organising with Frontier. I'm not sure if it was down to my personal co-ordinator but I received many emails about insurance or flight information even when I had sorted it all out and told him. Because I am taking part in the fantasy gap year, I need to know all the new information as soon as possible but it seems that it's not on top of the list!
The actual trip was amazing and I couldn't recommend it any more highly to other travellers who want to see south east Asia with a group of like minded people.

Program: Gap Year
Location: Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam
Posted: Mar 17, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
6
Value:
8

Comments

Hi Caitin, We are very glad to hear that you had such a great time on the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail! Thanks for your pre-departure feedback, we are always trying to improve our service so constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. All volunteers should receive their project field briefs one month ahead of time, so please contact your volunteer coordinator if this wasn’t the case as I’m sure they would look into this for you. Also, if you have any questions or queries at all about your upcoming trips, then please contact your volunteer coordinator who would be more than happy to help! Safe Travels! The Frontier Team

Volunteers for Peace

Just the other day, I stepped out of my little hut, walked through the recently drenched rice patties, and found myself falling through space. The sky above was immensely dark and thick with stars, denser in some regions, almost making parts seem wholly lit, while others seemed more scattered. Behind them all was the great river of light we find our home in—the Milky Way. Yet, all of this, Milky Way included, was beneath me as well. The rice patties around me, in their 10’ by 10’ squares, acted as a seamless mirror when crouched down just so, letting the horizon disappear. The surface of the pools, in the day, reflected the blue sky, a reflection quilted by thin, bright green tips of newly budding rice. But by night stars filled the patties’ surface, allowing that river of light to flow underfoot as well as above; ground ceased to exist, only the star-strewn space stretched onto forever.
I was no longer just beneath this night sky, but also above it—there was a sensation of floating. There could have been potential for reorientation, to regain gravity and stability, were it not for that something which totally confounded my senses: between the constellations above and below floated countless paper lanterns, their lights pulsing just like the stars’. Some moved up to join clusters above, others seemingly moving down when seen through the patties’ reflection. At times I found myself thinking if this is what vertigo feels like, and others I thought I’d found some magical realm—both held me in a trance. Even an hour after I’d found my way back to the hut, I couldn’t entirely convince myself this room wasn’t floating detached from earth…ah, Thailand.

I’ve traveled to Thailand on a VFP Scholarship to teach—more precisely, to hone my teaching ability and instill the love of English into my students, a love which brought me, almost literally, halfway around the world from Ann arbor to Thailand. One aspect of the scholarship is reasonably unique: I’m to travel throughout the country teaching English camps every one to two weeks, instead of staying at one school for the trip’s duration. I’ve been a teacher part-time for the past two years while studying at the University of Michigan. One year teaching five- and six-year-olds with America Reads, and another running four to five workshops a week at the wonderfully fun 826Michigan tutoring center. The success I had hinted I might be able to continue it elsewhere, allowing me to explore the relation between a Westernized teaching style when it’s implemented in a non-Westernized classroom.

It was this interest that led to the aforementioned scholarship and to my sojourn in southern Thailand. Here, my enthusiasm and comfort with students proved invaluable as a means of stirring curiosity within local youth (my blond hair and green eyes and light skin helped, too!). For all teachers—whether they teach non-linear algebra, deep ecology, or the ABCs—have in common that they work with the malleable minds of students, able to garner and crystallize a love of learning much more indurate than the time spent within classrooms. It’s a heavy burden if one chooses to shoulder it (all teachers have observed this), but they also know its payoff: the joy in seeing a child’s improvement; their fired eyes when they shout, “I finally understand!”; seeing their continued success after they’ve left you, hungry for a better life.

And all of this I observed, almost making me feel like I, at times, learned more than those I thought. But the one thing I tell friends and family at home when they ask how I’m doing or ask for an interesting story about what’s happened to me here, I find myself talking, of all things, about small, black ants. It’s a story that seems to express this scholarship’s goal of intercultural enrichment with volunteers, but the only difference here is that insects brought forth the experience usually conveyed by humans.

Early one morning I brought a small, delicious bowl of fruit back to my hut, which I ate by myself, sitting on the ground, leaning against my hut and watching the sun start its planned journey, shining through palm’s fronds. I noticed a friend walk by carrying little boat-shaped trays woven simply and neatly from sections of 3-inch blades of thick grass. They were maybe six inches long, each containing a small lump of freshly cooked rice. He continued walking by, eventually going around a bend and passing out of sight. When he returned from that spot two hours later, the bowls he had were completely empty.

The second time I saw the tiny boats, I asked my friend what they were for. He patiently explained that they were offerings to the spirits that protected this land. When I inquired about the Thai word he used for “spirit,” he repeated, in simple Thai, that they were gifts for the spirits of the compound, and I understood that I’d correctly heard him. He then disappeared down the same trail. I sat and mused for a bit, put down my bowl and peered through the trees. At first there was nothing to see, but then he appeared crouched down, delicately placing an offering at the foot of the shrine—a small bird-house sized oriental hut sitting atop a six-foot pole. Then he stood up with the other bowls, turned to his right, walked ten feet, and sat down another bowl on the ground. He did the same ten feet to the left. Later on, when my friend was napping, I walked back to see the offerings. There were the little grass boats, all three perfectly equidistant. But the mounds of rice they held were gone.

The next week, I finished my bowl of fruit, waited for my friend to pass by on the trail, then lithely headed to a spot where I could watch. The three trays were placed as precisely as before, filled with their rice. But as I gazed at the center bowl, I was puzzled to see one of the white kernels actually inching away from the bowl.

It was only when I knelt down that I realized a small, steady stream of ants winding through the grass to the offering. The line appeared to stem from a thick tuft of grass near a palm tree behind the shrine. The other bowls had their own stream of ants, all three coming from this patch of grass surrounding the palm. I walked back to my hut smiling to myself, not so much at thinking that my friend actually believed spirits took the offerings, just amused at what he’d say if he saw ants take them away, one piece at a time. But then I wondered a strange thing: what if the ants were the very “spirits” the offerings were for?

This thought kept me up for nights, and probably had something to do with my inability to escape this westernized notion of “spirits” (which is almost always defined in contrast to physical presence or “flesh”), and the orphic presences to which the Thai culture, along with many others, pay so much respect. We in Ann Arbor give worship to (depending on the time of year) football, weather, and academic deities. Sometimes they listen, at times we feel wronged. But it’s always convenience worshipping, nothing as dedicated as what I witnessed with the ants and those who fed them.

It only takes a Google search to read about how the earliest Western students of these phenomena were primed to wrongly see occult ghosts and ghouls in place of simple tribal displays of respect to local winds and the functions they serve. This original misconception has made its way into our Western idea of “spirit,” which has to do with human association (human-shaped ghosts, for example). But this was my first encounter or suggestion suggesting “spirits” of indigenous cultures are primarily not in human form, while still retaining an intelligence and awareness.

We humans have a pretty good rapport with our bodies and know its needs and limits, but things get murky with knowing the first-hand experience of a hummingbird or komodo dragon, the portly squirrels of Ann Arbor; their precise sensation aren’t available even if we perform the same actions: drinking water; eating food; knowing on acorns. For all the effort Michigan students put in their Squirrel Club, I’m wondering if they’ve ever tried to feel “one with the squirrel.”

Moreover, it’s not just the entities acknowledged by Western civilization as “alive” that help define this oral Thai culture’s sense of self, not only the animals and plants, but also the weaving river up the road, the rain-season that’s now in full swing, the stones I can pick up and fit neatly into my hand. The mountains to the north also seem to have their thoughts. The forest birds’ chirring drone is the vocal embodiment of the life around me.

It’s possible to feel hints of this in Ann Arbor. The Nichols Arboretum seems to have its own personality and deep secrets, perhaps even fairies. Front and center at North Campus’s Nature Preserve is the sheer multitude of flora and fauna that our region offers. More examples are available in the city, but I feel none give the sense of seamless connectivity to the environment surrounding it that this Thai landscape offers. In the Arb you see the University Hospital at a distance; the city’s sounds encroach on the Huron’s gurgles—there’s always a human presence where one goes. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Ann Arbor will always feel like home. But the ability to have this ontological shift to become attuned to the nun-human side of things is a whole not easier when it’s readily available.

So I finally settled that the offerings were ways to be attentive to nonhuman nature; it signified not so much an awe or poignant reverence for human powers, but a deeply-rooted appreciation and celebratory act for these forms of awareness not in human form, which is when our direct experiential connection severs and atomizes into the surrounding cosmos. The exact one that so profoundly disoriented me a few days back.

This branching of the human back into the larger world we inhabit might allow us to never feel entirely alien to those other forms that experiences life a little (or a lot) differently we do. If we’re able to look past the obvious differences in shape, ability, or style of being, they remain permanently attached to us, even though the thread may be thin. So while VFP makes room for the most intimate and transformative bonds to occur between humans, if you follow your curiosity, their trips can also offer up everything and more.

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Feb 19, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

Frontier

I had such an amazing 2 weeks away and I'm really glad I chose to participate in the Induction week.
Week 1 was great as it allowed us to really experience Thai culture. The temples we visited were out of this world and the food was also amazing, I think I've put on about a stone but totally worth it! The induction week allowed us to get to know our team really well. At the weekend we had free time so we could choose between visiting Bangkok or going to a waterfall trek - I chose the Waterfalls in Erawan National Park - the scenery was stunning. We swam in a few lagoons - complete luxury!
Week 2 was also great, although the journey to the elephants was super long (about 14 hours) but that is not a complaint as it was worth it! Our daily routine was basically: wake up, go to jungle and cut down banana trees for the elephants, go to the elephants, feed the elephant, lunch, ride the elephants. Then each day activities after that varied. Unfortunately I was unable to swim with the elephants as the water levels were too high after some serious rain but we did some rafting and visited another beautiful waterfall.
I spent my final weekend in Bangkok which is an absolutely mental place (in a very good way)!
The staff on both weeks were so lovely and extremely helpful! I had so much fun that I managed to break a rib :) jungle fun!

Program:
Location: Thailand
Posted: Feb 9, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

Frontier

The project was great and really smoothly run out in Thailand. And because everyone is so laid back out there it was very relaxing. The first week exploring temples, both ruined and new, was very interesting and making bracelets and Thai meals was enjoyable. But I was really looking forwards to the elephants the most, and although everyone said they thoughts two weeks was too long, in the end i didnt think it was long enough!!

Everyday we went out to cut down banana plants and then take them to feed the elephants. We would then ride them before lunch. My first week in Umphang was marked by a lot of rain so unfortunately we were unable to get in the water with the elephants. But the second week dried up and we rode the elephants up and down a beautiful river and got in the water with them. The young elephant would constantly splash us and loved diving around in the water. With only 5 volunteers in the second week there we only had three elephants (We wouldnt have been able to collect enough banana plants for all of them) but it allowed us to form closer bonds with them, and their mahouts. Mogee was my favourate elephant :)

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Feb 6, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

Frontier

It was so great. The tour group were all really fun as well as the tour leaders. I had a hard time with the London headquarters being in America with the time difference. The website was not very clear and was quite confusing, like I wasn't aware that your meals on the weekend were on your own. But it was worth it. Definitely an experience to remember.

Program: Gap Year
Location: Thailand
Posted: Jan 31, 2014
Overall:
9
Support:
8
Value:
8

Comments

Thank you for taking the time to write this review and we are very happy to hear you had such a great time in Thailand with Frontier. Thank you also for your feedback on the information provided. In light of this, we have edited the web page for this project to ensure the number of meals included is as clearly stated as possible. At Frontier, we value all constructive feedback as it allows us to grow and improve so if you have any further points, we would be very grateful if you could pass these on to your Volunteer Coordinator. Best Wishes.

Frontier

My 4 weeks with Frontier in Thailand have been totally awesome! As someone who has never done any independent travelling or backpacking before, I can quite easily say that going with Frontier has given me the confidence to go home and just book a flight to anywhere in the world! In 4 weeks we have seen just so much, from Bangkok to Chang Mai, the chilled town of Pai to the beautiful islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan (which I don't really want to leave...), it's just been incredible. Everyone on the trip has been amazing, everyone is so friendly and especially our trail leaders who were absolutely brilliant getting us around Thailand! If you're thinking of going to Thailand (and Cambodia and beyond!) just book it already, you will have the best time ever!

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Jan 31, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
9

Kaya Responsible Travel

I am 17 years old and I just completed some life changing volunteer work in Thailand facilitated by Kaya Responsible Travel. I wanted to volunteer upon finishing High school and Kaya suggested a project which would accept an underage participant. Little did I know that Kaya's encouragement to volunteer at the Children's Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA) would lead to a life changing experience. I am thoroughly grateful to my Kaya Coordinator who recommended COSA to me. At 17 I had many reservations about volunteering independently abroad. The support I received from Kaya was endless. I didn't meet any of the wonderful people who helped coordinate my trip, all the support I received was via email because of my location in Australia. The coordinators were efficient and thorough during the organization of my placement. And they checked up on me during all stages of the placement. My in-country guide for the orientation in Bangkok was a volunteer for Kaya and she also deserves praise. She was very professional and showed me some fantastic sights in a new city. Thankyou Otto! Volunteer with Kaya, you will not regret it. The Kaya team will ensure you have a rewarding trip.

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Jan 14, 2014
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

Frontier

I am currently on the Southeast Asia Ethical Adventure with Frontier, and so far very impressed and pleased. I have been in Thailand for one month now, and with the Frontier group for two weeks, and in that time we have swam with elephants, done an amazing trek through the jungle, seen gorgeous temples, talked with Monks, tubed down Pai river, zip lined through a jungle, experienced a floating market, and much more. The time has flown by because our days are so full of new experiences, and I am surrounded by good people. Everyone involved in the program is super friendly and easy to get along with, and our trail leaders Rachel and Laura are very helpful and make sure everything is in order for us which is very comforting. Because I arrived in Thailand earlier that the rest of the group and am overstaying my visa, I have to cross a border to extend it, a situation that no one else is in, but Laura and Rachel have been so accommodating and helpful throughout the whole process that it isn't even a problem. It is so comforting to know that you have two knowledgable people to help you through sticky situations like this when doing a trail such as the Southeast Asia trail. I recommend Frontier to anyone who wants to get off the beaten path and experience a new place for what it really is, while seeing the attractions and common visiting points as well.

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Oct 22, 2013
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
9

Comments

Thanks for your review. Much appreciated!

Frontier

Who with: Frontier
Project: 1 week Induction, 1 week Elephant Sanctury
Location: Thailand

I had such an amazing 2 weeks away and really wish I stayed at least another week!

Week 1 was great as it allowed us to really experience Thai culture. The temples we visited were out of this world and the food was also amazing - I think I've put on about a stone but totally worth it! The induction week allowed us to get to know our team really well and at the weekend we had free time so we could chose between visiting Bangkok or going to a waterfall trek - I chose the Waterfalls in Erawan National Park. The scenery was stunning and we swam in a few lagoons - complete luxury!

Week 2 was also great, although the journey to the elephants was super long (about 14 hours) but that is not a complaint as it was worth it! Our daily routine was basically: wake up, go to jungle and cut down banana trees for the elephants, go to the elephants, feed the elephants, lunch, ride the elephants. Then each day activities after that varied, unfortunately I was unable to swim with the elephants as the water levels were too high after some serious rain but we did some rafting and visited another beautiful waterfall.

I spent my final weekend in Bangkok which is an absolutely mental place (in a very good way)! The staff on both weeks were so lovely and extremely helpful! I can't recommend Frontier and the project enough!!!!

Program: Volunteer Abroad
Location: Thailand
Posted: Aug 9, 2013
Overall:
10
Support:
10
Value:
10

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