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Helping Hands: Globe Aware's Volunteer Vacations in Cambodia
By Nicolai HartvigCambodia is a remarkable destination to take a volunteer vacation. This South East Asian country’s natural, spectacular beauty and vibrant communities and people amaze Globe Aware volunteer vacationers.
1 Help an Elephant
Sadly, many of Thailand’s gentle giants are likely to have painful memories. Caught in the wild, they’re often mistreated by their caretakers, who put them to work with adventure-trekking companies or performance troupes, or remove their tusks to sell as ivory on the black market.
THE TRIP The Thai Elephant Conservation Center (from Bt3,500 per person, plus tip for mahout) in Lampang province welcomes volunteers.
Activities depend on your choice of program: you may find yourself bathing a baby elephant, learning the skills of a mahout—a fully fledged elephant handler—or, if you stay overnight, guiding your elephant into the wilderness and leaving him at his favorite spot for the night while you retire to one of three wood-and-thatch houses. The center cares for around 50 elephants and has an on-site hospital, which program fees subsidize. T+L Tip: For your own relaxing soak, try the nearby San Kamphaeng hot springs.
2 Build Wheelchairs
Siem Reap, Cambodia
THE TRIP Week-long programs from Globe Aware (globeaware.org; US$1,200 per person excluding airfare) run in Siem Reap once or twice a month, from Saturday to Saturday. Itineraries are flexible, but volunteers can expect a plethora of activities: think putting together wheelchairs and hand-delivering them to landmine victims, working with local street children and teaching English to Buddhist novice monks. Cultural-awareness and cookery classes are also on offer, as well as built-in downtime—essential for checking out Siem Reap’s unmissable attractions, from the ruins at Angkor Wat to the stylish boutiques that have sprung up in the city center.
3 Teach English
THE TRIP Staying in family-sized rooms provided by Cross Cultural Solutions (from US$2,784 for two weeks, excluding flights), volunteers work in local schools, community hubs and day-care centers. Children can help out as teacher’s aides—or simply play with and inspire confidence in other kids, especially those with disabilities who tend to be stigmatized in Thai society. After school, volunteers can soak up the local color, exploring Bangkok’s myriad temples, bazaars and food markets. They can also take their turn at being students, with Thai–cooking and language classes.
4 Spy on a Rhino
Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Borneo
THE TRIP On-the-ground info gathered on a trip with Hands Up Holidays (from US$3,750, excluding flights) will help protect these animals from extinction. An all-inclusive 15-day package has you and your family collecting invaluable survey data in Borneo’s Tabin Wildlife Reserve, home to an estimated 50 Sumatran rhinos, over three days. The rest of the time is spent on an action-packed jungle adventure, from white-water rafting in Kiulu to proboscis-monkey spotting in Sukau to a trek to the Lipad mud volcano. Jungle training and water sports also figure on the itinerary.
At night, you’ll be staying in three-star hotels, a jungle lodge and an island chalet. You’ll even get a chance to sleep under the stars, in open-air hammocks at a rainforest camp.
5 Journey with Nomads
Terelj National Park, Mongolia
THE TRIP Projects Abroad (US$3,045 for two weeks, discounts for children aged 15 or under) organizes tailored two-week–minimum trips in Mongolia’s Terelj National Park. Between travels on horse- or camel-back, volunteers may find themselves tending to animals, cooking Mongolian food from scratch, drinking traditional airaag, or fermented mare’s milk (kids can try the non-alcoholic kind), and even engaging in the odd bout of local wrestling. The remote locations and range of physical tasks on this trip make it better for smaller families with older children. Be prepared to soak in the silence and beauty of the vast, empty landscapes— and to receive your own Mongolian name.