For decades, Southeast Asia was synonymous with babes and beaches. Then it was dudes and debauchery. 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. OG is here to prove that there is so much more.
While we start in the backpacker mecca of Khao San Road, the journey soon strays from the traditional backpacker circuit to learn about the nuances of these countries. Thailand is a country that seamlessly blends modernity with its deeply rooted cultural traditions while 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 while also falling in love with the smiles, the kindness, the colors, the complexity and the positivity that makes this region so special. From engaging with marginalized minority groups in northern Thailand to living side by side with Cambodia’s majestic, though threatened, elephants, this program is all about connecting you to Southeast Asia in a way that goes far beyond the typical backpacker experience.
Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms.
Visit the spectacular UNESCO world heritage site Angkor in Siem Reap.
Take the epic bus ride from Saigon to Hanoi or visit Halong Bay in Vietnam.
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 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 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 airport pickups the group will be introduced to Thailand’s bustling capital, Bangkok. A city-wide 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 Toey where we’ll witness some of Bangkok’s harsher realities … and learn a bit of Thai from some of the coolest kids in town when as we visit a great local NGO!
From Bangkok, the group will journey north to the remote hills of northern Thailand in Chiang 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 working with the Mirror Foundation; a terrific NGO dedicated to aiding northern Thailand’s marginalized ethnic minority groups. Over the last few years OG has been part of a water tank project, rebuilding homes after a fire, constructing a community toilet and raising a small bridge over a river. We stay with local families in this bamboo world that offers 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 historically rich yet modernly hip city 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 and we’ll try our hand at the 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’ll learn to love it as much as we do. We head straight 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, team members will visit S-21 and the Killing Fields museum in order to understand Cambodia’s tragic recent history.
From Phnom Penh the group 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 possess a challenge not only to the environment but also to the people that have depended on it for generations. We will engage with and support local communities that are trying their best not only to sustain themselves but also to conserve the increasingly fragile environment – which includes a Buddhist monastery that also acts as a turtle conservation center!
Then the moment you have all been waiting for! ELEPHANTS!!! We will take a weaving bus ride into the hardly-visited east of 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 program 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, a quiet and scenic town just a short drive west of 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.
MEET YOUR PROGRAM 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 visiting Thailand for the first time in 2010, Sidney knew he had to return to Southeast Asia to discover much, much more of this fascinating part of the world. After randomly hearing about OG while sweating in a sauna, he soon realized that the 2011 Southeast Asia Discovery program would be the perfect way to start quenching his insatiable curiosity about the region. And it was. After running two OG Southeast Asia programs in the summer of 2013, Sidney is now living in Bangkok. Sid studied archaeology so it’s easy to see why digging deep to discover (both literally and metaphorically!) is his passion. Cheesy jokes and anecdotes are a close second passion. Sid loves being outdoors, especially hiking, but also enjoys jamming out on the guitar/ukulele, staying fit, being silly and reading about the many things that interest him.
Jess is an adventurous soul who gets restless if she stays in one place for too long. She first caught the travel bug at the age of 17 when she traveled to Germany solo, but it wasn’t until 2010 that she first visited Southeast Asia. On a whim, she decided to spend her summer volunteering and meeting the Thai side of her family that had always been a mystery to her. With that trip, her fate was sealed. Already studying international relations, Jess decided to pick up a second and third major in international development and Asian studies. Jess knows her captivation with Southeast Asia is more than fleeting curiosity and has worked tirelessly to include it in her life plans. Whether she’s returning to Thailand to volunteer, completing an internship in Cambodia, or furthering her academic study of the issues that are real and present in the region, she’s dedicated to giving back one step at a time. Jess can’t get enough of the amazing sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that Southeast Asia has to offer. Her greatest ambition is to be able to call Southeast Asia her home, make a difference in her own small corner of the world, and spend the rest of her days stuffing her face with Thai food.