Learn to scuba dive, explore Buddhist temples and volunteer at an elephant sanctuary on this inspiring gap year program through Thailand!
Thailand is incredibly diverse – the mountainous jungle up north is populated by numerous minority tribal groups and has stunning national parks, while tropical islands in the south have some of the world’s best beaches and diving spots. It is wonderful to contrast the mega-city bustle and excitement of Bangkok with relaxed and friendly provincial towns and villages. Traveling with us you’ll have the chance to taste a less-touristy slice of the country and uncover the true essence of Thailand.
We start this journey through Thailand by exploring some of the most stunning beaches in the world in Phuket and Krabi, before heading up north to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary and learn about mindfulness in a yoga and meditation retreat. Immerse yourself in local communities; discover Thailand’s fascinating cities and culture; explore the incredible jungle, islands, and beaches; gain skills with lessons in Buddhist meditation, Thai cooking, scuba diving, rafting and rock climbing. Join us on a journey to the heart of Thailand for a life-changing gap year program abroad!
This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
“When my daughter Shira decided to take a gap year between high school and college, Pacific Discovery's Southeast Asia Program became part of that plan. What an amazing adventure it has been! The trip was very well thought out, each day packed with extraordinary experiences and meaningful interactions with peoples of different cultures. She saw remarkable things and learned so much. Her whole sense of the world shifted. Shira returned home with greater confidence, sure of her abilities to navigate any challenge. She gained a deeper understanding of other cultures and more clarity and insight about herself. All in all, a tremendously valuable learning experience.”
Ruth Weizman (mother of Shira)
We arrive in Phuket, known for its stunning white beaches and tasty local cuisine. The first glimpses of the islands around Phuket are truly mind-blowing. Luckily, we’ve got you covered and you will be experiencing a balance of the best bits. While we enjoy the blue waters and white sands, we’ll spend some time getting to know each other during a 3-day orientation. Our time will focus on getting to know each other and creating a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals.
In your first week, we will also start a four-day diving course! Phuket is famous for many things, but the amazing scuba-spots are definitely at the top of that list! It’s time for you to explore the wonders of Phuket from below the
waves as we begin our four-day exploration under the surface of the ocean.
We will explore the cultural sights of Phuket on a guided day trip, and get introduced to some mouth-watering Thai food on a culinary journey. Yummy!
When it’s time to say farewell to perfect Phuket, we travel to Khao Sok National Park. 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. Based from your very own treehouse, hidden amongst the jungles of this National Park, we will explore the area. We spend our days hiking, tubing and exploring this lush green jungle environment.
Next, it's time to open your mind and free your soul with a full day of yoga and meditation. There isn’t a place in the world more perfect to find inner peace than Khao Sok National Park. Bursting with beauty and tranquility, you’re sure to find your peace here.
Say goodbye to the jungle and hello to the beach as we head back down South to Railay Beach in Krabi! Situated along the Andaman Sea coastline, Railay Beach is one like no other, and you’re sure to fall in love with its golden sand and crystal clear water! After check-in you’ll have a free afternoon to explore everything that Railay Beach has to offer! The next day, you will discover Railay Beach from above the ground as we head off on an epic morning rock climbing adventure!
We try our hands at paddle-boarding off the coast of Railay Beach, before catching the ferry over to the next island on our list, Koh Mook! The untouched and unexploited beauty of this island is really something to behold, and it is often referred to as the ‘Pearl’ of Thailand’s islands. Enjoy a welcome meal in the evening to really get a feel of Koh Mook!
We explore Koh Mook by land and sea on a guided island tour. We take to the streets to discover the wonders of Koh Mook's natural beauty, culture and the day-to-day lives of the local people who live there. We also hit the high-seas and explore the hidden wonders surrounding Koh Mook, including the Emerald Cave and sunset fishing! On our next few days, we will take a morning hike up to a stunning viewpoint, learn to recreate the Thai dishes that you've come to love, and make souvenirs from coconut shells. We also get involved in our first service project, where we’ll learn about the coral and mangrove population in Thailand, and help to replant some of them!
It’s time to bid farewell to the glorious beaches of Thailand’s islands for now, and head up North to the mountains of Chiang Mai. We’ll enjoy a delicious dinner at Chiang Mai’s famous night market, which offers the perfect opportunity for travelers to see how Chiang Mai operates away from the tourist trails! Chiang Mai is a city like no other. Concealed by the mountain ranges on all sides, Chiang Mai is rich in culture and tradition, filled with quaint shops and restaurants, and friendly, smiling locals. We get to explore it all on a guided tour of the city, visiting Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, Wat Phalad, and Wat Umong!
You 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 for 5 days, helping care for them and exploring the complex issue the animal conservation world is currently facing.
After saying goodbye to our giant friends, we head back to Chiang Mai city where you’ll have a free afternoon to recover from your whirlwind adventure with the elephants, before enjoying a group meal at the Chiang Mai Night Market.
It’s time to see Chiang Mai in the best possible ways, from the saddle of a bicycle, the back of a tuk-tuk and by moving our feet on a hike! We will also check out Chiang Mai by tuk-tuk, as we head out on a Chiang Mai street food tuk-tuk tour! We visit Wat Chedi Luang and the 3 Kings Monument, enjoy a street food dinner, and have the chance to witness street food chefs perform their skills in person!
This week is all about empathy and understanding. We will be based in the forest just outside of Chiang Mai and work to support one of the minority tribes in northern Thailand. We will work alongside a transparent NGO that helps to empower at-risk girls to end trafficking and exploitation within their communities and works to break the cycle of poverty in Thailand. We get to work with them over the next six days to help them in their vital mission.
Next, we head to beautiful Pa Pae for our meditation and yoga retreat! 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. We will also take part in some gardening before an Enlightenment Of Buddha ceremony and a lantern bonfire in the evening!
This week, we head to Pai, not forgetting to take our new mindfulness and peacefulness with us, and go on the adventure of a lifetime! We continue on to a white water 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 also explore the village of Luk Khao Lam, before venturing further out on a trek in the beautiful areas surrounding the village.
We also start a 5-day volunteer project with a non-profit NGO based in Pai. Their mission is to restore natural forest landscapes throughout Thailand in ways that protect and enhance biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of local communities in the long term.
We’re transferring to Sukothai, 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 will learn more about this town’s interesting history, and watch the sunset over the beautiful ancient ruins.
We’re off to visit Two World Heritage Sites - Sukothai and Si Satchanalai. This trip will let you discover the meaningful religious beliefs by exploring ancient monuments and doing a workshop inspired by local wisdom. We will visit Wat Phra Si Rattanamahathat Chalieng, Wat Nang Phaya and Wat Changlom, as well as many
other amazing places!
We also explore Phitsanulok, a beautiful city sometimes known as Muang Song Khwae due to the two rivers that flow through it. Here, we’re heading back out on the water in another white water rafting adventure, this time surrounded by the beauty of Phitsanulok. Remember to bring your swim-suit!
It’s time to leave Phitsanulok and transfer to the beautiful jungles of Ayutthaya. After check-in we’ll head out on a tour of this magical city, seeing all of the sights and wonders that it has to hold, and all from a longtail boat! Now that we've already explored Ayutthaya’s sightseeing spots, it’s time to explore the cultural side of the city. We’ll take a guided morning cultural tour of the city before transferring to the bustling capital of Bangkok.
Thailand is home to one of the largest markets in the world - Jatujak Market, otherwise known as JJ Market. We get to explore this wondrous sight, the perfect place to buy those souvenirs to take home at the end of your trip. We’ll then enjoy a yummy lunch at the market, where you can sit back and watch the hustle and bustle of market life around you. We will also whiz through the streets on an exhilarating (and very safe) electric scooter tour. The perfect way to discover the magic of Bangkok!
Hidden in the busy Bangkok streets are some of Thailand’s most beautiful religious and cultural sites, and this week we get to visit them and see their beauty in person. Including Wat Pho, The Grand Palace, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Arun, as well as many more. In the evening we’ll enjoy a final night dinner, to share
hugs, laughter, memories and photos.
It’s time to bid farewell to Thailand, your new friends, and your guide, as you hop on board your flight and head off on your next adventure, wherever that may take you!
*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.
This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an average fitness level and an interest in conservation, humanitarian work, new experiences and different cultures will have a great time on this gap semester! You need to be openminded, and prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program. You don’t need to have had previous experience with international travel or any of the activities offered.
The program is a shared group experience. Join this program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
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 often, 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:
Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand