For decades, Southeast Asia was synonymous with babes and beaches. Then it was dudes and debauchery. OG is here to prove that there is so much more. The land of a “thousand smiles”, SE Asia is 30 cent street pad thai, deep-fried tarantulas, bucket-fueled dance parties, and monsoon rain that pours down for hours but always lets the sun come back out.
While we start in the backpacker mecca of Khao San Road, the journey soon strays from the traditional backpacker circuit. Made popular during the 1970s as a cheap and beautiful travel destination, tourists have flocked to Southeast Asia for decades with the sole goal of cheap gratification, even at the cost of exploitation. And while tourism has brought increased calls for modernity in the cities, life in rural villages has not changed much. Bamboo is used for everything: houses, utensils, and even food! The tides of change are sweeping in though: bamboo houses hang calendars featuring Korean pop bands, spaghetti packs are imported from America, and, regrettably, Justin Bieber tunes blast on the only radio in town.
So why Southeast Asia? Because you can’t even imagine what you don’t know about it. We aim to deconstruct the complex histories of the Red/Yellow shirt protests in Thailand and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. How will we do that? Well, it won’t be from a textbook. We’ll hit the ground running, meeting people from every walk of life. We will encounter karaoke stars, robed monks, elephant trainers and hip-hop breakdancers. But most importantly, we’ll prove that you will learn more in six weeks in Southeast Asia than in an entire year of school. We promise.
Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms.
Visit the embalmed Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.
Explore the cultural pluralism of Malaysia/Singapore.
Relax on the beaches of world-famous Koh Phangan.
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’ll usually be sleeping at clean, safe and secure guesthouses. When we’re trekking or in rural communities, we’ll generally be sleeping under the stars or with families in bamboo houses. This will allow us to delve into local culture and being hosted by local families is an incredible way for the team to become integrated within the local community. Trusted homestay families have been pre-arranged by OG, but Western comforts such as continuous electricity should not be assumed. However, cold-water bucket showers and cramped sleeping conditions should be embraced!
*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.
Following the airport pickups from Suvarnabhumi Airport, the group will have an in-country orientation in Bangkok. We will be staying near Khao San Road, the world-famous backpacker’s mecca. Participants will acclimatize by trying local cuisine, picking up the basics of Thai bargaining and touring local historical sites from long-time residents of the city. Participants will learn about the complexity of the city through a citywide scavenger hunt, karaoke sessions and temple hopping via tuk-tuks. Did we mention some of the greatest and cheapest shopping in the world? Pack light!
From Bangkok, the group will journey north to the remote hills of northern Thailand in Chaing Rai. Chaing Rai is known for its night bazaar and fantastic cuisine, but OG knows it as a second home. This will be our fifth year visiting our Lahu family. Northern Thailand is home to many hill tribes people that are being aided by the phenomenal Mirror Foundation to maintain their local traditions while transitioning to meet the challenges of modernity in future generations. OG has seen this village rebuilt from ashes. We have been part of a water tank project, rebuilding homes after a fire, a community toilet and OG is now working together to continue help our distant family create a promising future. We stay with families in this bamboo world with a fantastic view and a serene atmosphere! It’s an intense hike to get there, but an experience not to be forgotten!
Next stop is a visit to the ancient Thai capital known today as Chiang Mai. Considered the cultural hub of Thailand, this quaint city will allow us to explore Thai culture and ourselves. We will be visiting Buddhist spiritual sites, engaging in discussions with monks, learning about Theravada Buddhism, and of course, learning the infamous art of Thai cooking! It will be a nice couple of days to relax and scrub the dirt off before the next leg of the journey to Cambodia!
From Chiang Mai, we will make our way into the magical kingdom of Cambodia. It may be overwhelming at first, but it won’t be long before you fall in love with this exotic country. From the green flat rice fields dotted with water buffalo and palm trees to the incredible people we will meet, what’s not to love? We will make our way by bus to Siem Reap, home of the world famous Angkor Wat. You’ll feel like Tomb Raider wandering through these magnificent ruins of the Angkor Empire!
Home to one of the 21st century’s worst genocides, participants will visit S-21 and the Killing Fields museum in order to understand Cambodia’s tragic recent history. We will introduce you to all the hidden secrets of a booming city. Wander along the Mekong, engage with Tiny Toones, meet artists from around the city, and get to know NGOs working with marginalized families to build brighter futures. A bike ride through the countryside, BBQs with local friends, boat cruises down the Mekong River – the possibilities are limitless!
Then the moment you have all been waiting for! ELEPHANTS!!! We will take a weaving bus ride into the much less travelled northern Cambodia. We will see first-hand the effects of deforestation as the roadside changes from lush trees to sparse dots of jungle. Here we will be visiting coffee plantations, massive waterfalls, local villages, and rubber plantations. We will work with the Elephant Valley Project not only rehabilitating rescued domestic elephants, but also working on preserving 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.
Participants will also have Independent Travel Time (ITT) – a staple of all Operation Groundswell programs. You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, participants are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for themselves. Participants are given the emergency contact number of trip organizers during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. ITT is the ideal time for participants to learn more about their specific interest, whether it be volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing.
The group will reconvene for a trip debrief, known as the ‘Disorientation’, prior to flying home. This will likely take place in Kanchanaburi, one of the most relaxing spots in all of Thailand. 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.
MEET YOUR TRIP LEADERS
Get ready to spend six weeks with some of the raddest people on earth…we’re not even exaggerating! Just click on their name to read more about them.
After a back injury right before graduation from the University of Iowa in 2010 disqualified Ryan from the Peace Corps, he was left searching for some way to get out into the world after college. He finally found an English teaching position in Thailand and spent a year living in a remote mountain village of 800 near the Thai-Burmese border where he learned Thai by survivalist instincts, ate raw water buffalo, and became more addicted to traveling. Before he embarked on his adventure, Ryan was told that the hardest part of traveling is not deciding to go, but stopping. More than two years later, Ryan has increased his continent total to six and is still on the road currently working his way around Australia before returning to Southeast Asia and its amazing $1 street food and adventures and discovery down every alley. Ryan prefers getting lost than to be found by a Lonely Planet, joining pick up soccer or basketball games in random Asian towns, and meeting other travelers wandering, but not lost, on their path through life.
Growing up in Ontario’s countryside sparked Sarah’s early passion for the outdoors and the environment. This eventually led her to pursue a degree in environmental studies at university and work a variety of environmental communications and project coordination positions. Craving more adventure, she signed up for OG’s Animal Conservation trip and never looked backed! Backpacking across Thailand and Cambodia with OG, and solo throughout Vietnam made for an amazing experience….one she just could not shake. After a brief stint back in Toronto, Sarah is taking off at the end of the year to live and work in Phnom Penh. She is excited at having the opportunity to share amazing new experiences with like-minded backpacktivists!