What better place to go to in high school than Thailand, the country known as the “land of smiles”? Thailand gets that name because the people are so welcoming and friendly, which makes it a great location to explore as a younger traveler.
High school abroad programs in Thailand tend to focus on volunteering, immersion in Thai culture, or experiential travel with a teen travel tour. Regardless, this definitely won't be your typical study abroad destination.
Once there, it is also fairly inexpensive (Pad Thai for $1 USD? Yes, please!) and home to a variety of different landscapes. From gorgeous sand beaches to energetic cities, Thailand has it all. Take a note from the local saying Mai Bpen Rai, and leave your worries behind!
Thailand is best for students who want an off the beaten path location, to discover South East Asia safely, volunteer, learn Thai, or participate in hands on learning.
With such an interesting history (the king is the longest standing head of state of any country ever) and starkly different culture, Thailand is a fascinating country to explore as a student. Cultural immersion programs and teen travel programs are a great way for high school students to learn about Thai culture to its fullest extent. Visit temples, elephant sanctuaries, and local markets. Stay with a Thai host family and learn some of the language. Get to really know Thailand.
These are usually shorter term programs, done over school breaks or the summer, but are also the most common type of high school abroad program in Thailand.
Volunteer programs are also very popular since Thailand is a developing country. These can range from assisting with teaching English to environmental conservation. Volunteer programs can either be short term or longer, depending on the project. For high schoolers, there's also the option to participate in a service learning project in Thailand, where you'll blend volunteer work with structured classes on related topics.
The best way to totally learn about this beautiful country is to do a study abroad program. This way you can incorporate all of the above into your time spent there!
Planning Your Trip
In the middle of the country, and as the capital, Bangkok is a popular destination. Just about every visitor to Thailand will enter through Bangkok, even if you don't spend a significant amount of time here.
Other great locations include Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north, and Phuket and Krabi in the south (amongst countless other islands, so don’t limit yourself!)
Student visa requirements
A visa is only necessary if you will be there for over thirty days. If that is the case, it will be good for ninety days. Whether you need a visa or not, you will need a passport that is valid for six months after the date you expect to leave Thailand.
For students traveling on a multi-city/multi-location program, hostels and hotels will be the most common form of housing. If you are staying for an academic semester or year, you will also have the option of dormitories or homestays.
Though pretty developed compared to some of its neighbors, outside of Bangkok your accommodation could be more basic than what you're used to (e.g. fans and not air conditioning, thatched roofs, etc.)
While getting to Thailand may be a little pricey people traveling from western countries, it is well worth the journey. Once you get there, everything is so inexpensive compared to the United States or Europe. Thailand uses the Thai Baht, and $1 USD is roughly equivalent to 35 bahts. Program fees often cover incidentals such as food, housing, or excursions, but if they don't, it's suggested that you budget about $20 per day for your trip.
Thailand has many cultural norms and rules. You should always wai when you see someone (especially if they are older than you). You should never touch a child’s head (the top of the head is seen as the closest to God and sacred).
You should also never prop your feet up, especially where they might face someone. Feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body in Thailand and the least sacred.
Additionally, you should never step on money because the king’s face is on it and he is seen as sacred. You should absolutely make yourself familiar with this before leaving, and see what TripAdvisor has to say in addition to these tips.
Thailand is hot and humid year round, with the months of April to September being even more so. Those months also bring a lot of rain. You should pack lightweight clothing, but also clothing that covers up. Think shawls and longer dresses and skirts for women. Exposing your shoulders and/or knees in certain places (such as temples) is not allowed.
It's also recommended that you bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes that are easy to slip on and off (ladies, strappy sandals will get annoying) since you have to take your shoes off before entering homes, temples, and other establishments.
You'll also need to bring a headlamp / flashlight in case of power outages, a converter, and dry sacs can be handy for keeping electronics dry while traveling.
Health & Safety
The CDC recommends all routine vaccinations be up to date before traveling to Thailand, as well as Typhoid and Hepatitis A. You should ask your doctor for any other additional recommendations as well.
While in country, be sure to drink bottled water only, and to stay hydrated all the time (you will sweat a lot more than you even thought possible!) However, you can refill water bottles cheaply at these little water stations throughout Thailand, so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle to save money on this expense.
There are also a fair amount of squat toilets in certain areas that tourists frequent so make sure to have tissues and hand sanitizer handy!
Thailand is a generally safe and peaceful country, however, it is advised to stay away from the very southern area where some religious conflict has been known to take place. On a day-to-day basis, you should watch out for petty theft and scams. Stay alert with your belongings.
There are also many stray cats and dogs, which are NOT pets. As cute as they may be, they do not belong to anyone so do not pet them or approach them (some might bite and have rabies).
Contributed by Julie Peterson
High School Abroad Programs in Thailand
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