Program: Southeast Asia Explorer
Location: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
Duration: 4, 6 or 8 weeks
Southeast Asia is among one of the most magical regions on Earth. These countries are jam-packed with stunning beaches, historic temples, thriving jungles and bustling cities. Travel here is enjoyed by first-timers to expat backpackers, as there really are unexpected surprises for everyone to enjoy. Before you begin your journey, it may be helpful to start by reviewing 7 top-rated questions from our participants.
Get ready to join Gapforce on this incredibly journey throughout Southeast Asia.
7. What countries will I visit?
The quickest way to break this program down is as follows:
- 4 weeks: Thailand Adventure
- 6 weeks: Thailand & Cambodia
- 8 weeks: Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam
Volunteer phases will happen twice throughout this program. The first is a one week stay at an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. The second is another one week participation in the community building project in Cambodia.
This means everyone begins the program on the same day, arriving into Bangkok – leaving only departure dates to varying dates and countries.
6. Do I get in contact with the Elephants?
Elephant sanctuaries provide a vital home and refuge centre through proper care for elephants in desperate need. Developing and maintaining an animal sanctuary requires extensive knowledge about the life of elephants, and all options of the Southeast Asia Explorer allow for you to become a part of this understanding.
For all you elephant lovers out there, you will get a chance to support these majestic animals in their natural surroundings. Volunteers may help with beneficial activities such as preparing and helping with feedings, monitoring behaviour and look for abnormalities, and maintaining the sanctuary to provide a healthy surrounding. Working here still makes it possible to see these animals, but in a natural distance far from hurt and cruelty.
5. What season is best to travel?
Although relatively compact, Southeast Asia has a large variation of climates, with weather patterns even varying wildly within the same country.
Generally, to break some of this information down by country:
- Thailand – is one of the larger countries in the region, and therefore sees a variety of weather patterns throughout the year.
- Bangkok: November to January is the “cool season,” meaning average temperatures drop into the upper 20s C (70s F). February to May is relatively dry, but humidity is on the rise. Rainy season runs here from June to October.
- Chiang Mai: November to February make way for perfectly blue days, but this is a dry climate, meaning, in the evening, temperatures can get as low as 15 C (59 F), but hover around a sunny 30C (86 F) in the daytime. From May to October, it will incredibly be hot. It is not uncommon for day temperatures to reach 38C (100F) during this time.
- Koh Samui: Expect rain October to December. Showers are usually brief, but intense.
- Vietnam – like Thailand, Vietnam has three distinct climates.
- Central Vietnam: January to May is the driest time of year and temperatures average 21-30 C (70-86 F).
- Hanoi: March to April or October to December offer the mildest temperatures, ranging from 18-25 C (64-77 F). Plan to pack warmer clothes if you are traveling in the winter, January to February, as daytime temperatures can get down to 12 C (53F).
- Ho Chi Minh City: March to May is hot and dry. December to February is a bit cooler, averaging around 20-30C (68-86 F). The rain picks up throughout this region from June to early November.
4. I have heard that Southeast Asia is home to some of the most amazing festivals in the world. What months do these take place?
Like anyone else, many backpackers will want to consider what festivals there are when it comes to visiting Southeast Asia.
Some great ones that have crossed the paths of Gapforce participants in the past are:
- Songkran – Literarly the most splashy, splashy fun you may ever have. This is Thailand’s country-wide water fight! We are not kidding when we say, country-wide either!
- Bon Om Tuk – A water festival in Cambodia featuring dragon boat races to celebrate the end of the rainy season.
- Once a Month
- Full Moon Parties in Thailand- the dates for the Full Moon Party vary, and they aren’t always on the actual night of the full moon. Sometimes these dates are alteres so that they do not coincide with Buddhist holidays, or because of government influence like elections or other holidays.
These big Asian festivals may vary from country to country, but they are all immense, chaotic and extremely memorable events of celebration. Many festivals are based on lunisolar calendars, so the dates change from year to year. But, with so many different cultures, religions a reason to celebrate in Asia, it is likely you will be close to an interesting festival no matter where you travel.
3. What can I calculate as my overall budget?
Knowing how much to budget can be troublesome, because it’s hard to predict exactly how many optional activities you’ll want to take part in, and you can do the trip on a shoestring or more opulently depending on your preference. We advise you to budget approximately $50-$70/week or £40-£60/week or 60 – 80 Euro/week to cover items not included in the itinerary such as additional meals, drinks, snacks and optional activities.
Credit cards are generally accepted all over Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Visa and Mastercard are generally preferred over American Express, Diners, etc. Smaller venues take cash only. ATMs are widely available in major towns and cities, so credit and debit cards are the best way to access money throughout this trip.
It is no recommended to bring large amounts of your home currency with you, as there will likely be very few options to exchange it.
2. Who else will be in my group?
Although Gapforce is based in the UK, our group travel programs welcome participants from all over the world. You may be traveling to Thailand, but you will likely be surrounded by friends from other countries like the UK, US, Canada & Germany. Additionally, you should be ready for countless opportunities to interact with those you meet in the host country-this is especially true during the Thailand Elephant Sanctuary volunteer project and the Community Building Project in Cambodia. The minimum age to travel for all program options is 18.
Additionally, a Gapforce Expedition Leader will be accompanying the group throughout their journey. Gapforce leaders are highly trained and well-versed in the intricacies of travel arrangements, and are there to provide support throughout the program. There will be some free time for you to explore individually or in small groups. Your Gapforce Expedition Leader will be supporting the group with safety, travel/activity suggestions and be at the accommodation space. However, due to the nature of group travel programs, the leader will not be with all members of the group 24/7.
1. How do I sign-up?
All Southeast Asia program options have a self-application process. Self-applications tend to close 1-2 months before departure, or whenever the program fills to max capacity. Some programs are known to fill as much as 6 months before departure, so make sure to keep checking in with availability if you have your eyes on a specific date.
Upon booking the program, you will be granted access to your personal portal. This is how you will keep track of what documents are need to be prepared before you go. As a general rule, our recommendation at Gapforce is to book a program at least 3 months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to prepare mandatory documentation like flights, visas, health insurance, kit list, etc. before you go.
About a month before departure, be on the lookout for a Facebook group invite. Here you will get a chance to meet your fellow travelers before you depart.