Southeast Asia

Animal Conservation

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Southeast Asia

Animal Conservation

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  • Live and work with mahouts at an elephant rehabilitation and conservation centre in Cambodia.
  • Head deep into the Cambodian countryside, living the country life and helping to build a permaculture centre designed to work with local farmers combatting drought and supporting best practices in sustainable agriculture.
  • Embrace the complexity of modern Phnom Penh, from the beautiful temples and pagodas to the harsh realities of the Killing Fields.
  • Spend a day with Sun bears and the endangered Asiatic Black Bear and another spotting river dolphins along the mighty Mekong River!
Program Dates


May 24 – July 2

July 12 – August 20



January 13 – February 17


Program Fee



Community Contribution



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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 the group will be introduced to Thailand’s bustling capital, Bangkok. A citywide scavenger hunt will help us acclimatize to the sights, sounds, and tastes of this modern, yet distinctively Thai city. We’ll visit some of city’s most beautiful temples but also spend time in the slum of Klong Toei where we’ll witness some of Bangkok’s harsher realities. We’ll also get the chance to learn a bit of Thai from some of the coolest kids in town as we visit a great local NGO!

Getting our Hands into Permaculture – Battambang
Amidst rice fields and villages, we continue to go further south into 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 to this farm that is visited by hundreds of farmers year round. We’ll be sleeping in hammocks, eating out of palm leaves, and spending evenings by the fire listening to Khmer folktales. We’ll be stripped down to basics, and by doing so, have an opportunity to truly connect with the community!

Free the Bears in Phnom Penh, Asia’s Hidden Gem
After roughing it in the countryside, we head to Phnom Penh, where we’ll 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 NGOs working with marginalized families to build brighter futures. Home to one of the 21st century’s worst genocides, we will also visit S-21 and the Killing Fields museum in order to understand Cambodia’s tragic recent history. Our time in Phnom Penh will be topped off with a day volunteering at “Free the Bears”, an NGO that prioritizes the conservation of the endangered Asiatic Black Bear.

River Dolphins and the Mighty Mekong
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.

The Elephant Valley Project – Sen Monorem
We will take a weaving bus ride into the hardly-visited eastern region of Cambodia 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 the Elephant Valley Project, 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 with the endangered Asian elephants of Cambodia.

Independent Travel Time
A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, you are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for yourself. Team members are given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. This is the ideal time to learn more about your specific interests, whether it’s by volunteering, travelling, or just relaxing.

Disorientation – Amphawa
The group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will take place in Amphawa, a quiet and scenic town close to Bangkok. We will discuss our accomplishments, how we can stay in touch, and what future projects we can collaborate on before returning everyone to the airport for some tearful goodbyes.


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, all of which we have stayed in before as an organization or as individuals. 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 local families is an incredible way for the team to become integrated with the communities we visit. Trusted homestay families are pre-arranged but Western comforts such as continuous electricity should not be assumed. Instead, cold-water bucket showers and cramped sleeping conditions should be embraced!

Meet Your Program Leaders

Kayla SiefriedKayla is a lover of life. She easily gets excited, and in her own quirky ways, goes about life on the road with a extreme sense of positivity. She loves adventures in learning about how others connect with growing, cooking and eating food. She has a serious life passion for environmental sustainability, which has meant that when she travels, she loves camping, simple living, and meeting the folks who call that place home. Kayla keeps things light by playing games and dancing at every opportunity. She’s spent months cycle touring in different areas of the world – if there is a free 2 wheeled steed near by, you can guarantee she’ll hop on! You may also find her bending her body in strange ways, heading out on sweaty runs, and swimming whenever it is possible!

Walker Kitchens

Walker is curious. Growing up with his grandfather’s stories of a childhood in rural Georgia, spending his summers in a Newfoundland fishing village and studying history taught this Toronto-born kid to embrace new environments and experiences. Since, he’s hitchhiked through Patagonia, ran out of money in the Mountains of Guizhou, China and is currently tree planting in the Scottish highlands. Walker was led onto OG and was surprised to find an organization that meshed perfectly with his approach to travel and volunteering. He’s excited for the adventures and laughter to come.

Southeast Asia

The Way We See It

You might have heard that the “land of a thousand smiles” is all about 30 cent street pad thai, deep-fried tarantulas, bucket-fuelled dance parties, and monsoon rain that pours down for hours before letting the sun come back out. Sure enough, all of this exists, but we’re here to prove to you that there is so much more.

Thailand is a country that seamlessly blends modernity with its deeply rooted cultural traditions. Cambodians are slowly but surely moving past their tragic recent history to forge a brighter and more equitable future. Both countries face many challenges – Thailand struggles with ongoing political divisions and widespread inequality and Cambodia is ranked as one of the world’s poorest nations. While thousands of backpackers stream through this part of the world, few are put in touch with these realities.

This Southeast Asia program is designed to dig beneath the surface of how this region is commonly experienced. We will catch an intimate glimpse of how people actually live, the struggles they face and the amazing ways they find to overcome them. In fact, this program is all about people – from dedicated activists promoting sustainable farming practices in marginalized areas to young break-dancers and hip-hop artists empowering a new generation of Cambodians to rise above their underprivileged circumstances. Join us and discover a Southeast Asia you had no idea existed.

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