Why Volunteering In Thailand Can Be The Best Travel Experience

Thailand is one destination that does not really needs a reason to visit. Being regularly featured in most of the “Top Destinations to Visit” lists, its popularity in travel fraternity is not unknown. Then why should you be thinking about volunteering in Thailand? You might wonder.

Volunteering abroad is a form of traveling overseas that allows a traveler to gain experiences that are not possible on a regular holiday visit. There are things one gets to do, see, and feel that are unlikely during a regular trip.

So, what exactly are these differences? What makes a volunteer trip to Thailand better than a regular travel expedition? Here’s the answer to it all…

Living

One of the primary things that differentiates a volunteer trip to Thailand from a regular trip is the living arrangements. It varies drastically in many aspects; including style, area, facilities, and most importantly, the budget.

guest house thailandVolunteer in Thailand

  • Accommodation provided in a volunteer house placement.
  • Meals are provided at the accommodation itself.
  • Rooms allotted on same gender sharing basis.
  • Day starts fresh and early.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Living in a hotel room.
  • Have to arrange and pay for each and every meal of the day.
  • Day starts when you want it to (could be at noon as well).

While for a regular trip to Thailand, one need to do all the bookings in advance and pay for each meal and facility; for a volunteer trip, it’s a one time payment done in the form of program fee. It’s more like living in a home away from home, literally.

Networking

This is one of the most interesting differences between a volunteer travel and a regular trip to Thailand. It is known that Thailand is also denoted as The City Of Smiles, and that is for a reason. Volunteering in Thailand lets you discover that reason in its most genuine form.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • Get to interact with the natives on a much closer and personal level.
  • Get to make friends with people from across the globe while living together.
  • Get to learn a word or two of the local language.
  • Get to understand and immerse in the local culture.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Little to no interaction with the locals (unless you to stop to ask for directions).
  • Friends/family/partner (or whoever came along) are the only travel companions.
  • Get to witness the local traditions and culture, but without any insights to its roots; let alone getting to immerse yourself in it.
  • The only opportunity to learn something of the local language is either from the menu card of a local restaurant or billboards.

Local Guidance

This is a key aspect of volunteering abroad that makes the entire trip a great success. A regular holiday would certainly take you to some of the best places that your guidebook has mentioned. However, a guidebook is the result of a traveler’s findings and can provide only limited information and insights.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • A dedicated local coordinator appointed throughout the tour.
  • Recommended places to visit that one won’t find in guidebooks.
  • No need to hire a tour guide.
  • Help in making arrangements for weekend tours.
  • First point of contact in case of any problem or emergency.
  • Support and guidance throughout the sojourn.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Have to hire a local guide for each monument or tourist site.
  • Have to book your own tours and visits to tourist sites.
  • Have to rely on guidebooks for exploring.
  • Embassy is the only point of contact in case of any problem or emergency.

volunteer in thailand
Overall Experience

There are some travelers who crave for adventure, some like to explore the heritage and culture, while others just want to post those selfies to burn their friends back home. Volunteering in Thailand provides you an opportunity to experience all these things along with a few more, unmatched experiences, especially the experience of making new friends.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • Give happiness while making a difference.
  • Experience local living.
  • Learn to cook Pad Thai the authentic way.
  • Make friends with elephants.
  • Gain international work experience.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Limited adventures
  • Visiting heritage sites mentioned in the guidebooks.
  • Little to no interaction with the natives.

One volunteer travel abroad experience for me, gave me a new perceptive on life, and made me realize that this is the way I want to travel. I haven’t looked back ever since.

Dave in ThailandIf you have been to Thailand before and are planning another visit, try making it a volunteer trip this time and experience the difference yourself. And, if you haven’t been to this paradise ever, plan your visit now.

Resources for volunteering in Thailand:

Volunteering Solutions

A Comprehensive Guidebook

~ By guest blogger, Dave Dronacharya. Dave is a full time travel writer/blogger. His passion for traveling got him into the habit of writing, which soon turned into a profession. He writes and shares his personal experiences and facts in his articles with only one objective in mind; motivating others as well to travel as much as they can. His work is published on The Huffington Post, SocialEarth, VolunteersMagazine, and Cultural Trip. Follow Dave on Twitter

Going Beyond Bangkok at Destination Thailand

Go Eat Give’s October event, Destination Thailand, allowed me to experience Thailand in a multi –dimensional way that I hadn’t been exposed to. Before Destination Thailand, my knowledge about the Southeast Asian country was slim, as the closest cultural thing I knew about Thailand was the pad thai that I would order during cramming for midterms and finals during college.

Before the event commenced at the Thai restaurant, Zen on Ten, I met guests who were excited about the event as they were preparing their first trips to Thailand. They then got the chance to meet with other guests, members of the Thai Association of Georgia, who shared their travel recommendations of the best places to visit in their homeland.

The owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing laid out a buffet which included some of the best Thai cuisine with vegetarian som-tum ( a spicy green papaya salad), fried wonton, crispy vegetable rolls, panang curry with beef, massaman curry with chicken, vegetarian pad thai, thai fried rice, and steamed rice. The food was the prefect combination of sweet and spicy, typical of Thai cuisine. Once all the guests had their food, the show began.

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Owner of Zen on Ten, Tom Phing (red shirt), helps unveil the Thai buffet for the evening
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Guests help themselves to the Thai buffet

Auraree Montroy and Vivian Sihachack, dance instructors from the Thai Association of Georgia, performed a traditional Thai dance, Thepbantheong (Angels Delight). The dance is performed as a welcoming gesture and expresses blessing for honored guests, which were our entire guest of the evening. The dancers were adorned in traditional Thai clothes of bright silk patterns and gold jewelry, which moved elegantly as they dance barefoot with their delicate hand movements.

After the dance performance, the master of ceremonies, King Tantivejkul, Chairman of the Thai Association of Georgia, gave the audience a lesson in Thai. We learned a few Thai words including the most important Thai word, sawasdee, which is used a greeting or farewell. Saying sawasdee, is accompanied by the wai, similar to the Indian namaste, and which is done with a slight bow and the hands pressed together like in prayer, and a smile. Our Thai guests performed this gesture many times through the night, which is symbolic of respect. King also told us that pad thai was influenced by Chinese culture and didn’t become popular in Thailand until World War II. I was surprised that the most popular cuisine in Thailand was less than 70 years old!

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Divya and I salute the wai with the dancers from the Thai Association of Georgia
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Head-to-toe view of our dancers in traditional Thai clothing: bright silks adorned with gold jewelry

After Mr. Tantivejkul lesson, our keynote speaker, Dr. Sutham Cobkit, professor of Criminal Justice at Kennesaw State University, took the audience to Thailand with his speech, “BKK is Far Beyond the Capital of Thailand”, which was as informative as it was funny. Dr. Cobkit, highlighted that BKK to him, meant far more than the airport code of Bangkok. For him, BKK symbolizes Thai culture with the acronym, Buddhism.Kingdom.King. Dr. Cobkit spoke of the importance of Buddhism in Thai culture, which has influenced the positive and respectful attitude among the Thai. Dr. Cobkit continued that although Westerners may see bowing to someone as a submissive act, it is quite the opposite and represents love and respect. Dr. Cobkit shared his own experience being a monk in Thailand, with photos of him bald during his month long career as a monk. I didn’t know much about monks, so I found this part of his speech interesting as he shared how monks beg for food, as they are not allowed to cook.

For Kingdom, Cobkit spoke about Thai history. Thailand used to be the Siam Kingdom and was the only country in Southeast Asia that hadn’t been colonized. The Thai people are very proud of their history and how they resisted colonization. The pride of their kingdom also extends to the second K, for King. The king of Thailand, Rama IX is the longest ruling king in the world. I learned from Dr. Cobkit’s speech that the Thai people revere him as he is unlike any other king. During his reign, he as worked alongside farmers extensively throughout the country on public development works and through the pictures of him in the presentation, it was hard for me to distinguish him as the king from the other Thai people. It was remarkable to see a king act so humble.

Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech
Dr. Sutham Cobkit giving his speech

At Destination Thailand, I learned about the rich culture in Thailand and what makes the Thai people proud of their heritage. It was a beautiful to witness many Thai people coming together at Destination Thailand to teach others about their culture and offer a glimpse of their homeland.

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Sucheta and Kelly with members of the Thai Association of Georgia

 

The Buddhist Experience in Thailand

What is Buddhism? Theravada and Mahayana

Budda isn’t just a happy idol you see when you go eat at your favorite Chinese or Thai restaurant, but it’s a philosophy that manifests into a culture, and a particular way of thinking in many Asian countries, including Thailand. Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha, “the enlightened one.” It is a compassionate and tolerant religion that aims to alleviate suffering. 95% of the Thai people practice Theravada Buddhism, and it is the official religion of Thailand. In fact, Thailand is perhaps the only country in the world where the king is required to be Buddhist.

PhraBuddhaChinnarat
Buddha shrine in Thailand

Theravada Buddhism is the second largest sect of Buddhism after Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is prevalent in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand, Sir Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos; therefore it is sometimes called “Southern Buddhism.” Therevada means “Way of the Elders” and is the oldest branch of Buddhism. The Therevadians believe that they are most closely followed the original beliefs and practices of the Buddha and the early monastic Elders. The authoritative text for Thereavadas is the Pali Canon, an early Indian collection of the Buddha’s teachings. The purpose of life for Theravadians is to become an arhat, a perfected saint who has achieved nirvana and will not be reborn again.

Inside Wat Chiang Mien in Chaing Mei, Thailand
Inside Wat Chiang Mien in Chaing Mei, Thailand

Mahayana Buddhism “ The Greater Vehicle” is known as the more liberal and accessible version of Buddhism. It is a path available to people from all walks of life and not just monks. Mahayana followers are mainly found in North Asia and the Far East, including China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, and Mongolia, and are known as Northern Buddhism. However Mahayana Buddhist hope to not become arhats but boddhisatvas, saints who have become enlightened, but who unselfishly delay nirvana to help others attain it as well, like Buddha did. Mahayana Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by an average joe, unlike in Therevada, which believes enlightenment only possible for monks and nuns who devote their entire lives to the task. Thus, in the Theravada sect, the best outcome for an average man is to be reborn in the monastic life. As a result, Southern Buddhism tends to be more monastic, strict and world renouncing than its Northern counterpart, but also has a more philosophical than religious approach than Mahayana Buddhism.

Brief History of Buddhism in Thailand

It is widely believed by Thais, that Emperor Ashoka from India sent Buddhist missionaries to Thailand in the 3rd century B.C. Today this influence can be seen in Thailand, several thousands of years later, as evidenced by numerous images of Vishnu, Shiva and Buddha, found in early sites in Thailand. Animism found in Thailand before both Hinduism and Buddhism in Thailand and has persisted to the present day as well, mainly in the form of spirit shrines in doors, yards and businesses.

By the 6th century A.D. Buddhism was well established in south and central areas of what is now Thailand, after the Mons of southern Burma adopted Theravada Buddhism and later invaded the central valley of Thailand. They left numerous stupas and a distinctive style of Buddhist image.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Thailand.

Theravada Buddhism in Thailand was further strengthened after King Anawrahta of Burma captured Thailand in 1057 A.D, he spread Theravada into northern Thailand. Later, when the Thai Kingdom of Sukhothai was formed in 1238 A.D. Theravada Buddhism became the state religion. As Thailand was never conquered by any colonial European powers, thus wasn’t subjected to assaults by Christian missionaries or imposed Western influence.

How does Theravada Buddhism manifest itself in Thailand?

Buddhism in Thailand is infused with many spiritual beliefs, which are likely the result of lingering animist, and Hindu beliefs from centuries earlier.  Most Thai homes and places of business feature a ‘spirit house’ just outside the building, where offerings are made to appease spirits that might otherwise inhabit their homes or workplaces.  Furthermore, Buddhist monks are often brought to new homes and businesses to ‘bless them’, and Thai people frequently light incense and make prayers to both Buddha images and a host of Hindu gods, whose shrines are located throughout Bangkok and the countryside.

Visitors to Thailand will encounter Buddhism in many aspects of Thai life. Many foreigners view “The Land of Yellow Robes” as the vision of yellow robes of the Buddhist monks are seen from the moment one steps inside the country. Senior monks are highly revered in Thailand and it isn’t uncommon to see their images adorning walls of businesses or homes or upon ornaments inside of taxi cabs. In many towns and villages the neighborhood wat (temple) is the heart of social and religious life. Buddhist holidays occur regularly throughout the year (particularly on days with full moons) and many Thai people go to the wat on these and other important days to pay homage to the Buddha and give alms to monks in order to make merit for themselves. Meditation, a primary practice of Buddhism is also popular as  a means of self-reflection in order to identify the causes of individual desire and ultimately alleviate ones suffering.

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Monks in Thailand in prayer wearing their yellow orange robes.

 

To learn more about Thailand, attend Destination Thailand in Atlanta on October 16, 2014!

Green Papaya Salad

(serves 4-6)

A Thai inspired dish that is common at many restaurants. This is my version of a simple, easy to make, yet flavorful salad that can be had as a side accompanying meats, fish or rice.

1 small green papaya, unripe

3-4 cloves garlic

1 green chili

1 ½ tablespoon sugar

1 lime, juiced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup peanuts, roasted

Peel the papaya with a vegetable peeler and grate into fine shreds. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. In a food processor, puree the green chili and garlic. Add to the shredded papaya. Mix in the sugar and lime juice until evenly distributed. Finally, add the tomatoes and peanuts. Toss gently. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salad can stay fresh for several hours and does well as left-over for the next day too.

Asian dinner party

I have hosted a good number of dinner parties over the years, ranging in many themes from Moroccan, tapas, global pizza to Hawaiian and game night. This past weekend, I decided to have an Asian inspired dinner party. Each couple brought a dish and I prepared a few things to round out our four-course meal.

We started with a cold Sake since it was a warm evening. It was something I had picked up on my last visit to Hong Kong, a light refreshing drink. The first course was Chicken Chow Fun, which is normally had as a main course. It is fresh thick noodles cooked with chicken and vegetables in a spicy black bean sauce.

The second course was a bok choy salad and a green papaya salad. If you have never tasted green papaya before (as I had not until now), I strong encourage you to try it.  You must buy a green unripe papaya for this recipe (which I have shared with you).

For the main course, I bought whole tilapias (cleaned) and marinated them with a seasoning of olive oil, cilantro and garlic. I let the fishes absorb the flavors in the refrigerator for couple of hours, before wrapping them in banana leaves and grilling them on an outdoor grill. The banana leaves do two things for the fish. They retain the moisture and juices of the fish and give it a steamy affect without burning the meat. Secondly, they release fragrance to the fish allowing for an extra dimension in flavor. I served each person their own whole fish wrapped in banana leaves along with orange infused sticky rice. We took part in communal fish wrapping which made the party even more fun and my guests actually learned something new.

Banana leaves are available at Asian farmer’s markets for about $2-3 per bundle. The bundle I purchased was more than enough for 8 fishes, plus I had a lot left over that I later used as table mats. The key to grilling banana leaves is that you first need to prep them. Either microwave each leaf on high for 1 minute or grill it on an open fire on both sides. The leaves will contract and becoming more flexible for folding.

Our dessert consisted of a coconut gelato with pineapples that were soaked in rum and gently grilled. We wanted to stay with a Asian theme and incorporated all the fruits from the tropics.