Volunteering as a teacher abroad

Volunteering as a teacher with uVolunteer

Many of us wish we could travel more, but so often, making a journey is considered a luxury. As a result, we may deny ourselves the benefits of travelling to other places and experiencing different world views, philosophies, and cultures. Another activity that seems to have fallen by the wayside is that of service. As a volunteer, we facilitate a reconnection with our fellow human beings, and nurture an essential understanding of our sameness. When you give of yourself, offering your time and your attention, you give a gift far more precious than a donation of funds or goods. Moreover, you are giving to yourself as well, a priceless gift of experience that can only happen when you are fully engaged with the wonders of the world around you.

Volunteering as a teacher abroad

Feeding or teaching others?

While volunteering to feed those who are hungry or to build homes for those without are worthy pursuits, perhaps the most rewarding service is that of teaching. Any teacher you meet will tell you that it’s not just about instruction in the classroom. Teaching offers a wealth of learning experiences to the teacher – endless opportunities to grow as a human being. So, why not take the unique opportunity to have both the rewarding experiences offered by travel and the enrichment of helping others at the same time? Travel to Thailand and help teach English to bright, enthusiastic students.

Day to day tasks as a volunteer

In the Trat province of Thailand, schools often go underfunded, which can place strain on the teachers. As a volunteer in schools in and around the provincial capital of Trat, you would serve as a teacher’s aid to help ensure that each child receives the best possible instruction in the basics of the English language. Since Thai pedagogy centers around fun as a primary teaching tool, it’s vital to be an enthusiastic, encouraging helper to these children, so they soak up everything they possibly can. You’ll help to develop and implement engaging lesson plans for classrooms of between 20 and 40 students. During the week, you’ll work a maximum of six hours in the morning, Monday to Thursday. With your time off, you are free to travel to nearby tourist attractions, soak up the local culture and cuisine, or take photographs of an exotic new land.

Getting ready

As exciting as travelling abroad can be, it’s always best to prepare yourself physically and psychologically for the journey. While you will be based in Trat, a regional city, be sure to consult with your GP a minimum of several weeks before you plan to travel. Most GPs will recommend a Hepatitis B vaccination, and possibly a yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis treatment as well. The latter two complications are carried by mosquitoes, so pack your bug spray. Also, it’s generally advisable to be up-to-date on all your standard vaccinations, from polio to tetanus, and to plan ahead for over-the-counter needs; medication for issues such as diarrhea, menstrual cramps, headache, indigestion, and sunburn should be purchased in advance of travel. Enjoy the street market food that is freshly prepared, wear a helmet if you hop on a motorcycle taxi, and keep your valuables in a safe place. And most importantly, remember to have fun! This is a journey that can be as rewarding for you as it is for the fun-loving Thai children you’ll help educate – and that’s a truly wonderful thing!

Exploring Thailand by car

Road trippin’ in Thailand

One excellent way to visit Thailand is to hire a car and explore by yourself. Since most of the highways are well maintained and are in good condition, Thailand can be a great place to drive. By driving yourself, you will not only have a greater chance of seeing things off the beaten track, but you’ll also get to have the adventure of navigating and exploring on your own. You’ll be able to visit all of the gorgeous tropical beaches, mountain villages and traditional monasteries with your own set of wheels.

Exploring Thailand by car

Hiring a Car: The Logistics

The big car hire brands operate out of the airport in Bangkok and have offices in the major cities. There are also local agencies that will rent to foreigners. However, before you plan to hire a car, you should make sure that your car insurance covers accidents abroad, just in case. If you plan to spend less than six months in the country, then you can use your regular driver’s license. For longer stays, you should get an international license or a Thai driver’s license.

In terms of road safety and etiquette, cars drive on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car, the same as in the UK. Outside major cities, driving can be quite pleasant due to the lack of traffic, while driving in Bangkok can be hellish. Expect to deal with tailgating and other drivers cutting in front of you. If you are uncomfortable with this type of aggressive driving, you can arrange to pick up your car near the city’s outskirts and use the car to only explore the countryside, with only a short trip back into the city to return the car at the end of your trip.

Suggested Routes

With no shortage of interesting sites and activities, there are thousands of different routes you can take in Thailand. For example, you can drive from Bangkok to Phuket, exploring beaches and seaside villages along the way. Or, take a trip up north to the hill country and explore the mountainous tropical rainforest. With a car, you’ll be able to set your own schedule and see things usually left off the tour company itineraries, such as secluded beaches, isolated villages and little-known ruins.

Safety First

While a road trip around Thailand may be the adventure of a lifetime, it’s also important to take steps to ensure your own health and safety while you’re away, and it’s important to read up on important and relevant travel information. In some parts of rural Thailand, medical care may not be readily available, and you should make sure you carry basic first aid supplies in the car, take medication to prevent malaria if necessary, and receiving all necessary vaccinations before your trip.

Additionally, driving in some parts of Thailand can be dangerous, particularly in Bangkok. Make sure you have insurance before you go and try to drive as cautiously as possible. Be aware that even a minor accident can result in a whiplash injury that can cause significant pain and discomfort. If you are involved in an accident, seek medical attention immediately.

Nevertheless, travelling by car is a fantastic way to see Thailand. Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime and experience the open Thai road.

Sleeping buddha in Chiang Mai

Exploring northern Thailand

Most trips to Thailand centre around the bustling capital of Bangkok or the nation’s paradise islands, like Koh Samui, but I think there’s a lot to be said for visiting the north. It’s here that you’ll find some of the nation’s most incredible scenery, great locations for trekking, and cities brimming with cultural attractions.

If the idea of exploring Thailand’s lesser-trod north appeals to you, read my brief introduction to the region – hopefully, it’ll give you a little inspiration when creating your itinerary!

Chiang Mai

 

Sleeping buddha in Chiang Mai

Ask most travellers to name a destination in northern Thailand and you can pretty much bank on them saying Chiang Mai. Once upon a time, this city acted as a convenient base for hikers planning on trekking through the northern hills and, while it still acts in this capacity to a certain extent, it’s also become a destination in its own right.

The genius of Chiang Mai lies in its juxtaposition of old and new. Here, you can see historic temples standing side-by-side with swish hotels – and this really does reflect the culture of the place as a whole. There’s so much traditional culture to discover, but Chiang Mai is also, in many ways, a very modern city.

Among the top things to do while you’re here is head into the mountains to trek among rice paddies and meet hill tribes, visit some of its 300-plus temples, explore the old city and hit the Night Bazaar. A sprawling market, the Night Bazaar provides an unforgettable experience, comprising shops and stalls selling everything from designer goods to traditional hill crafts.

Chiang Rai

Not yet as popular as its larger neighbour, Chiang Rai is nonetheless slowly becoming known to more and more travellers. Part of Chiang Rai’s appeal is that it’s a quieter place to experience the history and culture of the north (compared to Chiang Mai), while it is also home to amazing natural landscapes.

The mountains lining the north of the city are loaded with brilliant treks, so this is every bit as good a base for walkers as Chiang Mai. Plus, Chiang Rai is fantastic for tackling jungle hikes and wildlife spotting. One thing you should remember, though, is that you ought to visit the Population Development Association’s Hill Tribe Education Centre before planning a hike to a hill tribe (unless you’re travelling as part of a tour group, that is).

Sukhothai

Translating as ‘dawn of happiness’, Sukhothai is famous for its spectacular ruins, which have been so well restored that it’s easy not to think of them as ruins at all. Dating back to the 13th century, this city experienced its heyday under the rule of King Ramkhamhaeng and these days is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A visit here is a real must during your time in the north, since the number of temples and monuments to see is pretty unbelievable. If you can, go at night to view them lit up in all their glory; that said, the area is usually open from 08:30 to 16:30 local time, so you need to check whether there will be any late openings during your stay.

Lesser-known gems

While stunning, Sukhothai can get very busy. Kamphaeng Phet, however, is much less so. The ruins here date back to around the 14th century and, as this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you should expect to be just as awed here as you would be at Sukhothai.

The ruins are not far from the modern city, with some just north of it. The bulk of them, though, are a few km away – but they’re well worth the trip!

The city of Phayao, meanwhile, is a real hidden gem, with its pretty lakeside setting and traditional wooden houses. The star of the show, however, is Kwan Phayao – northern Thailand’s largest swamp. Yes, I realise ‘swamp’ doesn’t exactly sound appealing, but it’s actually very pretty, and the sunsets here are to die for. So, add it to your to-do list!

Floating market in Thailand

My culinary vision of Thailand

As I sit in my in Zenz, my local Thai restaurant, I wonder how it all went wrong. The crispy chilli beef could be anything, mostly it seems to be made of jam. The lemon chicken is giving me cavities with each mouthful and the Thai fishcakes would be more handy to re-sole my trainers with. The less said about the crispy duck (possibly squirrel) the better. The trouble is that this meal is pretty much what you’ll find in most BRitish small town Asian restaurants and takeaways. There is nothing remotely authentic about it. The food is often microwave heated and the balance of flavours would only appeal someone with an insanely sweet tooth.

I know this is not the way food is meant to be. Thai food should be complexly seasoned and have a delicate balance of bitter, sweet, salty and sour. The food should be flavoured with delicious herbs and spices. There should be a wide variety of seasonal vegetables. Not a token carrot in sight. Clearly someone has been pulling the wool over my eyes.

The real McCoy

Lush green rice fields in Thailand

There are many reasons why I have always wanted to visit Asia, but having the opportunity to taste some authentic cuisine is the biggest one. A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Thailand where she travelled on her own, attending cookery schools around the country. She regaled us with tales of the beautiful countryside, the people she met on the way and the way of life. All while we ate the most stunning Pad Thai at her kitchen table.

It seems as though the only way I’m going to get a decent Thai meal is to pack my bags and head off to Thailand to get one. It will certainly be a far cry from the food served at Zenz restaurant. For a start, fish cakes should contain some element of fish!

Picture credit: echiner1.

En route to Thailand

The first place I’d want to head to is straight to Ayutthaya and into the Central Plains – this area is often known as the ‘rice bowl’ and is the agricultural centre of Thailand. You can fly straight into Bangkok’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport and get a bus along Route 4 from there. In the region there are rice paddies and shrimp farms galore, but the biggest draw are the floating markets.

One of the most popular floating markets is the Damnoen Saduak market. Hundreds of boats fill the river each morning selling, I imagine, the freshest fruits and vegetables from the region. Everything is available from Pak Choi to Papaya my friend tells me. Perfect for recreating authentic recipes. The market is colourful, the air is full of unfamiliar smells and the locals barter noisily between the boats. You can pick up some great meals too at the market. I would dearly love to try mango and sticky rice the way it is meant to be cooked!

Floating market in Thailand

Picture credit to tommykwok630.

Cooking, cooking, cooked

The next thing is to have a few cookery lessons. There are plenty of English-speaking courses that run throughout Thailand. The Baipai Cookery school in Bangkok has been running for 10 years and offers hands-on courses. The menus are based on seasonal produce and it looks very professional. Sounds right up my street, and a lot different from the depressing home economics lessons of my childhood.

Finally on my little tour of Thailand I’d like to sample as much street food as possible. It’s a million miles away from the roadside greasy bacon sandwiches that you find sold out of a van on the A1. Steamed chicken with fragrant rice, little Chinese doughnuts flavoured with soya milk and noodle soups flavoured with all kinds of delicious delicacies. What better way to get around a country than to eat your way around!

Of course the food is only part of my dream of visiting Thailand. The country, it’s people and culture are so far removed from rainy dismal Blighty. The landscape extreme, from the vast rice paddies to the beautiful white sand beaches. Hopefully I will come back more knowledgeable, a little fatter and with a feeling of satiety!

2 smiling Thai women

Top Activities to do in Thailand

2 smiling Thai women

When you say Thailand it conjures up images of exotic beaches with beautiful white sand and rich turquoise waters. And although these images are well warranted, there’s also so much more to see and do in this vast region of outstanding natural beauty and invigorating activities.

Night Time Safari in Chiang Mai

Up in the north of Thailand buried in dense jungle and clouds of mosquitos Chiang Mai is a place of tranquility where travelers and tourists often retreat to in order to escape the excited beaches of south Thailand or sheer mania of Bangkok and the Koh San Road. On the night time safari explorers pass through several different zones, each one host to a different range of animals. The savanna safari zone has over 300 animals including white rhinos, hyenas, cheetahs, wildebeests, giraffes, ostriches, zebras, and water buffalos. In the predator prowl zone there are over 200 animals including tigers, lions, vultures, wolves, bears and crocodiles. Seeing these exotic creatures in their own habitat is a priceless experience well worth the late bed time.

Rock Climbing on Railay Beach

Railay beach is a short boat ride from Krabi in south Thailand and its limestone cliff faces boast some of the best rock climbing routes in the southern hemisphere. With a lot of the routes located right on the beach you kick off with sand under your feet before maneuvering up one of the 700 bolted sport climbing routes with a back drop of incredible coastal views. With trained local instructors as well as many enthusiasts visiting the area from around the world you’ll have plenty of people to help you find the best ridge for you. There are beginner 5a’s through classic multipitch 6a’s right up to the extremes of 8c so there’s enough crags here to keep any climber busy for years.

Diving in Koh Tao

The islands of Koh Phangang, Koh Samui and Koh Tao are often associated with the full moon party and pristine white beaches, however they are also brilliant spots for snorkeling and diving. If you’re not ready for all the equipment and don’t want to get your PADI then you can snorkel quite comfortably just off the coast. With breathtaking views above and below the water diving in Koh Tao is highly recommended. Submerged in the crystal clear waters you can swim with brightly coloured fish, admire the beautiful coral gardens and stare in awe at the whale sharks, tiger shark and other large aquatic mammals that might pass you by.
Thailand has some incredible landscapes that offer a plethora of exciting activities, that is, if you can peel yourself off the sunbed.

Rebecca Hall is a freelance writer who does music journalism and travel writing, she’s written articles on tandem skydive and bungee jumping to headline DJs and big bands. She dreams of finding the perfect jump spot.