This project provides the opportunity to volunteer for the indigenous Akha tribes of rural Northern Thailand. As a volunteer, you will experience and learn about their unique culture and traditions. The aim of the project is to support the Akha way of life while promoting sustainable cultural exchange between the local community and the international volunteers.
What's not Included
The project takes place in various hill tribe villages around Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai province covers some 11,678 square kilometers with a population of 1.23 million people. The average elevation is 580 meters above sea level. Myanmar borders on the north, and Laos borders on the north and northeast. The provincial capital is 829 kilometers north of Bangkok.
The Akha are a hill tribe of subsistence farmers known for their artistry. The ethnic group may have originated in Mongolia around 1,500 years ago. Most of the remaining Akha people are now distributed in small villages among the mountains of China, where they are considered part of the Hani by the government, though this is a subject of some dispute among the Akha themselves; Laos, where they are considered Lao Sung; Myanmar, Burma; and northern Thailand, where they are one of the six main hill tribes.
The Akha began arriving in Thailand in the early twentieth century and continue to immigrate, with about 80,000 now living at high altitudes in Thailand's northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. Many of these villages can be visited by tourists on trekking tours from either of these cities. They speak Akha, a language in the Loloish (Yi) branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. Akha has a very closely related language with the Lisu and Lahu peoples, as they once belonged to the Lolohunter tribe that ruled the Paoshan and Teinchung plains before the invasion of the Ming Dynasty (A.D 1644) in Yunan, China. The practice of their mythology includes ornately carved village gates made of wood where the guardian spirits are said to dwell. They have an extensive recollection of ancestors going back 15 generations that they exhibit in ritual chants.
Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Meng Rai and was the first capital of Lanna Thai (Kingdom of a Million Rice fields). The province contains Thailand's northernmost point at Mae Sai, which is well known for its crisp mountain scenery and hill tribes. North Chiang Rai falls within the region known as the Golden Triangle, the area where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge.
Orientation Week (Included):
This orientation week is a great opportunity to learn about Thailand and meet other international volunteers. It offers you tours around historical areas (Ayutthaya historical park), Thai language lessons, cooking lessons, taste-testing (Thai BBQ), school visits, sightseeing (Wat Phra Phutthabat Temple (Buddha's footprint)), and so much more! This week will ease you into your volunteering experience by providing you with an better understanding of the history, culture and customs. Please note that the schedule can change at any time based on the weather conditions.
During your second week, you will enjoy a meaningful cultural exchange while working with organizations that support the Akha minority. The work is very diverse from construction to teaching to gardening; it will all depend upon the needs of the community at the time and on your personal preferences. You will also visit local markets and help to sustain local initiatives.
This volunteer program requires cultural sensitivity, flexibility, and an open mind in order to work and interact with the Akha people. The work is very physical and you will definitely get dirty helping the community. Some of your responsibilities may include:
- Help with construction projects including bricklaying and building water run off trenches and possibly clay house building
- Help with agricultural work
- Establish better access to portable water
- Help with building projects at the school and teaching English
Please take note of the project's minimum requirements:
- Minimum age 18
- Good level of English
- Motivation to work with new cultures
- Full travel and medical insurance
- Immunizations (please consult your doctor)
The program offers free trips in the area to ensure you get the most out of your experience. Included in these are an overnight jungle trek and guided tours to White Marble Temple, Black Handicraft Museum, and the Khun Kon waterfalls.
In your free time, you will have the opportunity to learn about the Akha culture, attend traditional ceremonies and events, learn the local dialect, visit natural hot springs or trek through the hills.
Travel Extras (Not Included):
You can extend your stay in Thailand with one or more great program add-ons for an additional fee. Here are the opportunities we recommend:
- Thai Boxing: Sign up for authentic and traditional Thai boxing classes under the provincial champion of the Sing Buri district. Learn the basic principles and foundations of the exquisite art form, Muay Thai.
- Hua Hin Beach & Volunteer Week: This jam-packed week will help you make the most of your experience in Thailand. You will have the chance to go on cultural excursions to learn about Thai Buddhism and assist monks with daily chores. You will also have the opportunity to teach local children with some time dedicated to beach conservation. On a few afternoons you will have free time to relax at the beaches of Hua Hin!
- Jungle Trek: Get ready for adventure as you trek through the tropical forests west of Sing Buri. You'll have the opportunity to sleep under the stars, trek to spectacular waterfalls and caves hidden in the jungle and more!
- Thai Buddhism Immersion in Wang Nam Khiao: During this week-long program you will be introduced to Buddhism. You will have the chance to discuss Buddhism with a local monk and enjoy a two-day stay at the Wat Suptawee Temple to learn walking and sitting meditation forms as well as experience the daily life of monks.