Animal Conservation in Southeast Asia | Operation Groundswell

Southeast Asia

Animal Conservation

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Southeast Asia

Animal Conservation

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  • Live and work with mahouts at an elephant sanctuary learning about the rehabilitation of the endangered Asian elephant and the conservation efforts towards its increasingly threatened habitat.
  • Embrace the chaos and complexity of modern Bangkok, from its ornate temples to the mouth-watering cuisine!
  • Dive deep into the Cambodian countryside as we help to build a permaculture centre designed for local farmers who are combatting drought and promoting sustainable agricultural practice.
  • Meet with an anti-wildlife trafficking organization in Bangkok and spend another day spotting river dolphins along the mighty Mekong River!

Program Dates


May 23 – July 1

July 11 – August 19



Program Fee + Community Contribution  

$2,880 USD + $615 USD


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Sample Itinerary

*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.

Orientation in the Big Mango

Following airport pickups, our group will be introduced to Thailand’s bustling capital, Bangkok. In a citywide scavenger hunt we’ll get to know the sights, sounds, and tastes of this modern yet distinctively Thai city. We’ll visit some of the city’s most beautiful temples while getting to know each other better. Our orientation will also bring us in touch with the good folks at Freeland, an NGO fighting against wildlife trafficking. We’ll learn more about wildlife trafficking in general, the challenges they face as an organization, and the great work they’re doing in the region to combat the issue.

Getting our Hands into Permaculture – Battambang

We go from one extreme to another! After the urban jungle of Bangkok, we’ll head straight into the Cambodian countryside. Amidst rice fields and villages, we will travel to the province of Battambang. We’ll head over to the Teuk Poh Permaculture Education Farm to join Cambodia’s “permaculture action” team – a group of amazing and dedicated activists promoting sustainable farming practices in marginalized communities around the country.


Our team has previously built fences, dug ponds, created gardens, and planted veggies, fruits, and trees. The aim of the project is not only to introduce us to the amazing world of permaculture, but also to get our hands dirty making improvements on the farm and in areas around the commune.


We’ll be sleeping in hammocks and on mats, eating organic, and spending evenings by the fire listening to Khmer folktales. We’ll be stripped down to basics, and by doing so, we’ll have an opportunity to truly connect with the community and our new found friends!

Asia’s Hidden Gem – Phnom Penh

After roughing it in the countryside, we head to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Integral to any journey in Cambodia, we’ll visit the S-21 prison museum and the infamous Killing Fields in order to understand Cambodia’s tragic recent history and contextualize its present challenges and opportunities. We’ll also take this time to introduce you to all the hidden secrets of this booming city! Wander along the Mekong, meet artists from around the city, try fried tarantulas, and get to know the many NGOs working with marginalized communities to build brighter futures.

River Dolphins and the Mighty Mekong – Kratie

From Phnom Penh, we will travel to Kratie, home to the famous Irrawaddy River Dolphins that can be spotted swimming gracefully within the vast Mekong River. The Mekong, and the extraordinarily rich biosphere that thrives within and beyond its banks, is being seriously threatened by rapid development of the region. This poses a challenge not only to the environment, but also to the people who have depended on it for generations. We will learn about how local communities are trying their best not only to sustain themselves but also to conserve the increasingly fragile environment.

Animal and Environmental Conservation
We will take a weaving bus ride into the countryside where we’ll get a first-hand look at the effects of deforestation as the roadside changes from lush trees to sparse dots of jungle. And of course, we’ll get our much anticipated one-on-one time with the majestic, gentle giants that is the Asian elephant! We will get our hands dirty with an eco-tourism initiative that works not only to rehabilitate rescued domestic elephants, but also to preserve the jungle for the remaining wild elephant populations. It will be a truly up close and personal experience!

Independent Travel Time

A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but we encourage everyone to travel in pairs or small groups. This is the ideal time to learn more about your specific interests, volunteering, travelling, or just relaxing. Southeast Asia is bursting with gems! From the pristine beaches of southern Thailand to the ancient temples of the mighty Angkor Empire, from hiking into the territory of the northern hill tribes in Chiang Rai to the unreal views of Ha Long Bay, there’s no shortage of things to do here!


**Please note that you are not under the auspices of the organized program during ITT. Team members will be given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice.

Disorientation – Amphawa

Our group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place in Bangkok or in Amphawa, a quiet and scenic town close to Bangkok famous for its trendy floating market. The perfect spot to unwind and take it slow, this beautiful setting is the spot where we’ll re-live memories of the program, recap the lessons that we’ve learned, discuss how to stay connected, and collaborate on projects in the future.


Then off to the airport for some tearful goodbyes!

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What’s Included?


A comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region


Experienced and caring program leaders with you 24 hours a day


All lodging and accommodations throughout the program


Three local meals a day


All group tours, entrance fees, and excursions


All group transportation on the ground


Regular discussions and workshops to help you internalize and reflect on your experience


Support from OGHQ whenever you need it


Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms!

  • Explore and get lost in the mystic and majestic ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Hike into the territory of the northern hill tribes and explore the famous night markets in Chiang Mai.
  • Take the epic bus ride from Saigon to Hanoi or visit Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.
  • Relax on the pristine beaches of southern Thailand and relish in the stunning landscapes these islands have to offer.


With OG, you live like the locals.

Traveling as much as we do on the Southeast Asia program, there will be a number of different styles of accommodation. In cities, we typically stay at clean, safe, and secure guesthouses with basic amenities, shared bathrooms and, sorry, no A/C! When we’re out in rural communities we’ll be hosted by local families and we might just sleep under the stars for a few nights (with mosquito nets, of course). Being welcomed by trusted local families is an incredible way for the team to become integrated with the communities we visit. Cold bucket showers are common while continuous electricity can’t always be guaranteed – so come prepared! Though Western comforts should not be assumed, you can expect to better connect with locals and their culture.

Meet Your Program Leaders


A recent graduate of English Lit, Art History, and French Language at McGill University, Maija is overwhelmingly excited to begin working with OG on this SEA Animal Conservation program. From the walled city of Cartagena, Colombia to the lush rainforests of Monte Verde, Costa Rica, Maija is a travel enthusiast and heat seaker from way back. As her family decided living in Canada was the way to go, she realized early on that the only way to stay warm was to travel, and from here, her whole world opened up. She has since volunteered for CANFAR, an HIV/AIDS awareness and research group, taught at a Toronto farm camp, and cooked for a local refugee house.
Maija is interested in people and stories – in how someone’s story can surprise, humble, excite, challenge, and inspire. This interest to learn and connect, plus her… lets say…dramatic personality, always lead her straight into theatre groups as a kid.
She’s always down for a game of footie, a delicious meal, a good coversation, a hug, and/or a bucket of ice cream. Yes, a bucket.


Mike first discovered the wild and wondrous world of OG through a dear friend (thanks Aggs!), and several years later, is more in love than ever! This will be his third year leading programs, and he is incredibly excited to be leading alongside Maija. His travels have brought him through much of South Eastern Africa, Asia, India, both coasts of Canada, and the Caribbean. From volunteering with the Barbados Sea Turtle Project to trekking through the Himalayas, he has been very lucky to be able to explore the world! While not travelling, he studied at the University of Toronto, volunteered with a number of environmental organisations, played and coached with the Varsity Blues Badminton team, built and rode countless bicycles, and just recently started to cook in a professional kitchen. Obsessed with food and music, these two pursuits have brought him a great amount of joy in life and continue to do so.

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