Delve deeper into the teen Thai experience with this incredible service program just off-the-beaten path. Travel to a new part of the world and explore Northern Thailand while you work with the magnificent Asian elephants at our partner elephant sanctuary. You will be directly involved with their care, spending all day with them forming wonderful bonds and lifelong memories while learning about the conservation of these gentle giants.
After our time working with the elephants we will spend two days whitewater rafting down the mighty Pai river, taking in the scenic mountain surroundings and enjoying each other’s company on the quiet river banks. During our two-day jungle journey we will spend a night at an awesome rustic jungle lodge, and if you’re lucky you might see wild monkeys swinging through the trees!
We will finish our travels in the historical city of Chiang Mai, basking in the down-to earth charm of this northern gem, shopping at local markets, enjoying a traditional Thai massage, and seeing lavish historic temples.
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…
- Earn up to 20 hours of community service credit volunteering at an elephant sanctuary caring for these majestic creatures
- Navigate rapids on the Pai River during two amazing days of exhilarating whitewater rafting
- Swim in beautiful jungle waterfalls
- Seek enlightenment as you explore the temples of Chiang Mai
- Take a culture and language class then practice your skills while shopping in the night markets of Pai and Chiang Mai
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
DAYS 2-5: CHIANG MAI > ELEPHANT CONSERVATION
After arriving in Bangkok, change planes for the short flight up to Chiang Mai, a picturesque city nestled in the high mountains of Northern Thailand. This modern city blends new with the old, showcasing authentic Thai culture and is the perfect location for our community service.
If you have always dreamed of having the chance to work with elephants, you will love the next few days. Learn about the plight of the elephant, work alongside their mahouts (handlers for life) bathing, feeding and becoming friends with our elephants in their jungle sanctuary. Be engaged as you learn how to prepare snacks, provide basic health care, treatment and natural medicines for the elephants. In addition to this fulfilling experience we will have ample time to explore Chiang Mai’s incredible markets and temples.
DAYS 6-8: PAI > WHITE WATER RAFTING
After saying goodbye to our elephant friends we will head to Pai, a beautiful, serene town in the foothills of the Himalayas. We will use this traveler’s perennial favorite as our base for our awesome rafting adventure. On this journey of a lifetime we’ll navigate a meandering path through the quiet jungle, tackling challenging rapids, spotting wildlife, swimming in gorges, enjoying showers under waterfalls and relaxing in hot springs. On our rafting adventure we will have the ultimate jungle experience staying in a peaceful and secluded bamboo hut on the river.
DAY 9: CHIANG MAI
To round out this incredible journey, spend some time soaking up all the last minute flavors of this trendy city. Enjoy a famed Thai massage, see beautiful Doi Suthep, grab last-minute souvenirs while navigating the night market or simply soak up the atmosphere, before one final dinner with all your newfound best friends to celebrate an incredible trip.
DAY 10: RETURN FLIGHT TO THE USA
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do. Eat, stay, and travel like a local.
Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we are consistently awarded “Top Youth Travel Organization” year after year.
"This past summer I traveled to Thailand on TFT’s Thailand Elephant Service and the Islands program. This trip was by far my favorite trip that I’ve been on with TFT. The combination of working with elephants, the breadth of activities, as well as the great counselors and campers made it by far one of the most memorable two weeks of my life. One of the highlights of the trip was the service we did with elephants. We volunteered with elephants at sanctuaries learning about proper elephant care, we got to bathe them, prepare food and feed them, cleaned their enclosures, and went on a walk with them. This trip as a whole pushed me out of my comfort zone, it helped me become much more comfortable with trying new things. Each day was filled with new activities which enabled us to experience and learn about the Thai culture. The activities included exploring traditional Thai markets, cooking classes, exploring Thai temples, and much more. Our counselors were amazing, they were always understanding, were easy to come to with any issues, and were just really fun to travel and hang out with. Not only were the counselors great but I met some of the best people on this trip. I’m certain that I will be friends with a few of them for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful to have been able to go on this trip and I wouldn’t trade this trip for the world."
"Traveling to Thailand with Travel For Teens was an experience I will never forget. The sites were incredible and every single day was filled with adventure and fun. The food was incredible as it was authentic and we even got to attend cooking classes. We cooked traditional food that was delicious. The language portion of the trip was really enlightening as we learned the basic of the beautiful language: Thai. The group I was with was filled with like minded individuals striving to see the world and truly experience what real traveling is like. We shared beautiful experiences with excursions like rafting down the Pai River and scuba driving Thai coral reefs. The counselors made everyone feel safe while being friendly and fun the entire trip."
"My trip to Thailand was one that I could have never imagined, from the days with elephants to meeting the most amazing people it was definitely a trip of a life time. This was the first trip I had ever gone out of the country by myself with people I had never met, and to be honest I was very nervous but when meeting the counselors they made us feel right at home and the campers soon after a couple nights of never have I ever’s/games established bonds that we knew could never be broken. Everyday we took on a new adventure, I remember when I first heard that we were going to be “hanging” out with elephants I thought it was going to be from a far little did I know we would be getting up close and personal feeding them, bathing them, and cleaning up after them. It was astounding how gentle the elephants were and how much they were just like big puppies with how they wanted to play with you. Saying goodbye to the elephants was definitely hard and sad but I know that someday I will go back and see them again. After we finished our community service hours with elephants we then went on a very windy 3 hour drive to Pai where we the most amazing massages. Over the trip two other campers and I got 3 massages and only ended up paying $11. Then we went on a 2 day trip to the jungle which was honestly one of the hardest things physically on this trip, the white rafting was long but the campers and the view make it all worth it. After returning to the hotels the first thing we all did was shower and let me tell you it was the best feeling. Now I was not able to stay for extra 7 days and explore the islands so at the final dinner it was very sad to say goodbye to everyone because even though I had only known them for 10 days we all felt like we had known each other for much longer. The kids I met are already planning on having a “reunion”. These trips not only open up your mind to new places and cultures but also to new people."
Frequently Asked Questions
What is unique about the Thailand Elephant Service & Explorers trip?
Thailand Elephant Service & Explorers gives participants the ability to get intense, hands on experience working with the endangered Asian elephants at the sanctuary near Chiang Mai is a truly unique experience. Students leave with a profound understanding of the world they live in and the role they have to play in conserving it for generations to come.
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 grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
What do students like most about the Thailand Elephant Service & Explorers trip?
The out-of-the-ordinary experiences at the elephant sanctuary and rafting on the river provide a wealth of incredible experiences and lifetime memories for the students. Thailand Elephant Service & Explorers visits unique Thai towns! Come enjoy the incredible scenery that students love exploring.
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.
Near Chiang Mai we stay at a locally run non-profit with apartment-style housing and excellent communal facilities. In Pai we stay at a well-appointed resort right on the Pai River, decorated in traditional Lanna Thai decor. On our rafting adventure we stay for one night in a basic, peaceful, and secluded jungle lodge on the river.
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 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 13 and 24 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 should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from Americanized hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
Thai cuisine is 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. For Specific questions pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
Any US citizen that enters Thailand does not require a visa. Instead you will automatically receive a 30-day 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!