ISV - Volunteer Projects in Thailand

This program is no longer offered. View more programs from ISV (International Student Volunteers).

Video and Photos

Baby Elephant Cuddles!
A mahout with baby Rantong and her momma!
Washing the elephants!!!!
Meeting some of nature's most gentle creatures.
One of the tasks of volunteering was brick laying.
Spent the last days walking the sands of Railay Beach.


Sun-swept beaches, spiritual temples, smiling faces, lush tropical rainforests and tasty cooking are just a few of the wonders awaiting visitors to Thailand - but through volunteering with International Student Volunteers (ISV) you can be more than a tourist and address the needs of rural Thai communities and environments.

On ISV’s conservation projects, you could be working in rescue and rehabilitation centers for elephants, Asian black bear, gibbons and other animals. When it comes to community development, you can help tackle issues like human trafficking through providing support in centres for those at risk, or helping to maintain infrastructure and provide teaching assistance in Thai orphanages.

This exotic country has the perfect balance of culture and nature and it truly is a place that will capture your heart. For more details on how to make a difference visit ISV’s website and sign up for the experience of a lifetime.

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Questions & Answers


based on 93 reviews
  • Impact 9.1
  • Support 9.3
  • Fun 7.9
  • Value 9
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 46 - 60 of 93
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Yes, I recommend this program

ISV's Positive Impact

ISV has impacted my life in just two weeks so far and I cannot wait to see what is has in store for the next two. I absolutely adore the bond I created with almost every orphan I was around and I will be forever thankful and appreciative of this experience.

What would you improve about this program?
I would work harder to assure that all of the ISV participants are required to actually volunteer, because there were a few instances where people did not do as much work as others.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Eye Opening Experience

Coming to Thailand with ISV was so life changing. I met such beautiful people in Mae Kok and I helped the community in multiple ways that I didn't know I was capable of. I would love to come back to volunteer again.

What would you improve about this program?
For the high school program, I think the age limit should be 16 years old. Most of the volunteers in Thailand this June and July were under 16 and their maturity level was not fun to deal with.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Inspiring and Amazing

Overall, the program was very educational and fun. I learned a lot about Thai culture and the people I'm around, as well as myself. I felt very safe the whole time, and I think the program is amazing because of the adventurous and eye-opening activities and experiences that inspire.

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No, I don't recommend this program

Incredibly Misleading and Money Grabbing Organization

In the Email from my project leader prior to my departure to Thailand, I was informed (the sentence underlined and strongly emphasized) that I would be assigned to teach English. However, as our group arrived for our first day of work, it quickly became apparent that the majority of what we were doing was manual labor. I would not have as much of a problem with this if we had been simply told upfront, but instead we were assured that we would be teaching English with literally not a single word about construction work only to get there and LITERALLY ONLY HAVE SPENT 2 HOURS OF A SINGLE DAY THE ENTIRE 2 WEEK TRIP teaching English with very short supplies. The rest was all construction work, helping cook, or babysitting children in highly unproductive settings with no teacher or staff present (the activity was literally called "babysitting"). The construction work in which we spent most of our time doing was highly unorganized and slow with half the group ending up standing around because they were unable to do anything. With a $4k+ program cost , I seriously question where all our money is going. The travel manual's program cost breakdown is vague and most of it seems to go to isv employees. The initial program cost that you see listed on their website is also not at all accurate. Expect to pay at least double that amount in the end with flight costs, "mandatory insurance", shots and medications, b.s. fees such as an extra $100 if you book your own separate flight from the group (dont pay it) if you do not live near LAX, an "optional " activity package and so on. The majority, if not my entire volunteer group of 15 people feel the same way and I personally would honestly not recommend ISV. There are plenty of other programs of a similar nature out there, where you can walk away feeling that you have made an actual impact, not spend 2 weeks to build 1/20th of a structure due to bad organization, chop vegetables , babysit a room of screaming children and spend under 2 hours actually teaching English the entire trip, and making no real impact.

Response from ISV (International Student Volunteers)

Dear RG,

First of all, we are very concerned upon reading this review. We read all reviews and take the feedback seriously and act upon any issues or problem areas that are in within our power to improve.

We have been running ISV programs in partnership with DEPDC since 2007 and our volunteers have not only raved about the project, but together we have made some very meaningful and inspiring progress here, so please do not think that your project had no impact.

There are a numbers of issues that you raised in your review and I will address some of them here. For questions related to where your ISV program fees go, the travel/medical insurance requirement, and own flight fees, I will ask that you please contact our main office in California (by phone or via email) as we will be happy to explain these to you.

Since we saw this review, we have been working to determine what could have led you to believe we were misleading you in regards to your volunteer project description of tasks. We sent you a Project Summary about 55 days prior to your departure and a more detailed Project Overview 30 days prior, and both clearly state construction tasks at the top of the list of tasks, followed by teaching Basic English.

However, we’ve also read the introductory email from your Project Leader which does include a reminder that you will be involved in English language instruction with your group, along with a request to think ahead about lesson planning, fun games, and any donations of supplies, such as crayons, etc. that you may want to contribute to the DEPDC project. That email from your Thai Project Leader is meant to be an introduction to your ISV Leader before you arrive and to include any important reminders or other pre-departure information that may be useful to you. It is certainly not meant to give or substitute for the detailed information you are sent in the ISV Travel Manual, Project Summary or Project Overview. In fact, that introductory email also included an underlined and italicized reminder to read those important documents.

We certainly regret any misunderstanding that the introductory email resulted in, and we have altered the wording to make it clear that the English instruction is in addition to the construction tasks to ensure that this does not reoccur.

We feel strongly that the DEPDC project is a high quality and worthwhile endeavor in need of volunteer assistance as they work to prevent and raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children, youth and women and to improve the lives of children in their care. Your Project Overview explains the type of interactions you can expect with the children and the reasons why the Center employs a “Play with Purpose” approach where volunteers use informal, fun and interactive games and activities to engage the children.

As for the construction tasks, we are addressing any shortage of tasks or lack of organization with the project hosts. It is possible that our hosts underestimated how quickly the tasks would be accomplished by your group and did not have sufficient back-up plans in place. ISV volunteers tend to be incredibly driven and hard workers and have been known to complete tasks in half the time or less than what was anticipated at their project site. I can tell you that we are in touch with all stakeholders involved to find out if indeed volunteers were left standing around with nothing to do, and if so what happened and why.

While we have yet to receive the participant evaluations from this group, I can tell you that the previous group (May 2015) of 14 ISV volunteers at DEPDC rated the project 4.8/5 and here are a couple of their testimonies:
• I loved this experience and it's really rewarding to see that just our presence in a community can change their whole day and give people a smile.
• I would mention the great organisation during the project. Also, the opportunity I had to learn and grow as an individual. This volunteer project was life changing. I have gained so much knowledge about the culture and people. The skills I have learned on this journey will not only impact me but the people I served too. I'm grateful for the time and effort that went into this project. I will never forget the children and friends I've met on this trip.
• I had amazing opportunities to learn and grow in a culture which taught me so much. My project leader made this experience so much fun. Her knowledge of Thai culture pushed me to want to learn more.
• Volunteering at DEPDC was so fulfilling. It was hard work but our efforts on the wall were much needed. It seemed like something they would not have been able to do without us, so I felt like I made a difference!
• It was incredibly rewarding and eye opening.
• I felt so accomplished and could visibly see change.


Deanna Mathewson, International Education Director ISV

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No, I don't recommend this program

Awful from day 1.

My ISV trip to Thailand was a disaster. The trip overview I received was nothing like the trip. The program's disorganization was appauling. From the Thai side, they could not have been more open and friendly. But from the ISV side, it seemed as if everything was strung together last minute. The outline sent to the volunteers described our work as "teaching English" but upon arrival was actually manual labor. Either way, I would have signed up, but that was very disleading. Also, having one leader guide and entire group of individuals in a foreign country was not enough. The amount of times my leader was not around was concerning. If something was needed and she wasn't close by, nothing got done. Overall, this organization is a disgrace to other international student volunteer services and it is astounding they have been able to stay afloat for so long.

Response from ISV (International Student Volunteers)

Dear Sarah,

We're really disappointed to read this review. We've just checked every feedback/evaluation form for Thailand for volunteers that have just returned home from group 1, May 2015, and cannot find any comments like those you have provided as I had hoped to find specific comments that relate to your review.

Our community/children's development project for this date was rated by 14 total volunteers as 4.8/5, with nothing less than a 4/5 for overall experience and the project leader (the only female for this date) a 5/5. If you didn't feel comfortable expressing your concerns at the time that's fine, but instead, I would like to encourage you to write to our office ([email protected]) so we can openly talk about the issues you've raised. You may ask directly for the International Program Director as we want you to know that all feedback from volunteers are treated seriously but it will be necessary to get more specific feedback.

In regards to a couple of your comments - "everything was strung together last minute" - can you give us specifics in your email? I promise you, we take months to prepare for each group's arrival. Nothing is last minute, but that doesn't mean that at the project level, there aren't sometimes unavoidable changes to project tasks or project needs. This might explain the Project Overview listing tasks that might have been a bit different to what you actually experienced. This isn't deliberate, just a reality of working on community based projects where local situations do change from the time we send you the information until you arrive. We are sorry that you felt misled, but it sincerely wasn't intentional.

Regarding the ISV leader to guide volunteer group ratio - 1:15 is the maximum we usually work to. Generally most groups are smaller (more like 1:10). It depends on volunteers' preferences on that departure date, the capacity of our host organisation and the volunteer tasks planned. Our host organisation is also required to have a local supervisor/representative working alongside us at all times, in effect halving that ratio. Again, I would appreciate hearing from you any specific concerns you have about the leader's availability as it becomes a safety issue (safety was rated for this group as 4/9/5).

We've been proudly supporting sustainable development efforts now since 2002 and I genuinely wish your experience had been different to your review, but all we can do is ask that you help us by working more closely with us on details that we can action.

Most sincerely,

Narelle, International Student Volunteers Inc.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Give it a go!

I would definitely recommend travelling to Thailand with ISV. They arranged everything and took a lot of worry off my mind. I had the best time, and met lots of new, interesting and friendly people. It's a great way to make new friends!

What would you improve about this program?
less hiking
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Yes, I recommend this program

Dramtically life changing

Trip of a lifetime! feeding, bathing, observing, caretaking for the elephants was breathtaking, learning and being amongst the elephants was incredible. You become carefree and change your perspective

What would you improve about this program?
1. Western breakfasts - just a simple cereal would suffice, eating rice and deep fried food 3 meals a day got a bit too much
2. A clearer outline on the itinerary for the people who are only doing the 2 week programme e.g. what to pack... there was only a list for the 4 week programme
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Trip of a Lifetime

This trip was the best thing I've done for myself. Ive wanted to go to Asia for a little while, and when I heard about this, I took the plunge. As a solo traveler, it was great having ISV organize everything for me. I met people on this trip who are still my friends and now I have contacts across the globe. I loved being able to impact the country I was visiting, but also experience all it has to offer. I always felt safe, even when we would go out on our own. The guides helped us to have fun but also be safe when in a different country.
It was a bit expensive and getting the money together was a little difficult, but in the end it was worth every penny and I would do it all over again.
Best trip of my life, hands down.

What would you improve about this program?
If i could change one thing, it would be to have more late starts. It didnt bother me much, but after a month of 9am starts you get tired and just want to sleep in. But like i said, not a huge deal, but if i had to change one thing that would be it
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Unbeatable Life Changing Experience!

ISV is unique from other programs, it separates your trip into two parts, volunteer work and adventure tour.

VOLUNTEER Project: I was at a Life Development Center (LDC).

We raked a forest to help prevent spread of fires, we built dams to help slow the flow of water during the rainy season, we built a cement wall to stop flooding during the rainy season, and we taught local Thai kids English and played with them.

At night our project leader Racha taught us basic Thai phrases and discussed various topics including tourist vs. traveler, sustainability/development, and culture. She is super knowledgeable and answered all our questions.

We slept next to each other on mats on the floor, while surrounded by mosquito nets. We woke up to roosters crowing every morning at 5am.

Weekends were open. Our first weekend our host Manop gave us a tour of the hill tribes and background info on the land and the tribes, and our project leader Racha took us (we paid for taxis and entry) to a waterfall, hot spring, and cave. She also showed us a nearby hotel/cottage we could stay at the following weekend, we all agreed. For 4 cottages with 4 people in each, a lot of food and alcohol, and some unforgettable memories we each paid around $20 for that weekend. It was a great bonding experience.

Our project leader Racha is now the head of volunteer projects for the ISV Thailand programs. I still keep in touch with her, she has stayed with me twice now while visiting Los Angeles.

This was a very fulfilling and meaningful experience and great send off in to the adventure tour. I learned a lot and the living conditions were completely out of my comfort zone.


Included rockclimbing, a Thai cooking class, temples tour, couple day jungle trek/hike, white water rafting, Elephant Nature Park (favorite spot), lake tour, kayaking, young locals boxing, locals playing with fire, islands (some of the most beautiful places I have ever been).

We had a couple free days, our adventure leader Milk suggested stuff to do. I went zip lining with some people from our group one of the days, we could also just hang out and walk around if we wanted. We had time to do some lunches and dinners together. There were a good amount of fun nights out and everlasting memories in here as well. Our group had 4 birthdays during the adventure tour, and our adventure leader Milk got each of them a cake.

We only stayed at one typical hotel during the adventure tour. The rest were more like cottages, felt natural and outdoorsy, made of bamboo and wood. One even had a closed in outdoors shower and bathroom, this was nice with the touch of natural light. I absolutely loved the places we stayed at, they were mostly near beaches, rivers, or mountains, they were all beautiful and felt different like we were more immersed in the society. We were warned of monkeys getting into our stuff at some of the places, we had to ensure windows were closed and food was not left out. There some spider and lizard freak outs as well.

- I like that ISV separates volunteer and adventure... Our volunteer project leader was perfect for her position and our adventure tour leader was perfect for her position.

I am still close with several people from my group. I am lucky to have grown such a close bond with them. They are what made the trip so amazing.

What would you improve about this program?
Honestly all I can remember is the good. The main issue is probably cost, that's typical of these types of programs though.

I remember wishing we were brought to the kids sooner while at the Life Development Center, we would have gone to play with them every afternoon if we knew we could, but we did not do anything with them until the final days.

I wouldn't take back any of the days they gave us on the adventure tour, ISV's itinerary was great. Perhaps if their were more days, I would add stuff in. I would have liked to spend time in Bangkok, I figured we didn't go there because the program is focused on less developed parts of Thailand which is understandable for what they're going for. I also hear Bangkok is just like any city, and I liked getting out of my comfort zone and seeing something different from what I can find at home.

I think having a group of 12 for the volunteer project was the perfect amount. It was small enough to grow close without being too small.

**Something to keep in mind by doing this type of program is that we did not interact with many thai people. When you travel independently you meet locals and can learn from them and their stories, but everyone in our group was from US/Canada and spoke English and we did everything together. So we were not as immersed in the culture in that sense. If you're new to traveling this program is probably a better start. I felt safer by having my new friends to experience all the new places with me.

**It also feels safer to have thai native leaders and an organized program from professionals who know the ins and outs of the country, planning a trip like this from another country without years of knowledge has the potential to not go as smoothly or be as safe.

I'd suggest improving this review site to allow me to include more pictures in my review.
Read my full story
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Yes, I recommend this program

ISV - Thailand

My day to day experiences in Thailand for the volunteer experience included learning about organic farming, and helping to plant a variety of fruit in order to help encourage the development of sustainable farming in the area. We met some different tribes, and also went to a local school where we taught the children some english, as well as played games with them.
The following two weeks was the adventure part, and my favourite part of that included the island hopping. The scenery is amazing, the most beautiful I have ever seen, memories of Railay beach are still so vibrant in my mind.
The people I met were also awesome, I had never travelled by myself before and our group was made up of such chill people, we all got along so well.
Definitely an amazing experience for what it teaches you about the world and yourself.

What would you improve about this program?
There was an abundance of people who wanted to be involved with the elephant nature park and did not get to. It seemed to be the most popular program, so I would suggest allowing a greater number of people, or perhaps more excursions to this area.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Wish I could write more!

This was the best vacation I had ever had. I am so thankful I chose to stay for the adventure tour, because I would not have seen/done as much if I went on my own. I won't soon forget the incredible experiences I had volunteering with the elephant nature park, the unique experiences I gained, and how much I learned! Not many can say they bathed, fed, treated, and even were kissed by an elephant, and I hope prospective employers (I'm a zoologist) with recognize that.
The hill tribe village was an other experience entirely. My experience there so was extraordinary, I can barely put it into words. The feeling you get when the shy children begin to trust you, then become so comfortable with you that they take pictures on your camera, play with your hair, and demand piggy back rides, even when you can't verbally communicate, is incredible.

What would you improve about this program?
We didn't get to do everything that was on the list on the kayak tour, so perhaps chose a better company?
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Yes, I recommend this program

ISV- Thailand elephants

This program consisted of a week at ENP (elephant nature park) where the highlights included feeding and bathing the elephants. The second week was spent with a hill tribe where we built a squat toilet and "taught" English to school kids, highlight was definitely playing with the kids. The last two weeks were spent travelling with the group. I would really recommend this program especially to new travellers as it is stress free and everything is scheduled and arranged for you.

Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Summer with ISV Thailand

The Thailand trip was a culture shock in the best way. We got to see through real life experiences how villagers live and got to experience wild elephant sanctuary and learn how life is for the elephants. Even though the stories of the elephants were heartbreaking, it was such a relief to see then flourishing. The first week without electricity was interesting. I really got to see how much we rely on electricity and all of our electronics. We had to work out in the hot sun and cook our own meals but even with all of that, we all got really close so that was nice. We bonded over playing cards, taking breaks in the shade, and eating around our giant rectangular table.The second week with the elephants was very cool. Hearing the stories of the elephants and seeing how far they have come was amazing. My heart still breaks a little when I look back at some photo and when I hear people talking about riding elephants because I know how bad that is for them and have see what it does to the elephants. The last two weeks were amazing. We traveled all over the place doing a bunch of activities. My favorite was going to the markets in Chiang Mia. There was so much going on and so much to see you never got all the way through it. My only big difficulty with the trip was the fact that people could not get over being on their phones. You are in a beautiful country, so put down your phone and enjoy what is in front of you. That would be my advice. Put down the phone and look what is happening around. Yes I missed my family and friends but I was only in Thailand for 4 weeks. My family and friend will their when I get back, so why not enjoy it.

What would you improve about this program?
There was a lot of time traveling in vans/vehicles. That would be the only thing I would change. Find a way to do many things but don't travel so much to get there.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

ISV - Trip to Thailand to Volunteer with Elephants!

There is literally nothing I would recommend more than this trip. The food, people, animals, scenery & education are indescribable and every single day brought new amazing moments. The leader Brian was the greatest teacher and was extremely passionate and calming. The volunteering itself was more than I could have imagined. You saw what you were contributing to at the roots of the community and you could literally see the change you were making with every brick. I met amazing people and actually met my wife whilst I was out there and we have stayed together through numerous time zones and country moves so its safe to say that my life was never the same. But in addition to how my life changed, what I learnt about myself was an absolutely invaluable experience.

What would you improve about this program?
I would just like it to have been slightly longer in the two locations as I enjoyed them both so much!
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

More than I could have ever hoped for!

I knew very little about Thailand before visiting it and now I feel like I am fairly informed about the country's culture, political environment, and history. I loved my volunteer project most of all; I was able to live in a mountain Hill Tribe and build a tree nursery for a local tribe of Karen people. I was also fortunate enough to serve at the Elephant Nature Park and spend a week working for and with 39 rescued and rehabilitated elephants. That was the most life-changing aspect of the trip if I had to pick just one. I am now passionate about animal rights and conservation and I am working via social media to spread the word as well as taking every opportunity I can to talk to people and raise awareness to some of the problems going on throughout the world and specifically with elephant tourism.

The adventure tour was also incredible. I got to go sea kayaking, zip-lining, snorkeling, get a Thai massage (amazing!!), learn to cook Thai food (I'm now a master), and tour the many Buddhist temples around Chiang Mai while learning more about the philosophy and how the Thai people practice it. These are, of course, only a few of the many things extraordinary things I got to do on the adventure tour. I met some amazing people and made some life-long friends. I'm already making plans to go back and hopefully bring some of them along with me!

If you are considering this program, consider no more. Your decision has been made, you MUST go! It's the experience of a lifetime and you will never regret it!