Get ready for the ultimate Southeast Asia experience! On this program just for older teens, you will get off the stereotypical tourist track and experience some of the region’s best hidden gems in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. The journey begins in charming Luang Prabang, nestled on the Mekong River with magnificent mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements, Buddhist monasteries, and of course, elephants!
From there head to Vietnam and experience the stunning beauty of Sa Pa and Ha Long Bay. Wander through rice terraces, get a taste of local life, and relax on the water while enjoying everything this beautiful country has to offer. Spend some time in Hanoi, shopping at the markets, exploring the Old Quarter and sampling Vietnamese cuisine with a mouth watering culinary tour. Hop over to Siem Reap to explore the famed temple complex of Angkor Wat, then to Phnom Penh to discover the history of the Khmer Rouge in this emerging metropolis. In Thailand you’ll experience the island paradise of Koh Tao with its pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and magnificent snorkeling. Finally, complete the adventure with a couple of days in bustling Bangkok. This program is designed for the high school student and will show you the beauty of Southeast Asia like you could never imagine!
Please note, we do not ride elephants on any of our programs. TFT is very proud to be one of the only teen tour operators to take this stance and support ethical tourism.
During this program, you will…
- Spend some time making friends with elephants and trek through the mountainous jungles of Laos
- Spend a day of service with local children in Luang Prabang and help teach them how to read
- Explore the stunning terraced hillsides and rice fields of Sa Pa as you learn about life in rural Vietnam
- Sail in a traditional junk boat through stunning Ha Long Bay, one of the 7 new wonders of the world
- Catch sunrise at the largest religious site in the world, the incredible temple complex of Angkor Wat
- Snorkel and scuba dive* incredible reefs on a private day cruise in the Thai Gulf Coast
- Practice your cross-cultural skills while you shop for souvenirs at Khao San Rd in Bangkok
- Savor the best Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodia, and Thai food you will ever eat!
*This is an optional excursion
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
DAYS 2-6: LUANG PRABANG
We begin our adventure inLuang Prabang, Laos! Nestled in the North of Laos, Luang Prabang is a traveler’s dream that will captivate you with its old world charm. We will spend time with elephants, take a boat up the Mekong, try our hand at a cooking class, hike to the top of Mt. Phousi, and play in the most famous waterfall in Laos. We will experience the Buddhist culture by visiting temples and giving the monks alms in the morning, all while soaking in the laid back vibe of the town. One of our days here we will spend our day volunteering with our local partner organization whose mission is to provide books to all of the village children while promoting literacy and reading.
DAYS 7-8: SA PA
Then it’s off to our next country: Vietnam! We’ll fly into Hanoi and then board our overnight train to visit the stunning town of Sa Pa. Experience the beautiful rice terraces carved into the mountain side, trek through the mountains and discover hidden waterfalls in this magical region.
DAYS 9-11: HA LONG BAY > HANOI
Once we leave the train we will bus to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the South China Sea, famous for its otherworldly peaks and bioluminescent water! In 2010 Ha Long Bay was named as one of the “7 New Wonders of the Natural World” and we will be exploring this wonder by cruising around on our own boat! In Hanoi pay your respects to Ho Chi Minh, whiz around the city in style in a cyclo rickshaw and savor Vietnamese delicacies on a culinary food tour through the Old Quarter.
DAYS 12-15: SIEM REAP > PHNOM PENH
Arriving in Cambodia, we will discover the town of Siem Reap and visit Angkor Wat, a 12th century Khmer temple that was swallowed by the jungle for centuries. This supremely beautiful temple complex is the largest of its kind and is a must-see for any traveler to Southeast Asia.
Then we will journey south to the Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh, historically known as The Pearl of Asia because of the beautiful French colonial architecture. After the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-79, the city has been recovering steadily and is now one of the most fascinating in Southeast Asia. The poignant, haunting memorials of Tuol Sleng Museum and Choeung Ek are a must for any visitor.
DAYS 16-18: KOH TAO
We reach our final country to discover on this trip and head straight for the islands. We are in Koh Tao, Thailand, where we will spend a couple of magical low key days on this turtle-shaped island which boasts incredible reefs, beaches and scuba diving. We’ll combine all these into one unforgettable private day cruise exploring a number of sites around the island as you snorkel or scuba dive (optional) through sparkling blue waters filled with incredible marine life and sunbathe on white sand beaches. We will enjoy wonderful Thai BBQ dinners on the beach, hike through jungles and discover incredible overlook points, relax under the shade of palm trees, get your traditional Thai massage, and savor your time in paradise.
DAYS 19-20: BANGKOK
Head North to the capital of Thailand and dive head first into the hustle and bustle of this modern metropolis. Experience the sights and sounds of the famed floating markets, hunt for bargains and last minute souvenirs along Khao San Rd and sample some of the best Thai food around! Cap off an incredible Southeast Asian adventure as you enjoy a delicious fancy final dinner, celebrating an amazing few weeks with your new-found best friends!
DAY 21: RETURN FLIGHT TO THE USA
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in 11th or 12th grade and approximately 16 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about this program?
Students love that they are able to get such a comprehensive understanding of Southeast Asia in one program. The contrasting locations we visit and the wide-ranging experiences on the program mean they will head home with broadened horizons, incredible memories, and lifelong friendships.
What is unique about this program?
This program has been specifically designed to explore more of the lesser-known parts of Southeast Asia. While we still see a lot of the more popular destinations, our time in places like Koh Tao and Sa Pa will expose students to a more complete cultural immersion into this fascinating region.
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Not included (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 14 and 21 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
Families who sign up for more than one program will also receive a 15% discount on the lesser-priced program.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food is an integral aspect of the travel experience, and we make an effort to eat at authentic establishments whenever possible. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in the culture of a place then through sampling the local delicacies. We stray away from westernized restaurants and chains that cater to tourists, because every true traveler knows the best food is found where the locals are eating!
Vietnamese cuisine, considered on one the healthiest in the world. Fresh flavors, aromatic herbs and distinctive flavors are what set this cuisine apart, with favorites like a steaming bowl of freshly made Pho or some succulent, crispy spring rolls.
Khmer cuisine the food of Cambodia draws upon Chinese and French influences, contrasting flavors, textures and temperatures. You’ll fall in love with the exotic variety of tastebud tantalizing meals, including the traveler’s favorite Amok trey or a Cambodian BBQ cooked on the table right in front of your eyes!
Finally finish the program with some famous Thai cuisine, bursting full of flavor, aromatic smells and vivid color, with lots of attention paid to balance, detail and variety. You’ll savor the best Pad Thai of your life and that’s just to start. Take your pick from hundreds of incredible dishes featuring mouth-watering combinations of rice, noodles, seafood, meats and fresh vegetables. What will your new favorite be?
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need to bring anything special for the community service portion of the program?
Due to the nature of our service being outdoors, please be sure to bring clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, waterproof shoes, and a hat.
A more detailed packing list will be provided upon registration.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
For US citizens, visas for Laos and Cambodia can be purchased on arrival. For Vietnam, US citizens must organize their visa prior to arriving. This can be applied for by mail or in person at a Vietnamese Embassy. Any US citizen that enters Thailand will automatically receive a 30-day visa to stay in the country.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.
Do I need to speak the language?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!
Do I have to bring a backpack?
No–the bag you bring is up to you, but we strongly recommend a smaller lighter bag, preferably one with rolling wheels to make your travel a bit easier. Larger “backpacker-style” backpacks are also appropriate. Please keep in mind you will be responsible for your own bags throughout the duration of the trip so packing light like a true traveler is key!
How will we travel from city to city?
In the backpacking spirit, we will be traveling by plane, train, and boat to discover all four countries on this trip. You will learn how to navigate the local transportation systems, which will be helpful for your next trip around the world!