Thailand and Vietnam are some of the most beautiful and meaningful places to earn service hours in Southeast Asia. There is a tremendous need for assistance with projects in impoverished communities and this summer you could lend a hand!
Your trip begins exploring Northern Thailand! We begin our service working 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. The fun doesn’t stop there. Travel to the southern islands and discover the best that Thailand has to offer!
After our time working with the elephants we will spend two days white water rafting down the mighty Pai river, taking in the scenic mountain surroundings and enjoying each others 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! Then head to Chiang Mai to bask in the down-to-earth charm of this Northern gem.
Next get ready for the islands as we swap the jungle for the beach! We’ll swim, snorkel, scuba dive (optional), trek and relax through this idyllic part of the world on the tropical island paradises of Koh Samui and Koh Tao. Finally, jump into the bustling hub of Southeast Asia, Bangkok. Explore culturally historic icons including the Royal Palace, Emerald Buddha, and Ayutthaya, before immersing yourself in the fast-paced street food scene savoring pad thai and hunting for a bargain on Khao San Rd.
You’ll get another stamp in your passport as we venture to Vietnam, beginning our Vietnamese journey in the rolling countryside of Mai Chau. Here you will work alongside the picturesque rice fields in a hillside community faced with extreme poverty. Many families in this small village are enduring living conditions that can be trying for the handicapped and elderly. TFT has partnered with an organization working to provide assistance to families and improve their quality of life. Projects include renovating kitchen and cooking spaces and building bathrooms. You will see get the chance to meet the family you are assisting and discover how lending a hand can make a huge difference!
From Mai Chau, we’ll head to Hanoi to experience the capital of Vietnam. Indulge in delicious Vietnamese cuisine and enjoy exploring and shopping in the quaint Old Quarter. Finish off your adventure with an overnight cruise through the world-famous Ha Long Bay and discover the undeniable beauty that Vietnam possesses.
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 40 hours of community service volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and working to improve the lives of impoverished families in a remote village of Mai Chau
- Relish two amazing days of exhilarating whitewater rafting as you navigate rapids on the Pai River
Hunt for bargains as you practice your haggling skills in the captivating night markets of Pai, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok
- Learn how to cook your favorite Thai dishes at a private cooking class
- Delight in a private island-hopping cruise around Koh Tao and dare to discover new underwater worlds as you scuba dive on the incredible reefs*
- Step into a bygone era exploring Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, with its iconic overgrown Buddha head and countless other archaeological treasures
- Discover the beauty of world-famous Ha Long Bay on an overnight cruise
- Enjoy a relaxing boat trip down the Trang An river and admire the views
- Stay with a Vietnamese family and enjoy their traditional cooking
- Indulge in the flavorful dishes of Northern Vietnam cuisine
- Wander through bustling Hanoi and shop the colorful markets
DAY 1: GROUP FLIGHTS DEPARTS FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
As the group flight takes off, the program officially begins!
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
Head back to Chiang Mai to 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.
DAYS 10-11: KOH SAMUI
Hard work has its rewards and after all of this service and adventure, what better place to relax than on a beautiful island paradise? Spend your days hiking through the jungle, discover hidden waterfalls, and try your hand at making your own Thai delicacies at a TFT classic cooking class. Relaxing on pristine beaches, take a dip in the warm tropical waters, capture incredible island sunsets, and get to know what Thai island paradises are all about.
DAYS 12-13: KOH TAO
Island-hop to our second island paradise a short ferry ride away for some more time in heaven. This turtle-shaped island 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* through sparkling blue waters filled with incredible marine life and enjoy the white sand beaches. There’ll be a wonderful Thai BBQ dinner on the beach to help savor an amazing time in the islands.
DAYS 14-16: BANGKOK > AYUTTHAYA
Take it up a notch as you swap the laid back charm of the islands for the organized chaos of the capital Bangkok! Check out the opulent Royal Palace, serene reclining Buddha and the most iconic temple in Bangkok, Wat Arun. Be transported to a bygone era as you explore the vibrant Bang-Pa-In, the old summer palace of the kings, before roaming through the ancient capital of Siam, Ayutthaya, with its iconic overgrown Buddha head and countless other archaeological treasures. Embrace the sights, sounds and smells of Bangkok as you hunt for bargains along Khao San Rd, enjoy some of the best street food of your life and if you choose, witness an exhilarating Muay Thai performance. Cap off an incredible Thai adventure as you enjoy a delicious fancy final dinner, celebrating an amazing couple of weeks with your new-found best friends!
DAYS 17-21: MAI CHAU HOMESTAY & COMMUNITY SERVICE
Get a new stamp in your passport as we head to Vietnam!
Mai Chau is a hidden gem off the beaten path and one of the most beautiful destinations in Vietnam filled with rice terraces and limestone mountains. This stunning region will be our home for several days while we complete our community service project.
We’ll receive a warm welcome from a local Vietnamese family whose house functions as a small bed and breakfast. Their home is nestled on a small lake surrounded by beautiful views. Every evening we will enjoy home-cooked meals with recipes that have been cooked in the family for generations and unwind in this serene setting after a rewarding day of service.
Projects include assisting trained trace-men with small construction projects like bathrooms or kitchen renovations that make a significant impact on the quality of life for a family in need. Students will get the chance to meet the families they will be assisting and see the impact of their hard work.
DAY 22: Hanoi
We’ll return to bustling Hanoi after a few days in the countryside and treat ourselves to some delicious Vietnamese cuisine and shopping. The Old Quarter is the best place to browse shops filled with a variety of handicrafts and souvenirs.
DAY 23: NINH BINH
From Hanoi, we’ll head to the former capital of Vietnam, Ninh Binh! Here you will take a boat ride down the Trang An river and admire the unique landscape in Northern Vietnam. We’ll also hike to the top of Mua Cave to get a birds-eye view of the Ninh Binh valley and take in the splendor of some of Vietnam’s most beautiful pagodas.
DAY 24-25: HA LONG BAY
No trip to Northern Vietnam is complete without embarking on an overnight cruise through Ha Long Bay. We’ll charter our own junk boat to sail through the emerald waters of the bay, checking out caves and marveling at the unique limestone formations that protrude from the sparkling sea.
DAY 26: GROUP FLIGHTS DEPARTS FROM HANOI (HAN)
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
We have teens join this program from all over the world! They are typically culturally curious teens who are excited about making new friends, stepping out of their comfort zone, expanding their horizons, and trying something new.
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!
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 bamboo hut on the river. On Koh Samui we stay at an elegantly appointed resort right on the beach. On Koh Tao we stay at a boutique style resort right on the beach. In Bangkok we stay in a modern three-star hotel in close proximity to the main attractions and best parts of the city.
In Mai Chau, we stay at a homestay which means we are on the property of a Vietnamese family. We will be the only group staying at the family’s home and will have gender-specific rooms separate from the Vietnamese family. This is traditional Vietnamese housing and we will sleep on comfortable mattresses on the floor with ceiling fans. Staying here is an authentic experience and a truly unique opportunity!
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?
This trip really combines the best of two incredible countries!
Students love the variety of locations we visit and experiences we offer on this program. From volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in the jungles of Northern Thailand, to the incredibly diverse marine environments of Koh Tao and Koh Samui, this program highlights the best parts of this amazing country.
Students also love exploring the Northern region of Vietnam and participating in truly meaningful community service in a remote village in the mountains. It is a special experience to be surrounded by magnificent rice fields while working to give back and help a family in need. The city of Hanoi is filled with incredible food and endless shopping, making it a great city to visit on our way one of the wonders of the world- Ha Long Bay.
What is unique about this program?
The ability to get an 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.
At TFT we are also very proud of our partnership with a local organization helping to improve the lives of impoverished Vietnam natives. Getting to meet and interact with the family you are assisting makes the project feel that much more worthwhile and significant.
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 in cost (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 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?
Vietnamese 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 Pho of your life and that’s just to start. Take your pick from hundreds of incredible local 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 this 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?
Any US citizen that enters Thailand does not require a visa. Instead you will automatically receive a 30-day stay in the country.
Any US citizen that enters Vietnam is required to apply for an e-visa at least 7 days before entering 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!