Voluntourism in Thailand: Adventures With Purpose

   Baan Hua Tung   is a model village in conservation and sustainability.

Baan Hua Tung is a model village in conservation and sustainability.

Three teams of volunteers head to Thailand to document their travels while doing good 

Voluntourism, authentic travel experiences and opportunities to personally connect with locals — if this doesn't sound like your dream vacation, then you're a bit behind the curve. Experiential travel and voluntourism opportunities are trending, thanks to a growing number of socially conscious travelers and the millennial generation, who are expected to have $2.45 trillion of purchasing power in 2015. 

On a recent trip to Thailand, I hooked up with three teams of volunteers who were finalists in the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Ultimate Moments contest. Each team, made up of three millennials (surprise!), traveled to a different part of the country to donate their time and skills to a community in need. Based on their photos, videos and social media posts during and after the trip, one team won their community a $1,000 grant and a $500 cash prize for themselves.

  The winning team, Thai-Namic Trio, with community members

The winning team, Thai-Namic Trio, with community members

But they weren't doing manual labor and sweating buckets in the middle of Thailand's summer season the entire time. There were plenty of chances to explore the destination's cultural and historic sites, and check off a few items from the bucket list as well. It's not every day that you get to bathe and feed rescued elephants after all.

Or learn how to make authentic Pad Thai from a family who has been perfecting their recipe for generations.

Without a doubt, living like a local is one of the highlights of volunteering, whether it's learning the ancient art of Batik painting... 

  Team Chai Yen volunteered in the Islamic community of Ko Yao Noi, located in Southern Thailand.

Team Chai Yen volunteered in the Islamic community of Ko Yao Noi, located in Southern Thailand.

fishing for catfish the traditional way...

  This is how locals gather ingredients for dinner in  Ban Huai Raeng.

This is how locals gather ingredients for dinner in Ban Huai Raeng.

or helping villagers perform their daily tasks.

  Paul Mossine of team Tiny Attic volunteered in the Central Thailand village of Ban Huai Raeng.

Paul Mossine of team Tiny Attic volunteered in the Central Thailand village of Ban Huai Raeng.

"My voluntourism experience with Ultimate Moments in Thailand, was phenomenal," said Amy Boudsady of the winning team, Thai-Namic Trio. "We visited the north of Thailand — a region of mountainous forests, hill tribes and thriving agricultural communities — and stayed with the people of the Ban Hua Tung village, learning and assisting with the conservation efforts their community was undertaking in the region."

For the Thai-Namic Trio that meant teaching English to schoolchildren, weaving bamboo baskets, planting bamboo trees, painting a "Welcome to Baan Hua Tung” sign and building a dam out of bags of rice.

During their home stay, the Thai-Namic Trio learned about Baan Hua Tung's innovative efforts to create a community-level biofuel production — one that uses pig manure. Manure collected from the community is converted into biogas that is safe for household use, and around 90 percent of villagers cook using this sustainable form of gas. 

"Our volunteering projects were great, and experiencing the daily lives of locals was even more memorable," said Boudsady. "The people of Baan Hua Tung were so welcoming and understanding. I still can't shake it off."

Several voluntourism itineraries, like the Thai-Namic Trio's experience in Baan Hua Tung, are available through the Tourism Authority of Thailand and STA Travel. One such excursion, a 15-day itinerary in Phang Nga, includes all meals, accommodations and airport transfers. Volunteers will help protect the region's beaches through bio-diversity studies and beach patrols. Other efforts include teaching children English and promoting environmental awareness to the wider community. In their free time, volunteers will explore the surrounding areas as well as surf, dive, kayak and snorkel. The Phang Nga package starts at $1,665 per person, and is one of many ways that travelers can leave an impact on the local community while making memories that will last for years to come.

To book one of Tourism Authority of Thailand and STA Travel's voluntourism packages, call 1-800-965-0343 or click here.

My trip to Thailand was made possible by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Views expressed are my own.