Our Thailand Mini-Semester is incredibly diverse; from immersing ourselves in Bangkok's bustling mega-city vibes to climbing on the limestone ocean cliff walls of Railay.
The mountainous northern jungle of Thailand is populated by minority tribal groups and has stunning national parks, while tropical islands in the south have some of the world’s best beaches and snorkeling spots. From cultural immersion in the mountains to island living, the program is deliberately staged with the ideal combination of adventure and relaxation. You’ll get a taste of everything from volunteering at an elephant sanctuary, practicing thai cooking and muay thai, rock climbing on the sea cliffs of Railay, tubing down rivers in Khao Sok National Park, and getting zen at a meditation retreat near Pai! We detail some of the highlights below.
Scuba Diving in Koh Lanta
What a place to upskill in your scuba qualification! We head south to the remote and uncrowded island of Koh Lanta for our scuba course. Manta rays and whale sharks roam these waters, so we will always keep one eye on the reef and one on the deep blue, in case we get a glimpse of one of these mystical oceanic creatures. The reef is incredibly vibrant, with Gorgonian sea fans, anemone, little reef sharks, hawksbill turtles and nudibranch (google them!), shrimp, pipefish, seahorses, lionfish and mantis shrimp. Over the three day course we get familiar and comfortable with identifying the coral and fish of the underwater world.
You will see a LOT of elephants around these parts as we dive into our first service-learning project with an elephant conservation program. We will be staying at an ethical sanctuary that aims to solve some of the problems surrounding elephant exploitation in Thailand. This week is all about empathy and understanding in a local community. Despite a ban on logging, elephant habitat is still being lost and as few as 500 wild elephants are left in Thailand. Over 2,000 domestic elephants, trapped in the traditional elephant tourist industry (i.e. tourists taking joy rides), 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 issues the animal conservation world is facing.
Service work at the non-profit Daughters Rising
This impactful program takes participants off the tourist track to volunteer with an international community development project near Chiang Mai. Here, we work alongside a non profit that takes a grassroots approach to working with at-risk populations in ethnic minority communities. This is an authentic insight into rural community life in Thailand. The work we’ll be doing is connected to the local hill tribes and their agricultural practices. We might help with planting seedlings, building greenhouses, digging garden beds, chopping bamboo to create fences, and whatever else the community requires while we are there. This is a unique opportunity to connect with a local Thai community and immerse in community living. At Daughters Rising, we will work hand in hand with change makers from the Karen Hill Tribe community. You’ll have the opportunity to ask about their life, their work, and maybe even learn some Karen Language. On our final night, we will head over to Chai Lai Orchid - a beautiful resort that directs its profit toward the Daughters Rising project. While here, we will witness a beautiful sunset, have an incredible dinner, and meet the co-founder of the organization.
Buddhist Meditation Retreat at Pa Pae
We transfer to a meditation retreat in Pa Pae and take a few days to relax and unwind. We will be learning Buddhist philosophies, and honing in on mindfulness techniques. You can’t help but soak in the serenity in this luscious retreat. Meditation involves lifelong wellness skills that might just be one of the key lessons we take home from this program. From meditation halls high in treehouses, to chalets on the river, to giant swinging bamboo platforms, there is and ideal space for everyone to spend time with themselves. The director of the center, Lung Pi Mapong, is a wonderful storyteller. In addition to taking us through meditation, he will share many stories about Buddhism, becoming a Monk, and meditation. While here, we will spend one late night sitting around a bonfire under the Bodhi tree and hear the story of Buddha. It is truly a magical experience.
Fresh water karst limestone at Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park. The jungle here is a remnant of the oldest and most diverse rainforest in the world and is home to the largest (carnivorous!) flower in the world. The temperature hikes up a few notches and we will be in swimsuits and shorts from hereon out. Based out of our very own treehouse, we will spend our days hiking and exploring together. We’ll float down the Khao Sok river on tubes to soak up the stunning jungle atmosphere. The trees above you house birds and monkeys along with orchids and exotic fruits and flowers. Rattan vines, giant Pandanus trees, and massive tropical hardwoods line the river. From this freshwater paradise, we venture further south to the ocean.
Beaches and climbing at Railay
We head to this quintessential destination known for its limestone cliffs, dense jungle, and the clear emerald waters of the Andaman Sea. This is a world-class area for rock climbing and snorkeling, and we’ll get in all of these epic experiences! We will even get out on kayaks - the best transport for visiting the islands that dot the coast. While here, you’ll have a lot of time to lay on the beach, enjoy a fresh smoothie from a local stand, or get out on the water. You’ll be able to spend your last days together as a group and soak up all the beauty Southern Thailand has to offer.
Learn Lots of New Skills
We will get spicy with an authentic Thai cooking course - think pad thai, green curry and rice paper rolls. Locals add about six chilis to their curry, but we might just want to start with two! We will also get sweaty in some Muay Thai classes. This type of martial arts was founded in Thailand, and tourists flock from around the world to learn from the masters of Muay Thai. It’s really fun to have a go, the hype in the boxing gyms is amazing!
Traveling with us, you’ll have the chance to get off the beaten track and uncover the true essence of a South East Asian experience on our Thailand Mini Semester.
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