Southeast Asia Semester - Cultural Immersion, Service Learning, Adventure
99% Rating
(29 Reviews)

Southeast Asia Semester - Cultural Immersion, Service Learning, Adventure

Pacific Discovery takes a Gap Year!

Pacific Discovery will not be offering any programs in Summer 2018, Fall 2018, or Spring 2019. After 18 years of running programs, we will be taking a gap year ourselves to focus on time with family and our own adventures. We will continue to offer our custom faculty-led high school and university trips.

Thank you for supporting Pacific Discovery and we wish you all the best for the year ahead.

Who do you want to be in our world? Join us for a life-changing, overland journey through the cultural heart of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

10-week program for ages 18-24. Fall and Spring departures. Scholarships and academic credit available.

Develop a global perspective, independence, leadership and communication skills through outdoor expeditions, service learning projects, and authentic cultural immersion. Pacific Discovery programs foster empathy for other cultures, ethical and sustainable travel practices, and awareness of international issues. Students leave with a deepened sense of their identity, passion, and purpose.

Pacific Discovery is a global leader in experiential education, offering inspiring summer, semester, and gap year programs abroad since 2001, and is an inaugural member of the American Gap Association.

- Visit our website to request a detailed information booklet for this program –

  • - Volunteer in service learning projects in Elephant Conservation, and in Community Development where we build a home for a marginalized family
  • - Develop skills in independent travel, leadership, meditation, yoga, local cooking, climbing, kayaking, trekking, snorkelling
  • - Work together to plan the student-led section - developing your international travel skills
  • - Explore Southeast Asia's highlights - temples, cities, world heritage sites, islands, beaches, national parks
  • - Experience transformative personal growth that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves, working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose
Program Tags
Adventure Travel
Cultural Exploration
Hands-On Learning
Post-High School
Study Abroad
Volunteer Abroad
1-3 Months
Host Family
Airport Transfers
Domestic Airfare
Park Fees
Tour Guide
Travel Insurance
Primary Language
Age Min.
Age Max
Application Fee
Starting Price
Price Details
Program Tuition Includes...
- Visas for all countries
- All in-country travel and transport including four mid-program flights within Asia
- All accommodation
- All meals
- All activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary
- Service learning projects in conservation and community development
- Experiential core curriculum that supports students to reflect and ask questions of themselves - working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose
- Individual mentorship from program instructors, supporting you in your personal goals for the program
- Informal lectures from resident experts on history, conservation, development, eco-tourism and sustainability
- Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
- 1-3-week optional extensions if you wish to continue travelling independently after the program
- Pre-departure web-page with all information you need in one place to prepare for the program
- 24/7 emergency contact number for students and parents
- Global medical rescue and political evacuation insurance
- Instructors have 24/7 access to a physician and a psychologist, for advice and support
- Pacific Discovery T-shirt, water bottle stickers and a buff
- Online image library for your program
Other Locations
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Southern Thailand

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

based on 29 reviews
  • Housing 7
  • Support 9.8
  • Fun 9.7
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 1 - 15 of 29
Default avatar

Thinking about traveling with Pacific Discovery? DO IT!!

Pacific Discovery's Southeast Asia program was the perfect mix of volunteering, adventure travel, independent exploring, and personal development. We were given so many opportunities to try new things and experience the culture in a meaningful way. My program leaders Jess & Devin are some of the coolest people I know and they were always there to support us. It was very clear while traveling how much effort was put into planning the program and if you are at all thinking about traveling with Pacific Discovery I would say you ABSOLUTELY should.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Nine Weeks of Love, Passion, and Adventure

I could not be more grateful to have had the opportunity to travel with Pacific Discovery. The program completely exceeded my expectations. Our group became a family, exuding constant support and always pushing each other to be the best versions of ourselves. Our instructors guided us when needed and taught us valuable lessons but yet they never felt separate; they were one of us, part of the family. These are all people whose friendships I will cherish forever and who I know I can always go to for support, guidance, or another adventure.
During the nine weeks we saw so much, did so much, and learned so much, challenging ourselves in ways we could not have anticipated. Together we marched for animal rights, lived in remote Hmong villages, trekked through rice fields, kayaked through caves, bathed elephants, meditated alongside monks, saw first hand the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile, I was constantly pushed to step out of my comfort zone, to think deeper and to ask more questions. Ultimately, I can gratefully say that these nine weeks made me a more curious, passionate, capable and confident being. I leave my nine weeks inspired to learn more, see more, and challenge myself further.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

I am Alive

We were standing on the tip of a boat in our last couple days in Vietnam, watching the silence of the night rush past us, while dancing and singing on the top deck celebrating a birthday...when the girl next to me said the one thing that summed up everything I was feeling, "I have never felt so alive. This is real life, not a dream, this is as real as it gets." We then proceeded to scream at the top of our lungs, "I'M ALIVE". Dramatic, but all too honest. Spending nine weeks in four foreign countries, with 14 strangers, sounds terrifying and unreal. But leaving Bangkok for Pennsylvania, on November 14th was the the hardest day of my life. Southeast Asia became home, and my group had become my family. They had become a part of me. I cried as my taxi pulled away from New Siam II, and a guy friend ran along side waving goodbye. We saw and experienced so much together, we saw hardship, loss, inspiration, happiness, and everything else in between. We met locals that changed our view on our world, we helped each other learn more about ourselves than I ever thought was possible, and we had two leaders that taught us so much about life in general, that I will never stop looking at them as two of my greatest role models. There's a lot to say about the little things you do, yeah you live next to elephants for week, or go to the beach, or live on a boat for a couple nights...but it's all so much more than that. The life I live now is completely different than the life I lived 3 months ago, and I have nothing but Pacific Discovery to thank for that. They tested my limits, stretched my comfort zone, and brought a me out of me I never thought was there. I would go on this trip 100 times if I could, and I am sure I would learn just as much as on the 100th time as I did the first time.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Go do it!

It's not quite possible to describe just how awesome this experience is. With the support of a group, you can discover so many places in ways I never imagined. I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Southeast Asia with pacific discovery and as far as I'm concerned I couldn't have made a better choice in the organization. The founders of the program have personal relationships with many of the people we encounter (for example one of the families we stayed with in a home stay in Cambodia). This allows for easy access to very authentic experiences with locals. I find this is something hard to find in an organized trip such as this one. A mix between fun, adventure and service, this trip provides the perfect recipe for personal growth. I had so much fun snorkeling in southern Thailand, and was humbled by the service work we did with elephants. Climbing and trekking inspired an adventurer in me I hadn't known until now.
With all that being said, I can't explain just how incredible this trip was for me, so I suggest anyone who may be considering this to go do it!

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

In a word..... OUTSTANDING!

Incredible amount of thought and time given to crafting a unique and extraordinary experience. It's hard to describe what a program like this brings to a gap year student looking to travel and experience the vibrant culture, amazing history and stunning landscapes of SE Asia.

Our trip brought together folks from different parts of the world in an effort to better understand our own lives. Buddhist temples in Thailand and river trips in Laos were among the most memorable but the true strength of the Pacific Discovery program is the extreme care and though that goes into every adventure. Hiking in Vietnam comes to mind as one of those mind blowing experiences that I think back on fondly. Though it was 15 years ago I'm still in contact with my trip leaders and some of my fellow travelers. Thanks so much to the Pacific Discovery crew....... You made Asia accessible and for that I thank you!

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

A Trip to Always Remember

It has been 7 years since I traveled with Pacific Discovery in South East Asia - it was the best decision I made in college and it could also very well be yours too. I had spent time abroad with other programs, but it was this program that immersed the whole group into different cultures, unique landscapes, unforgettable experiences and lasting memories. Quality is what makes this company stand apart. In this very materialistic age, Pacific Discovery takes you on an adventure to better appreciate what you have, and maybe more importantly, live a more conscious-driven life. Yes, there was fun activities, side-splitting laughter, picturesque settings, and gorgeous photos taken to reflect back on. Traveling around these days, I always find myself thinking about this trip - a trip to always remember.

How can this program be improved?

I wish I had been better prepared, but I think I always wish that on every trip I take. There is really nothing that stands out seven years later.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Greatest two months of my life!

This program was absolutely incredible. We spent two months exploring Southeast Asian cities and villages, immersing in the culture, eating the most flavorful (and cheep) food, and enjoying the adventure of travel. On this trip, I met some of my best friends and got to hang out and meet amazing people. I highly recommend this trip to anyone considering travel.

Some of my favorite activities from this trip include:
-watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat
-boating down the Mekong River
-tutoring Cambodian students in English
-teaching Laotian children to hacky sack
-attending a circus in Cambodia

In addition, the trip was very well organized. There was a great balance between planned activities and free time.

How can this program be improved?

I would've loved to stay even longer!

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Still reminiscing two years later!

My decision to travel with Pacific Discovery (or, as we lovingly called it in my group, "PacDisco") was the best I have ever made. I decided to take a gap semester before beginning my college career, and PacDisco provided me with the perfect opportunity to do something memorable and different with my time off. The program was perfect for me: it was structured enough to keep me busy with a wide range of activities and adventures but still provided me with enough free time to explore on my own and pursue other things. I quickly bonded with my group leaders and fellow participants and still keep in touch with them today (not a surprise at all, considering we spent two of the most exciting months of our lives together). I had little travel experience before the program and would not have been comfortable traveling on my own beforehand -- I can confidently say the opposite now. PacDisco turns you into a traveler and makes you discover a thirst for adventure.

How can this program be improved?

Too short -- I found myself wishing the program were longer as we neared the end!

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Pacific Discovery!

I knew from the very first day I arrived in Thailand I was about to have the adventure of a lifetime. Day one I was out with fellow participants riding a tuk tuk through the crazy streets of Bangkok before the rest of the group arrived! The driver spoke very little English but was so excited to show us around. We went all around Bangkok traveling from temple to temple seeing some AMAZING sights! We spent almost all day traveling around to different sites and stores. And what made it even better? The entire day cost us only five dollars!

When we got back to the hotel that night I knew, this was only the beginning. I had never been so excited for the adventure that Pacific Discovery was about to take me on! I promise you they did not disappoint! The most amazing, inspiring, educational, excited, and overall breathtaking trip of my life!!

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Just do it

PD's Southeast Asia semester popped up on my computer after a long search of looking through gap semester programs in the summer of 2014 and there was one space left. I took the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken and signed up and that was by far the best decision of my life. Still almost 2 years later I think about the trip almost daily and how much I miss it. The places we went and the things we saw were so eye-opening culturally and as a foodie, I was in a constant state of wonder and daze with the amazing street food and availability of a variety of options. The people we encountered were some of the most inspiring individuals that opened my eyes to true hard work, passion and love. At first when I left for my trip I was terrified because I am from a small town in Maine and wouldn't have considered myself at all adventurous or outdoorsy. On the long flight to Thailand I accepted the nervousness I felt and harnessed that into an excitement and a thrill that was only exceeded infinitely once I arrived. The group became my family and my closest friends after mere days and waking up every day, even after long travel days felt like a breath of fresh air and a new experience. Since the trip I have gone back to school to finish my degree and I still crave this feeling all the time- pure magic. I not once felt unsafe or like just a participant in a program- I always felt like a world traveler, and most importantly I really developed into my true self. Everyone in the group, which is common for gap year kids, didn't really know where we fit in life and we all had some impediment or anxiety back at home that was keeping us from our true selves. The intense bonding familial experience of PD was the most healing and therapeutic experience I have ever been a part of and I would beg for anyone to take the chance and pay the money to live the same experience that I did. I treasure the memories that I made traveling, singing made up camp songs, exhausted on long hikes with amazing views, watching the stars in Laos, sipping on refreshing smoothies, riding tuk-tuks and laughing our heads off. This is truly in my opinion the best opportunity out there for anyone who wants pure happiness, discovery, friendship, love, food, sunshine, joy, curiosity, and to find themselves as a person, as cliche as that sounds. I am certain that my semester with PD will be one of the best memories of my entire life and I assure you that the risk of uncertainty and going outside of your comfort zone will be the best decision you ever make. Just do it!

How can this program be improved?

I would have liked more scheduled time to really discover art and culture although there was still a plentiful amount of this during the program. I loved the cooking class with Yui and wished we could have taken more classes in other countries. Also I loved downtime and feel that it was very necessary after days of intense work and travel, but there were a couple times when I felt like we had too much free time and the group really went different ways for a little while, but the free time is what you make of it.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

The best 2 months!

In making my college decision, I knew I wanted to be able to take time off so I could travel. I've always wanted to see another part of the world that I knew absolutely nothing about, and the Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia semester was the best way I could have done that. There is no classroom substitution for what we experienced and everything we saw.

PD did an exceptional job with all sorts of logistics on the trip- the accommodations were excellent, our tour guides were funny and knowledgeable, and most of all: our activities were amazing!!! A few of my favorites: caving / rock climbing overnight trip in Chiang Mai, sea kayaking in Halong Bay, biking through the Mekong River delta, and exploring ancient temples the explorers we were in Siem Reap. We also did a few different homestays, all of which were amazing. The families were so happy to have us and seeing these villages was a great experience.

The people I met along the way were so amazing- whether they were the other members in our group who I felt like I had known my whole life, or they were travelers on the road with us, I learned a lot from the other people I met. If you're looking to travel definitely consider PD- it's crazy to think that you can feel so at home when you're constantly on the road. 10/10!!!

How can this program be improved?

There were times when I wished we could stay in a given city for a little longer- but we had to move on to our next place!

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Just like family.

We went rock climbing in a cave near Chiang Mai. It was my fifth climb of the day, on the steepest rock face available (I'd worked my way up), and I was tired. Like, arm-numbingly, hands-shakingly, sweat-dumping-out-my-pores tired. Halfway up the wall, I was ready to call it a day - believe me, I'm not above giving up when the going gets tough - and after the fourth or fifth slip I shouted down to my belayer bring me down. "Take a rest," he told me. "As long as you need." I was ready to complain, to kick and scream until I got my way, but then I looked down (what were you thinking, Trevor?!). The entire group, about 20 people overall, peered up at me. They shouted and cheered, letting me know as loud as they could that they believed in me to take that final step. Crap, I thought, now I'm going to totally embarrass myself when I give up. Josh, a leader on the trip, shouted suggestions of which path I should take to the top in that ridiculous accent of his. He told me to take my time, to focus on nothing but where I was going to put my feet next. Five minutes later, having gained about two feet of ground on the wall, the group continued to let me know they were rooting for me. The believed in me, like, actually believed in me. They wanted me to reach the top.

And I did. Granted, it took me another ten minutes or so (complete with breaks every 30 seconds - my forearms were KILLING me), but I freaking did it. I've never felt so relieved in my life, but down below my travel buddies were cheering. I felt accomplished, like I'd made my family, my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, I felt like I'd made them proud. When I finished repelling and my feet touched solid ground, they high-fived me and patted me on the back. Then they told me I smelled terrible. Just like family.

This was only six days into the trip.

Would I climb that wall again? Yes, yes I would. But I'd bring deodorant.

How can this program be improved?

The pace of the itinerary has been honed and perfected over years and years. There is a great mix of physical activity, cultural immersion, and rest time. Just as you are starting to get tired of a place or an activity or a cuisine, you're on to something new or you get some time to rest. If I was to add anything (realistically, I mean - lots of backpacking and camping in Southeast Asia is perhaps not as feasible as it is in other parts of the world), it would be a heavier focus on historical study of the region. For such an ancient, historically rich area, the level at which we delved into that was fairly minimal. To be fair, this criticism is coming from someone who studied history in college...

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

A perfect excursion

The program was great. Just the right balance of hard work and immense fun. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience appropriate for anyone. A great opportunity that no one would ever regret. One big laugh.

How can this program be improved?

Longer duration, less frilly accommodations, less technology

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

An Awesome Intro to Independent Travel Experience

PD's Southeast Asia semester combines scheduled group activities with independent days, offering awesome opportunities to put your independent travel skills to use. This program is great for people who may not yet be comfortable traveling completely solo and offers some really unique and unforgettable adventures such as a homestay at the Hope for Happiness School in Takeo, Cambodia and four days at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It prioritizes ethical traveling and cultivating a sense of global stewardship which, to me, are two of the most important components of travel. You won't regret your participation in these amazing two months!

How can this program be improved?

I wish there were two different groups -- one for gap year students and one for college/graduate students. I found the mixture of ages in my group to be frustrating, at times, because many of us were in completely different stages of life. I think that, if there were less of a breadth in age, groups could be more cohesive and engage in more thought-provoking dialogue.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia Semester Program

The Southeast Asia semester program was an integral part of my gap year experience, fostering self exploration, discovery and empowerment through time spent within four uniquely beautiful countries. The perfect balance of service work, adventure and cultural immersion, the Southeast Asia semester program encouraged me to practice ethical and responsible travel and provided me with the opportunity to take part in activities that would have proved difficult to pursue traveling alone. The Pacific Discovery programs are affordable, lead by knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic individuals, and filled with a variety of enjoyable and unique experiences. I definitely recommend any of the Pacific Discovery programs.

Yes, I recommend

About Pacific Discovery

Pacific Discovery gap year, semester and summer programs are experiential education programs, suitable for high school graduates, university students and recent graduates, developed with a focus on six core components: educational travel, service...