Experience an inspiring travel semester abroad on this Southeast Asia gap year program through the Buddhist countries of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Southeast Asia can’t be beaten for the sheer diversity of cultures, histories and landscapes in a geographically small area. Your days will be as varied as the countries you visit, with a fusion of hands-on volunteer work with elephants, connecting with locals during community volunteer projects, camping under the stars on an overnight rafting trip, and healthy doses of jungles and beaches.

Join us on this epic journey through the remote minority villages of Laos, the diverse landscapes of Vietnam, the world-famous Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat, all the way to the stunning beaches of Southern Thailand. This 70-day gap year program offers you an enriching fusion of community and animal rescue volunteer projects, cultural immersion, Thai cooking, Buddhist meditation, snorkeling, and of course, non-stop adventure!

 

   Top Rated Gap Year Organization  Voted Best Gap Year Program

 

This Gap Year Program Is For You if You...

✓ Want to relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world

✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in a new culture

✓ Love activities like rock climbing, hiking, snorkeling and Thai boxing

✓ Are enthusiastic about animal welfare and community volunteering

✓ Want to discover spectacular temples, jungles and vibrant markets

 

Thoughts From a Former Southeast Asia Student

   Before heading across the world to Southeast Asia, I’d had a rough couple of years. I was at a crossroads in my life. The program opened my eyes to whole new realms of possibilities, as well as giving me a chance to step back, take a deep breath, relax and reflect. 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. The friends and experiences I made along the way gave me more confidence than I ever thought possible. I have Pacific Discovery to thank for that. I can confidently say that my time in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia has re-inspired me to be excited about my future. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.” 

- Trevor Cheitlin

 

Looking to Travel in Fall 2022?

Our newest Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Fall Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!

Request Online Catalogue

  • Service-learning and Volunteer Projects
    • • Get up close and personal with elephants during a volunteer project at an elephant sanctuary
    • • Building a simple home for a marginalized family in Cambodia
    • • English language support with local students
    • • Workshop in Hoi An with a development organization supporting marginalized communities
  • Outdoor Adventures
    • • Rock climbing and caving introductory course in Northern Thailand
    • • Rafting adventures through the rivers of Thailand
    • • Trekking through Northern Laos with visits to ethnic minority villages
    • • Riverboat journey down Asia's most legendary river, the Mekong River
    • • Snorkeling and beach time in Southern Thailand
    • • Hiking and kayaking in the amazing jungle, rivers and lakes of Khao Sok National Park
  • Cultural Immersion
    • • Learn to make authentic Thai food during a cooking workshop
    • • Find inner peace during a Buddhist meditation retreat led by Thai monks
    • • Try your hand at Muay Thai (or Thai boxing), the country’s national sport
    • • Learn about the culture through working alongside local villagers in small communities
  • Personal Development
    • • Become a global citizen with a global perspective on environmental issues
    • • Take control of the itinerary and learn to work as a team with a self-led section!
    • • Focus on your mind, body and soul with yoga sessions
    • • Transfer the applicable learning activities to benefit both school and personal life

**This is a guide to what you can expect to do on Program. The order in which the activities occur might vary**

 

TO THAILAND

Week 1. Ancient Temples & Rock Climbing in Chiang Mai

You will arrive in Bangkok, Thailand, having journeyed from the West to the East. In Bangkok, cultures entwine in a symphony of sounds, scents, sights and tastes – it is sensory overload!

Departing Bangkok we take the train to Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site, famous for its ancient temples. 1000 years ago, Sukhothai was the capital of Thailand. Today it is a tranquil quintessential Thai town. We base ourselves here for an in-depth program orientation where we focus on getting to know each other and creating a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals. We’ll also explore the complex of temple ruins by bicycle before continuing by minivan, north to Chiang Mai.

After a refreshing night in Chiang Mai we head into the countryside and spend two days learning climbing, rappelling and caving. We camp nearby, and practice our conversational Thai at the local market.

Week 2. Elephant Sanctuary Volunteering 

In our second week, we will see a LOT of elephants around these parts. Fortunately, you will be staying at an ethical elephant conservation park that aims to solve some of the problems surrounding elephant exploitation in Thailand. Despite a ban on logging, elephant habitat is still being lost and as few as 500 wild elephants are left within Thailand and they are threatened. Over 2,000 domestic elephants, trapped in the traditional elephant tourist industry, have a bleak future. You will be up close and personal with these kind and unforgettable animals, helping care for them and exploring the complex issue the animal conservation world is currently facing.

By the time we return to Chiang Mai, you’ll have learned an enormous amount about elephant conservation, will be very sad to farewell these gentle giants, and will feel incredibly satisfied at the rewarding work you’ve done to ensure their protection.

Week 3. Rafting & Buddhist Meditation Retreat

We continue on for a rafting adventure. Do you remember the last time you went camping, hiking, or mountain biking? Remember getting that feeling of excitement thinking “oh wow, this is super fun, I should get outdoors more often?”, think more excitement and more thrills and then you land at whitewater rafting! It’s addictive, the wild rapids, the unexpected twists and turns, the screams of excitement. It’s thrilling! We’ll discover hot-springs, waterfalls and gorges on the way and spend a great night camping beside the river. 

On our return from trekking we will stay two nights in Pai, a relaxing town nestled in a forested valley. Changing gears, we then have 3 days of reflection and insight at a peaceful Buddhist Meditation Retreat taught by Thai monks. We begin our days with chanting and meditation, before getting a Buddhism and meditation workshop. We’ll then head out into the open to discover meditation with nature, the perfect way to find inner peace.

Week 4. Thai Cooking, Yoga & The Mekong River

Based from our comfortable guesthouse in Chiang Mai, we cram these days with a variety of experiences: a traditional Thai cooking course, an ‘Amazing Race’ around Chiang Mai, an introduction to yoga, and a Muay Thai lesson (sometimes referred to as ‘Thai Boxing’) run by a Thai national champion. There’s also time to explore Chiang Mai’s night markets and food stalls.

We travel further north to the town of Chiang Khong, on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. From any vantage point in the town we can gaze across the waters to the Laotian town of Huay Xai. Tomorrow… new country, new currency, new language, new food! Our first official border crossing. We cross the Mekong River to Huay Xai, Laos, and begin our journey down the Mekong River.

 

TO LAOS

Week 5. Trekking, Temples & Waterfalls

We begin our 2-day boat journey down the Mekong River with plenty of space to lay back and enjoy the river views – jungled hills, people fishing, kids playing on the riverbanks. Our last day on the river takes us past the Pak Ou Caves, believed to be the most spiritually significant site in Laos and containing hundreds of Buddha images, before continuing to Luang Prabang.

From Luang Prabang we embark on a 4-day trek through a remote region of northern Laos, overnighting in ethnic minority villages. We'll develop our resilience, our team work and our understanding of life in marginalized rural communities. We'll be amazed at the villages nestled into steep hillsides as we hike through rice paddies, forest and limestone mountains. On our final day we will return to Luang Prabang for some rest and relaxation.

Described by a program alumni as a town of ‘colonial-French-Buddhist-jungle-rainforest fusion’, this World Heritage City – with its glistening temple roofs, crumbling French colonial architecture and fantastic food, is hard to leave. We explore the temples, visit an impressive waterfall nearby, and wake at dawn to watch the colorful procession of monks collecting alms (their day’s food) from the local residents.

 

TO VIETNAM

Week 6. Student-led Section from Hanoi to Hoi An

We fly from Luang Prabang to Hanoi, the cultural heart of Vietnam. Our Laotian Kip becomes Vietnamese Dong and we’ll have the chance to try another new language and take part in local life at streetside restaurants and markets.

We base ourselves in the Old Quarter of the city, where daily life spills out onto the street. Enjoy some free time to explore the colorful streets of the Old Quarter, where streets are named for the products they sell. See artisans creating a myriad of products, gravestones being carved, silk merchants haggling, flower markets and everything imaginable being bought and sold on the streets.

During this time you’ll have time to plan before commencing the student-led section of the program between Hanoi and Hoi An. We will split the group in half, with one instructor accompanying each small group. Each group is given a budget and date they need to arrive in Hoi An. Then each group plans and executes their own travels and manages their budget.

Week 7. History in Saigon & Mekong Delta

Wandering the streets of Hoi An, you really feel embraced by history. The town now has UNESCO World Heritage status and its old houses, quiet streets and covered bridges are being preserved and restored. Hoi An is renowned for its diverse architectural heritage, masterful tailors, abundant silks and superb cuisine. We will spend a morning in a craft workshop at a vocational training organization. In our free time there’s a gorgeous beach nearby for sunrise dips and century old buildings to check out. People watching on the riverfront with an icy fresh juice in hand is hard to beat!

A flight south takes us to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), a city of stunning contrasts, bursting with energy and a 24-hour go-go-go attitude. We visit the legendary Cu Chi Tunnels – over 250kms of tunnels, in some places several floors deep, where Viet Cong forces built pseudo-cities underground, enabling them to infiltrate and control large areas around Saigon virtually undetected. Back in Saigon we venture out to the War Remnants Museum, a chilling memorial to the atrocities of the Vietnam War. We lighten up with a stroll around the unusual Presidential Palace and Ben Thanh, Saigon’s central market – a great place to stock up on fresh-baked croissants and fine roasted coffee from the highlands.

The Mekong Delta is one of the largest deltas in the world. You’ll be in awe of its beauty as we explore the area by bicycle and boat, visiting small farms and workshops on islands.

 

TO CAMBODIA

Week 8. Cultural Immersion & Community Volunteering

We travel through the Delta and cross the border into Cambodia, where we get a taste of culture and an understanding of life for most Cambodians in the countryside by staying with a wonderful Khmer community. We will visit local schools to speak English with the students, participate in community life, and learn about community development initiatives.

We say goodbye to our Khmer family and travel to Kep and Kampot on the south coast. Over the next four days we volunteer with an NGO and a marginalized community in poverty, to build two simple homes for community members. This will be a challenging and rewarding project.

When not working on the project, we visit Epic Arts and participate in a movement workshop. Epic Arts is an organization that promotes integration of people of all abilities using the arts as a form of expression, empowerment, education and employment – vital in a country where an estimated 1 in 250 people have some form of disability.

Week 9. Angkor Wat Temples & Bustling Bangkok

We uncover the tragic history of the Khmer Rouge regime with a visit to the infamous Killing Fields and to Tuol Sleng Museum. We visit an inspiring NGO providing vocational training for some of Phnom Penh’s 20,000 street kids. There is also time to immerse ourselves in the wonderfully chaotic Russian Market, undoubtedly one of the more interesting markets you’ll ever visit.

Leaving Phnom Penh, we drive to Siem Reap. From this interesting town, we explore the impressive remnants of the Angkor Empire. The Angkor Wat temples are the largest temple ruins on earth. Through mammoth carved stone panels, stories unfold of historical events, tales of gods, and legends. Wonder at the civilization that created them – at its peak with a population of one million people, it exceeded the size and complexity of any other city in the world!

We travel overland to Thailand via the ‘Wild West’ Cambodian border town of Poipet. You’ll be amazed how welcoming Bangkok feels compared with your first day in Thailand, more than two months earlier. We’ll have some free time to explore the city together and enjoy its fantastic street food and urban culture.

 

BACK IN THAILAND

Week 10. Kayaking & Snorkeling at the Southern Beaches

We take an early morning flight from Bangkok to Phuket and travel overland to Khao Sok National Park. Based from a jungle lodge we spend three days hiking, kayaking and exploring this amazing jungle environment. Khao Sok National Park is a remnant of the oldest and most diverse rainforest in the world, and is home to the largest flower in the world. 

From Khao Sok we travel to Krabi, then go on a boat trip to Railay Beach. Railay is a peninsula on the mainland only accessible by boat, surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs, jungle and the clear waters of the Andaman Sea. This is a world-class area for rock climbing, snorkeling and diving. We settle into private beach homes, the perfect spot to reflect, process and celebrate over two months of incredible personal growth and impactful experiences. 

One day we will go cruising and snorkeling, where you can see colorful soft and hard corals and an astounding diversity of fish. Another day we have a choice of options including sea kayaking or rock-climbing. There’s time for relaxing on the beach, swimming, reminiscing about our adventures, and preparing for our transition home.

A short boat ride back to Krabi and flight to Bangkok signals our return home. Some of us will fly home, others may continue on to new destinations or stay on exploring in the region. All of us will carry a lifetime of memories, insights and bonds formed during this incredible experience together.

 

*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.

For full program details, please request the information booklet

What's included?

✓ All in-program travel and transport, excluding flights

✓ All accommodation

✓ All meals

✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary

✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides

✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism

✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves

✓ Visas for Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia - Visa not required for Thailand for most nationalities

Activity Level

    

Medium Activity Level: Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants.

Camping Level

    

Low Camping Level: You will spend most of your nights on this gap year program in comfortable guesthouses and modern hotels.

Volunteering Level

    

Medium Service Learning Level: You will be able to make a difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Our accommodation will vary from simple guesthouses and community homestays with shared facilities, to modern hotels with private bathrooms. Laundry and Wi-Fi will be available some days, except while on expeditions or on homestays. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.

Food is undoubtedly a highlight when travelling in Asia and throughout there will be the opportunity to eat authentic Asian food. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $10 per day for. 

All meals are eaten out at restaurants due to the local culture and accommodation. An average day on program would consist of the following: 

  • Breakfast: rice, toast, fruit, omelet, Jok (rice porridge), dim sum
  • Lunch: Noodles, soups, Tom Kha, dim sum
  • Dinner: curry (Green, red, yellow, massaman), rice, noodles, Pad Thai, grilled meats, fried rice, Som Tam (spicy green papaya salad), Laab (spicy salad), some western food available in western areas, but not in the mountain communities

Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand

To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.

They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.

Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.

We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!

We have been running successful gap year programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look. 

Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.

We have answered the most frequently asked questions in the FAQ SectionIf you still have any other questions, feel free to schedule a call with our admissions team for more information.

Fall Dates 15 Sep - 23 Nov, 2022
7 Sep - 15 Nov, 2023
Spring Dates 2 Feb - 12 Apr, 2023
Duration 70 days
Program Tuition $13,750 USD Estimated Flight Cost $1,800 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 14 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 17 - 22 ideal Covid-19 Vaccination Requirement Vaccination Required
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Bangkok, Thailand