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 by exploring Northern Thailand where we partner with an elephant sanctuary that protects these gentle giants. During our service here, you will form incredible bonds with Asian elephants as you help care for them and their facilities. At these sanctuaries, the elephants are encouraged to roam so you’ll have the chance to see and interact with them in the wild! Learn about their rescue and rehabilitation, and contribute to important wildlife conservation work.
Once we say goodbye to our elephant friends, we’ll embark on a thrilling two-day white water rafting trip down the Pai River. Our group will work together as a team to paddle through rapids and enjoy the lush mountain scenery before we spend the night at a rustic jungle lodge. Don’t blink—you might miss the wild monkeys swinging through the trees!
Next, we’ll swap the jungle for the beach! On the tropical island paradises of Koh Samui and Koh Tao, we’ll swim, snorkel, trek and relax through this idyllic part of the world. You’ll even have the optional opportunity to scuba dive! Finally, get ready for the high energy of Bangkok, Southeast Asia’s cosmopolitan hub, where we’ll explore culturally historic icons like The Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, and Ayutthaya. You won’t want to leave before trying the city’s fast-paced street food scene to savor pad Thai and hunt for a souvenir on Khao San Rd.
Begin the second half of our journey in the rolling countryside of Mai Chau, Vietnam where you’ll collect another stamp in your passport. Here, among the idyllic rice fields, is a hillside community faced with extreme poverty. Many families in this small village endure living conditions that can be trying for the handicapped and elderly. TFT partners with an organization to provide assistance to families and improve their quality of life. Projects include renovating kitchen and cooking spaces and building bathrooms. You will get the chance to meet the families and see first-hand the difference you can make in the lives of others.
From Mai Chau, we’ll travel to Hanoi to experience the bustling capital of Vietnam. Indulge in delectable Vietnamese cuisine, explore the winding historic streets of the charming Old Quarter. Conclude your adventure with an overnight cruise on the world-renowned Ha Long Bay to marvel at Vietnam’s undeniable beauty.
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 at an elephant rescue center in Thailand and in the remote village of Mai Chau to improve the lives of impoverished families
- Navigate rapids on the Pai River during two amazing days of exhilarating whitewater rafting
- Practice your cross-cultural skills while shopping for souvenirs in the colorful night markets of Pai, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok
- Attend a cooking lesson to learn how to whip up delicious Thai dishes
- Island hop on a private cruise around Koh Tao and learn how to scuba dive among the incredible oceanic reefs*
- Explore Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam and home to archeological treasures such as palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries and statues
- 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, hop on a short flight to Chiang Mai, an idyllic city nestled in the high mountains of Northern Thailand. Today’s modern city has grown around the historic center, creating a unique blend of relaxed Thai culture in a growing metropolis. It’s the perfect first stop on our trip for community service and to experience both the old and the new.
Have you always dreamed of interacting with an elephant up close? This is your chance! At the elephant sanctuary, we’ll learn about the threats to these animals and their habitats. The sanctuary provides a refuge, a safe home, a herd for family, and rest for many elephants. You’ll assist with their individualized care, working with their mahouts (handlers for life) to bathe, feed and form special bonds with these intelligent creatures. Learn how to prepare snacks, provide basic health care, treatment and natural medicines for the elephants. Feel fulfilled knowing that you’ve helped keep these gentle giants safe. We’ll have plenty of time too, to explore Chiang Mai’s incredible markets and temples.
DAYS 6-8: PAI > WHITE WATER RAFTING
Following our important service with our elephant friends, we’ll travel to Pai, a Himalayan foothills town which will serve as our home base. Here, in the pristine rainforest, we’ll embark on a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure. Together, we’ll work as a team to navigate the Pai River through the lush jungle, tackle challenging rapids, spot wildlife, swim in gorges, enjoy waterfall showers and relax in hot springs. On our rafting adventure we will have the ultimate jungle experience and stay in a peaceful bamboo lodge on the river.
DAY 9: CHIANG MAI
Rest up after our whitewater adventure in Chiang Mai where we’ll indulge in a famed Thai massage, visit the sacred site of Doi Suthep for the most impressive views of downtown, shop for a last-minute souvenir while strolling the night market or simply soak up the laidback atmosphere.
DAYS 10-11: KOH SAMUI
Next up, a stunning island paradise for some unforgettable adventures. Work up an appetite with a hike through the jungle discovering hidden waterfalls, then satiate it with an authentic Thai meal you’ve crafted yourself in a private cooking class. Spend time relaxing on Thailand’s picturesque beaches, swim and snorkel in the warm tropical waters and capture unforgettable sunsets.
DAYS 12-13: KOH TAO
“Turtle Island” awaits—our second island paradise and it’s only a short ferry ride away! This turtle-shaped island boasts palm-fringed beaches and playgrounds of tropical coral reefs where diving is accessible right from the shore. We’ll swim, snorkel and scuba dive in its turquoise-blue waters—keep your eye out for whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles! Set sail on a private day-cruise to explore a number of the islets, marvel at the prolific jungle coastline and finally savor the day with a Thai BBQ dinner on the white sand beaches.
DAYS 14-16: BANGKOK > AYUTTHAYA
Take it up a notch as trade in the chill charm of the islands for the high energy of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city. You can’t visit this city without stopping to see The Grand Palace, a jaw-dropping show of opulence, culture and architecture. Next, marvel in awe at the artistic masterpiece of the Reclining Buddha and at the most iconic temple in Bangkok, Wat Arun. Explore Bang-Pa-In, the old summer palace of the kings before exploring Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find the iconic Emerald Buddha and countless other archaeological wonders. Embrace the cultural treasures of Bangkok as you shop for souvenirs along Khao San Rd, eat some of the best street food of your life, and witness an exhilarating Muay Thai performance. Celebrate your incredible Thai journey with a final fancy dinner with your new-found best friends!
DAYS 17-21: MAI CHAU HOMESTAY & COMMUNITY SERVICE
Celebrate a new stamp in your passport as we head to Vietnam!
Get ready to experience Vietnam off the beaten path. Mai Chau is a hidden gem and one of the most stunning destinations in Vietnam filled with the idyllic sounds of birdsong and bubbling streams, limestone mountains, and fields of glowing green. This picturesque countryside is our home for several days while we complete our community service project.
We’ll stay in a bed and breakfast and receive a warm welcome from the local Vietnamese family who owns it. Their home is nestled on a small lake hemmed in by rolling hills. After rewarding days of service in the village community, we’ll enjoy home-cooked meals with recipes that have been cooked in the family for generations and relax in this serene setting.
Community service projects include small construction projects like bathroom or kitchen renovations. These updates significantly increase the quality of life for a family in need. Students will get the chance to meet the families and see the positive impact of their hard work.
DAY 22: Hanoi
After a few days in the calm countryside, we’ll return to the hustle of Hanoi, one of the most ancient capitals of the world. Here, you’ll find ancient pagodas and French-colonial architecture side by side, and delight in a true multi-cultural experience where Russian, French and Chinese influences collide. We’ll treat ourselves to delicious Vietnamese cuisine, browse the shops and explore the dynamic art scene.
DAY 23: NINH BINH
From Hanoi, we’ll head to the former capital of Vietnam, Ninh Binh! Here you’ll venture on a boat ride down the Trang An River, a unique Vietnam experience that many tourists miss. This landscape is dominated by mountains wearing coats of lush greenery. The steep, vertical limestone cliff faces tower over river visitors, and unlike traditional mountain ranges where the slopes gradually connect, each mountain stands in isolation creating a unique and dramatic vista to admire. We’ll also hike to the top of Mua Cave for panoramic views of the Ninh Binh valley.
DAY 24-25: HA LONG BAY
No trip to Northern Vietnam is complete without embarking on an overnight cruise through legendary Ha Long Bay. Vietnam folk-legend tells the story of a dragon that carved the bay with its tail on its way to the coastline. The bay is a collection of island towers topped with rainforests and shrouded mist. We’ll charter our own boat to sail through the emerald waters of the bay, exploring caves and marveling at the unique limestone formations that protrude from the sparkling sea.
DAY 26: GROUP FLIGHTS DEPARTS FROM HANOI (HAN)
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 were awarded top youth travel organization in 2017.
"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."
"This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand! This was my first time traveling to Asia and if i'm being honest I was quite nervous, but TFT did an amazing job of making me feel welcome and showing me so many amazing things I will never forget. The bonds I made with campers on the trip will last for a lifetime and we are even talking about having a meet up in December! The counselors were very nice and were very helpful in helping us navigate the markets and getting us to excursions on time. Overall the trip was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have the trip of a lifetime!"
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!