In July 2015, myself along with two friends travelled to Thailand to begin our program. At 16 and 17 we were the youngest participants there but this did not affect the bonds we made within our group. In total, our group consisted of fourteen people from all different walks of life, from all over the world and becoming more like a family with these people is definitely one of the main highlights of our time there. Many were traveling alone but by day two you would think we all travelled together.
Our trip was planned very well. We received information at the start of each day as to what we would be doing and when we would have time to explore ourselves. Immense credit has to be given to our appointed guide and other vol-sol guides that were more than helpful throughout the duration of the experience.
We decided to set a goal of trying something new each day. This consisted of trying new food -which included scorpions at one point- to trying to learn some of the Thai language and this made each day more interesting.
I was incredibly pleased with the content of the program. There was a very good balance of volunteering and leisure time. This was important as it was amazing to travel and explore the city and also the rural areas of Thailand, as well as teaching children, working on local projects and living in an elephant village.
Bangkok was our first and final destination. We were ideally located as the famous Khao San Road was situated less than a minute's walk from our hotel and the markets did not disappoint. The nightlife is also a must. There are misconceptions about Thai nightlife however, personally, I had no worries about venturing out as long as there was a small group of us to ensure safety. It is definitely a unique experience but in the best way. The locals are always more than happy to help and most will try to engage in conversation just out of pure fascination. We also visited temples and learned about the culture of Thailand. We also volunteered at the Wat Pho temple, teaching children some English as well as playing games they came up with.
After Bangkok we travelled by train to Surin. Trains can be busy and the journey was long (thankfully there was air conditioning), however, this was not a big worry as vol-sol pre-book seats for the volunteers to make the journey as comfortable as possible. - The long journey's are a good time to reflect on the trip so far and I would definitely recommend having a journal of some sort on hand to document the trip as you go -
Initially in Surin we stayed in the '' hotel which was the most luxurious accommodation of the program. We soon set off to spend 4 days in an elephant village. We stayed in a house and the facilities were basic but nothing was missed. We were fortunate enough to be up close to one of the most beautiful animals. We got to feed, play with and bathe the elephants in the river daily. It is impossible to not become immersed in the culture and fall in love with the sights of Thailand.
After returning to our hotel in Surin we spent the remainder of our time volunteering at a childcare centre. We played with the children and taught English in the mornings and worked on improving the facilities in the afternoon and returning back to the hotel with plenty of time to explore the city in the evenings.
We had a free weekend and were given the choice of visiting Cambodia or going to Koh Samet (a beach island). The three of us and three more opted for the island as we were not going on the extended beach week and could not turn down the white sands and clear seas Thailand has to offer. This was very well organised by the vol-sol staff and even though this was our own choice and there was no obligation from the staff to help they went that bit further to ensure our safety. - I would highly recommend the beach weekend if you are not doing the extended beach week- The weekend was fun and full of new experiences that make great memories.
Back on the mainland we travelled to Khao Yai and trekked through the national park where we encountered a variety of wildlife within the jungle.
Finally we went back to Bangkok for our final couple of days. Returning to where it all began was a nice touch to end our journey. It definitely made us realise how much we had experienced and how we weren't ready to go home yet. It was sad to depart from our group as we had all grown so close as well as leaving Thailand where the people as so nice, the culture is incredible and the food is authentic and delicious.
Overall, I would not hesitate to return to Thailand and the vol-sol program was perfect, especially for a first time traveller. I'm so glad I used volunteer solutions for my first trip and I would not hesitate to try another vol-sol program in another destination. The best way to learn about the different cultures of the world is through first hand experience and I cannot recommend travelling new places highly enough.