GVI: Volunteer in Thailand

Video and Photos

GVI Chiang Mai
GVI Chiang Mai
GAI Chiang Mai Karen Wedding
GAI Chiang Mai Karen Wedding
GVI Chiang Mai
GVI Chiang Mai
So much love for Thong Dee
So much love for Thong Dee
Field staff leading a meeting
Field staff leading a meeting
Ele Family
Ele Family
Early morning hikes
Early morning hikes
My first dinner at my homestay
My first dinner at my homestay

About

GVI offers a variety of programs in Thailand driven by sustainability in a global, social, environmental, and conservationist context. With bases in Chiang Mai and Phang Nga, you could get involved in education, marine and wildlife conservation, volunteering with children, supporting public health, community development, or contributing towards construction based activities.

While you will be actively assisting in GVI’s efforts to reach the UN Sustainable Development objectives of each project, there will also be ample opportunity for you to travel independently in your own time, or with your international volunteering peers. Explore beaches, verdant jungles and woodlands, mountainous terrain or a variety of coastal islets. This is a travel expedition with the purpose to make a meaningful impact.

Highlights
  • Support global sustainable efforts that contribute towards the long-term objectives of a program.
  • Learn about and assist projects in reaching their UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Live and travel in Thailand, connecting with local community and other international volunteers.
  • Become a world citizen as you learn about different cultures, lifestyles, local cuisines, and traditions.
  • Improve your CV by gaining skills in marine and wildlife conservation, teaching, health education, and community development.

GVI has a Community Development Internship in Thailand!


This is an opportunity to learn more about Chiang Mai's local Karen hill tribe culture, gaining intercultural communication skills and valuable teaching experience.

Popular Programs

Two elephants in Thailand

In Northern Thailand, support local communities and elephant caretakers in alleviating elephants from the tourism industry. Learn about these intelligent land animals as they recover in expansive Chiang Mai forest grounds as a semi-wild herd. Live among and gain a better understanding of the culturally diverse Karen communities, while contributing towards the projects UN Sustainable Development Goals and traveling in your own time.

Two students conducting research in Thailand

In Phang Nga, a province with abundant biodiverse land and marine life, contribute towards conservation efforts to protect local species and habitats. Enjoy tropical climates, waters, natural islets, and an experiential educational experience. You could gain skills in conservation, surveying, camera trapping, and coral reef and species identification, to name a few. Travel and meet participants from around the world, all while contributing towards long-term sustainable goals.

Volunteer conducting public health workshop in Thailand

Contribute to health education in Phang Nga. Assist local teachers to encourage positive health practices in children and young adults of the province, and contribute towards the UN Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being. The opportunity to support a variety of educational classes are available in sports education, language, and social developments, with valuable long-term impacts on the community.

Thai students studying

In Chiang Mai you’ll have a diversified experience in cultural immersion while living among the local Karen community. You can learn about traditional cooking, clothes weaving, and jewelry creation. Participate in professional development classes for women in the community, animal education and conservation projects. You’ll also learn about elephants and their caretakers during health checks and forest hikes, and gain a better understanding of gender roles within the community.

Volunteers participating in plastic clean up in Thailand

As plastic pollution continues to threaten the environment, participate in this conservation program to encourage plastic reduction and effective waste practices in the community of Phang Nga. Support efforts to protect the endangered green sea turtle and gain conservation, reef monitoring, and species identification skills. By encouraging environmental awareness through education, the local community is empowered to work together to combat the many environmental threats they face.

Questions & Answers

For the homestay in Thailand you have your own space/room at the locals house. You get up early and are out with the Elephants and other volunteers all day. Some nights you have dinner with the alone and try and learn each others languages.

Reviews

97%
based on 75 reviews
  • Impact 9.3
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 9.1
  • Safety 9.6
Showing 16 - 30 of 75
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Kayley
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

An amazing experience!

Volunteering with GVI in Phang Nga was the most rewarding opportunity! I spent two weeks teaching English in a small rural village in southern Thailand. Even in the short time I volunteered, I managed to make long-lasting friends and experience so much more than your average traveller. The kids were great fun and definitely made the experience more energetic! Food was amazing and catered for everyone, fresh Thai food cooked twice a day by local villagers. GVI have an amazing relationship with the community and you can tell the local villagers respect the development and education they offer. Aspects were challenging but this made the project increasingly worthwhile and humbling. The atmosphere on base is so friendly and I would love to volunteer with GVI again in the future!

What would you improve about this program?
Better support from staff on arrival to make us feel more welcome during the first 2 days- we needed ice breakers!
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Luanne
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The project was an incredibly interesting experience

Translation: The elephant project in Huay Pakoot was a great opportunity for me to get to know another country with a different culture. By living in a host family, I got to know the Asian culture much better than ordinary tourists. My host family was very adorable and a good family substitute. The work with the elephants was as impressive as I imagined. You have the opportunity to get close to the animals without harming them, as they do not live in captivity. In addition, I got to know a lot of different people from different places in the project, who quickly became friends. The project was an incredibly interesting experience that I would do again at any time.

Original: Das Elefantenprojekt in Huay Pakoot war fuer mich eine gute Moeglichkeit, ein anderes Land, mit einer anderen Kultur kennen zu lernen. Dadurch, dass ich in einer Gastfamilie gelebt habe, habe ich die asiatische Kultur wesentlich besser kennen gelernt, als gewoehnliche Touristen. Meine Gastfamilie war sehr liebenswert und ein guter Familienersatz. Die Arbeit mit den Elefanten war genauso beeindruckend, wie ich sie mir vorgestellt habe. Man hat die Moeglichkeit, den Tieren nah zu kommen, ohne ihnen zu schaden, da sie nicht in Gefangenschaft leben. Zudem habe ich bei dem Projekt viele unterschiedliche Menschen, aus verschieden Orten kennen gelernt, die ziemlich schnell zu Freunden wurde. Das Projekt war eine unglaublich interessante Erfahrung, die ich jederzeit wieder tun wuerde.

What would you improve about this program?
Nichts
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Delphine
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Da Blue

Translation: This experience is to live at least once in his life. We think we know each other perfectly; but here, without our usual comfort, we discover more. We go over some fears or fears and so on. We are also learning to surpass ourselves. The fact of being very close to the elephants (who are the basis of the project) is amazing.

In this project, we take care of the elephants (their state of health ...), but we are always in contact with the families of the village, staff members and other volunteers. The laughter, the discussions, the exchanged glances bring a lot!
We leave this beautiful place, Huay Pakoot, not only with many memories in mind, but also with another state of mind.

Original: Cette experience est a vivre au moins une fois dans sa vie. Nous pensons nous connaitre parfaitement; mais ici, sans notre petit confort habituel, nous nous decouvrons davantage. Nous passons au dessus de certaines peurs ou craintes et j'en passe. Nous apprenons egalement a nous surpasser. Le fait d'etre tres close des elephants (qui sont la base du projet) est amazing.
Dans ce projet, nous nous preoccupons des elephants (leur etat de sante...), mais aussi nous sommes en permanence en contacte avec les familles du village, les membres du staff et les autres volontaires. Les rires, les discutions, les regards echanges apportent beaucoup!
Nous quittons ce bel endroit, Huay Pakoot, non seulement avec pleins de souvenirs en tete, mais aussi avec un autre etat d'esprit.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
c'est une experience magnifique...
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Lauren
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Da Blue

I had an amazing experience whilst on the project and would highly recommend it! Whilst here we went on daily elephant hikes, these were great as you get to experience being in the company of elephants whilst they are in their natural environment. I also helped out at the school and the nursery whilst on the project, this was a great opportunity to interact with the local children, have fun and teach them english, it was great to see them learning new things and know you were a part of that process. Staying in a homestay with a family from the village really immerses you into the culture, this along with frequent activities run by other villagers helps you pick up the language quicker, a great way to get to know everyone better, and makes you enjoy your time even more.

What would you improve about this program?
I do wish to suggest any improvements for this program.
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Emily
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My GVI Family !

Throughout my 4 weeks in Thailand working with GVI Chiang Mai project, I had the chance to experience not only the beautiful culture of the Karen people in Huay Pakoot, but also the beautiful nature of Asian elephants in their natural habitats. What surprised me the most was the abundance of community work available for us to take part in. This included going to the local school 2 days a week as a TA, doing one on ones with individuals around the village, mahout dinners, cooking classes, bamboo cup making classes and many more ! There was constantly something going on to ensure we were completely immersed in the community and constantly learning and experiencing. Like many things, it is the people that ultimately make the experience. That includes not only the villagers but the GVI staff, interns and the other volunteers ! We became a family and one that I will most definitely have for life. We hiked together, taught together, learned Pakinyaw (the local language) together and grew together ! This was the experience of a lifetime and I can hardly wait to get back and be reunited with my new GVI family in my new home of Huay Pakoot.

What was your funniest moment?
Every Wednesday was quiz night and my first quiz included an impressions round. We each had to do an impression of one of the other volunteers and some people got really creative with it - it was hilarious !
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Jimena
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

One of the best experiences in my life

One of the best experiences in my life, every day in the village was amazing. Walking to base every morning, looking at the sunrise, greeting the villagers and dogs around. Eating breakfast, and then going on an awesome hike, each time better than the first, with the opportunity to do night hikes and cave hikes to see other flora and fauna from Thailand. After an always great hike, and beautiful elephants and other interesting creatures, going back to eat homemade lunch by the host family with everyone at base, while chatting and looking at the amazing scenery. After that learning about many different subjects, from elephant conservation, and nature, to social and cultural subjects. Learning the Karen language to be able to communicate deeply with the locals and host family. Then eating diner, sometimes just having it at the host family house, sometimes having it as a cooking class and others sharing with everyone, always having fun. Then going to different English class getting to know the locals, and mahouts (the elephant companions how are in charge of watching them and making sure they are alright) Sometimes have great workshops like basket weaving, or cloths weaving just mentioning some of the most outstanding for me. And after that amazing day, just chilling at base with everyone, watching a movie, playing games, or maybe just going back home and chilling with the host family and learning from them. At the end after all the amazingness of the day, just going back to sleep and having another day just like this next morning. All that I mention it’s just a tiny bit of what all of this is.
It was an unforgettable experience, with a lot of new friends and new adventures and experiences to share.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Go on every hike you can, do as many workshops as you can. Try to learn the language, you will make more friends form the village and learn more about their culture. (though learning the language its not necesary for this, but its a plus) Don´t think too much about it and just go, its amazing!
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Emma
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The trip that changed my life!

I spent a month in the beautiful mountens of Chiang Mai, in a little village called Huay Pakoot. In this villige I got to observe and follow such butiful and amazing elephants everyday on our hikes. I loved how seeing these extraordinary gentle giants everyday got so normal to me after a wile but still gave me an amazing feeling every time, even on my last hike. This trip didn’t just open my eyes and heart to elephants, it also gave me friends for life and experiences i will never forget. I got the opportunity to teach english to the children in the local school and also just to visit some of the villagers and learn about them and their culture. I also learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of and that is something that this program has given me that i always will be grateful for. The villagers og Huay Pakoot opened their homes and hearts to me and I’m so greatful for the people i met their. My home and heart is now in Huay Pakoot.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
The most important advice i would like to give is to have an open mind and also try out as much as you can to get the best experience.
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Darby
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Experience of a lifetime

GVI Chiang Mai was the best volunteer experience I have ever had. They were very helpful with the pre-depature process and made my first time traveling abroad alone less stressful. Once I arrived in the village and started doing the elephant hikes, I knew I made the right choice with this program. Our days were always busy, but it was something fun and meaningful. Every morning would start with an elephant hike with one of the mahouts. After we got back, we would have lunch and watch some presentations. On certain days we would go teach English at the school and play sports with the kids, or we would do litter picks around the village. There were many opportunities to get involved in the village to have a full cultural experience. GVI Chiang Mai was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about elephants and a new culture.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Get involved in everything you can while in the village
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Fauve
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Changed my way of travelling forever!

From the moment I signed up for the project I knew it was the best decision I made. I needed to get away from my job that I didnt like at the time so finding this project was the best thing that could have happened. I was apprehensive about going to Thailand and not knowing what to expect but from the moment I got there, met the staff and new volunteers I felt at ease and new it was going to be an amazing 6 weeks. This was my second experience as a volunteer and it will forever be my favourite. There is no better feeling than working with animals especially in their natural environment. Getting to hike every day with these beautiful creatures was something out of this world. The project is great and was everything I expected and more! The staff on the project are great at what they do and make sure we got the best experience!

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Hiking with elephants 5 days a week! It never got old! Getting to take data and making sure the elephants were in full health was something very rewarding also
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lucy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing

I was volunteering for a month with the elephants in thailand and it was the most amazing experience ever! The daily hikes were exciting and interesting and all the villagers and mahouts were so nice and friendly. The staff and all the other volunteers were so kind and nice and i’ve made friends for life over there, I would highly reccomend this programme as every aspect of it is amazing. Waking up each morning at 6am seemed very hard at first but it’s really easy to get used to like everything on the programme. You’re all in the same boat with the other volunteers and you all bond quickly making it very comfortable during the day to relax with eachother. Eating dinner with your homestay family is amazing because you get to know them well and experience their daily life.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Keep an open mind and embrace everything on the programme.
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Amandine
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The most eye opening experience!

I joined this program thinking it would just be elephant hikes. I was amazed at how there were so many activities everyday, the staff and volunteers always interacted with us. No one was ever excluded, we all became a big family so quickly. The staff and long term interns/volunteers were super helpful in the adjustment of the culture shock as well. I loved how we got right into it coming to the village after settling into our home stays. We always had something to do. If we weren't interest in one thing, there would be other activities going on at the same time. It was amazing to learn so much about the elephants, on every hike the leaders would be so well prepared and full of knowledge. We got to learn the village's dialect which was nice to practice and communicate with the people from the village. It was incredible to see how well GVI works as a team with the locals. I really enjoyed living the local lifestyle and everyone came form different places. It was such a diverse experience and would recommend going through GVI! They are super quick to respond to any questions or concerns in advance to prepare you for all you need to know for your trip. So easily reachable and I can honestly say I have made so many new friends. I want to go back already!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Bring bug spray and sun screen! Lots of hiking and old clothes that you don't care about getting dirty!
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Megan
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Life changing

My experience at GVI Phang Nga was incredible! I am currently a dental student at Cardiff University and used this to create dental workshops for the children. Combining my devotion to help others and the career I love was something I had aspired to do. Phang Nga trusted me with this and attached are some images of my work with the children. The disabled centre, visited daily, will forever have a special place in my heart. The children are the most kind and caring children I have ever met. The 'land of smiles' that Thailand is known for most certainly exceeded expectations. Activities outside of curriculum time were also enjoyable. Quiz nights occurred every week, cocktails at Thai life were cheap and tasty! Zumba classes in the village were so fun. The community really did make us feel welcome and only a 'donation' was required. I also attended a Mai Thai class just outside of the village. The heat and hard work combined was a nightmare! Sweaty to say the least! Nevertheless, very enjoyable and instructors were hands on and a good laugh. The staff on base and off base were phenomenal. Supportive, considerate and a great laugh. That leaves the other volunteers. I can truly say that I have made friends from all over the world; majority I'll stay in contact with for the rest of my life. The weekends off base we all spent together were some of the best experiences of my life. We visited Bangkok, Khao Lak, Khao Sok, Old Town Phuket and Patong. And yet, there was still more I wish I'd seen!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Prepare for a cold shower, mosquito nets and plenty of insects!
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Ben
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

What an amazing place.

Hello! My name is Ben and I spent some time I had away from work at the GVI Chiang Mai project that’s focusing on elephant conservation. Before signing up with GVI I had never completed anything like this but have had an interest in all things natural and animals from a very young age. It was a very spontaneous decision to go, planning only started 4 weeks before and we booked on just 3 weeks before our plane took off! When booking I knew I wanted to go somewhere but where that was I had no idea. After searching for all of ten minutes I came across GVIs website and the ‘call back request’ button. Filled in my name and phone number and within the hour Masi gave me a ring. A very nice man, who was very knowledgeable on the whole GVI experiences, took me through a couple of the programs I could attend narrowing down to the GVI program in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’m so glad he helped me pick GVI Chiang Mai! Then when my sister came home I asked her if she’d like to join and she jumped at the chance.

When getting ready for the trip I was a bit nervous as anybody would be but as soon as I landed all these nerves quickly dispersed. Getting off the plane we met with smiley staff member Liane, who then introduced us to the others on our intake. They were all so friendly and welcoming, something I’m not to used to coming from England.

The village it’s self, Huay Pakoot, is like no where I’ve ever been before. Everybody has such a big smile on their face and greets you with the friendliest ‘da blue’ (hello/bye/thankyou in the local language of Pakinyaw). We were shown to our homestay and met the family we’d be staying with, again so friendly and so welcoming.

The days are organised for you and a schedule is written on a white board in base so you always know what’s going on, you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want but I suggest you try an do everything! The elephant hikes and other biodiversity walks were just amazing, walking through thick forest for an elephant to just appear only metres in front of you was really mental. Who knew such a big animal could blend in so well! After the walk there would be lots going on whether it was pakinyaw lessons, teaching English at the local school, playing football with the mahoots or even making baskets down at old chiefs house. No way could you ever be bored or feel like you hadn’t done enough with your day.

On my first weekend in the village the staff had organised a 57km walk from base to Mae Chaem to raise money for the new baby elephant. I love walking so of course signed up and despite what you might think had the best time in doing so, it was a really great opportunity to talk to as many of the other volunteers as possible. At lot of then I believe will be life long friends, most of which are already looking to come back at similar times. I also spent a lot of the hike with the local community liaison Don and his friend who was doing some of the driving. Even going for breakfast in Mae Chaem with Don the day after the walk, I would now consider don to be a life time friend after the time we’ve spent together and been one of the meany reasons I’m definitely going back to Huay Pakoot!

When in the village you can really see everything GVI has help them achieve, they now have 5 shops, I think 2 restaurants, a smoothie shop, a Internet cafe and even a launderette! Things that wouldn’t existed in the village if it wasn’t for all the ‘golas’ coming through the GVI project. With one of the local lads even building a art Gallery to showcase and sell his paintings, incredibly impressive pieces so much so I’ve now got one myself! All of this really helps to add to the incomes the family’s already had through farming, also showing the children how much they can achieve in life.

When my time came to leave I really didn’t want to, if work wasn’t calling I’d of definitely extended my stay. Nothing I’ve ever done has been like that place, spending time there has really helped me grow as a person and helping me to decide the direction I want my life to go in. Making me much more aware of how I can help climate change from my home, even with small things like what products contain unsustainable palm oil to knowing what can and can’t be recycled. Over all GVI Chiang Mai has changed me for the better and I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience it has given me! To anybody that’s sat on the fence thinking about heading out, just jump in and do it you really won’t be disappointed when you get there!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Jump in and do as much as you possibly can, time goes so quickly in Huay Pakoot! An make sure you book for as long as you can, at least a month.
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Rebecca
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible volunteer experience!

I had the time of my life in Huay Pakoot! The staff and other volunteers are so inclusive and are all genuinely good people. The program itself combines animal conservation with community development, which is a really unique opportunity that made it the perfect fit for me. First of all, you get to spend nearly every day outside, which is just incredible. And most days, you're hiking to see elephants that are being reintegrated into the wild. You really feel like you're making a difference by collecting data on each elephant's behaviors and activities. In the future, the data we have collected will be analyzed and used to show the potential benefits of keeping Asian elephants in the wild. In the afternoons and evenings, there are plenty of opportunities to get plugged in at the school and in English classes for the villagers. It's easy to immerse yourself in the Karen culture while there--especially because you live with a host family during your entire time in the village. All of the villagers are incredibly kind and want to make sure you have a good experience there as well. This was a trip of a lifetime, and I hope to return to Huay Pakoot soon!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Get to know your host family!! They really want to know you and make sure you have a good time. Don't be afraid to make mistakes speaking Pakinyaw. They know it's not your first language and are very patient with you.
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Lauren
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Best experience of my life!!

I was quite nervous before arriving in Chiang Mai but i was immediately made to feel so welcome by all the other volunteers and staff members.
Seeing how happy the elephants are in their natural habitat is such a priceless experience and consolidates how life-changing GVI's work is. Learning to record various types of data on these Asian elephants is just one of the many skills i will take away from this trip, skills that will stay with me throughout the rest of my life,
It was so interesting and inspiring learning about the Karen culture and getting the opportunity to completely immerse yourself within it. The villagers are such lovely people and i thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them all, even attempting to converse in Pakinyaw.
I could go on forever about the massive array of exciting activities that were provided for us just within the two weeks i was there, there is most definitely something for everyone. From hiking with elephants to teaching English in the school to playing football with the mahouts to learning a new language, there is never ever a dull moment!
I can not recommend this program enough! It was an absolutely unforgettable trip that i honestly wish everyone could experience. The two weeks i spent in Huay Pakoot were the best two weeks of my life and i can not wait to return!!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
The program was so amazing that if (when) i do it again the only thing i would change is i would go for longer than two weeks. After this time i'd massively settled into the village and did not want to leave at all!!