There are myriad volunteer organisations in Thailand to address both the needs of the locals and visitors’ desires to help. A regularly updated resource for grassroots-level volunteer opportunities is Volunteer Work Thailand (www.volunteerworkthailand.org). Be aware, though, that so-called ‘voluntourism’ has become a big business and that not every organisation fulfils its promise of meaningful experiences. It is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with any organisation.

Environmental & Animal Welfare Work

A number of NGOs undertake local conservation efforts and run rescue and sanctuary centres for wild animals that have been adopted as pets or veterinarian clinics that tend to the domesticated population of dogs and cats. At centres and sanctuaries that rely on volunteer labour, your hard work is often rewarded with meaningful interactions with the animals.

  • Elephant Nature Park This popular and well-run elephant sanctuary offers seven-day volunteer programs at several sister organisations such as Surin Project in the Isan region and Elephant Haven in Kanchanaburi.
  • Highland Farm Gibbon Sanctuary Gives a permanent home to orphaned, abandoned and mistreated gibbons. Volunteers are asked for a one-month commitment and to help with daily farm chores.
  • Koh Chang Animal Project Travelling vets and vet nurses often drop by to volunteer here, while non-vets are needed to help with numerous odd jobs. Call to make an appointment.
  • Lanta Animal Welfare This centre on Ko Lanta welcomes both casual dog-walking visitors and volunteers for longer placements.
  • Phuket Elephant Sanctuary Takes up to six volunteers at a time for weeklong stays.
  • Samui Dog & Cat Rescue Centre Donations of time and/or money are hugely appreciated at this centre. Volunteers are always needed to take care of the animals at its kennel/clinic in Ban Taling Ngam (but not at the smaller Hat Chaweng branch). Call the centre for volunteering details or swing by for additional info. Check the website for directions.
  • Soi Dog This Phuket centre welcomes visitors to play with the animals, or become a dog-walking or long-term volunteer.
  • Trash Hero A volunteer outfit that runs weekly clean ups at 11 official points across Thailand.
  • Wild Animal Rescue Foundation Operates the Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (where volunteers can help with cleaning cages, feeding and tracking released gibbons), as well as several other programs across the country.
  • Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge Puts volunteers to work caring for sun bears, macaques, gibbons and elephants at its animal rescue centre in Phetchaburi, 45km northwest of Hua Hin.

Humanitarian & Educational Work

Northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, has a number of volunteer opportunities working with disadvantaged hill-tribe groups. Chiang Mai, Mae Sot and Sangkhlaburi have distressed communities of Burmese refugees and migrants. There are also many volunteer teaching positions in northeastern Thailand, the country's agricultural heartland.

When looking for a volunteer placement, it is essential to investigate what your chosen organisation does and, more importantly, how it goes about it. If the focus is not primarily on your skills and how these can be applied to help local people, that should ring alarm bells. Any organisation that promises to let you do any kind of work, wherever you like, for as long as you like, is unlikely to be putting the needs of local people first.

For any organisation working with children, child protection is a serious concern, and organisations that do not conduct background checks on volunteers should be regarded with extreme caution.

Some reliable and/or long-running organisations include:

  • Baan Unrak A home and school that cares for over 150 orphaned or abandoned children. Regardless of their religion, the children follow a neohumanist philosophy of vegetarianism (volunteers must also during their stay), meditation and universal love.
  • Cultural Canvas Thailand Places volunteers in migrant learning centres, art programs and other social-justice projects in northern Thailand.
  • Open Mind Projects Offers volunteer positions in IT, health care, education and community-based ecotourism throughout Thailand.
  • Starfish Ventures (www.starfish-adventure.com) Places volunteers in building, health care and teaching programs throughout Thailand.
  • Volunthai A family-run operation that places volunteers in teaching positions at rural schools with homestay accommodation.