Nicknamed the Paris of Asia, Bangkok is a city of wonders, from its floating markets to the biggest horizontal Buddha statue in the world. Due to its importance as the economic and political center of Southeast Asia, Bangkok has experienced growth and a certain degree of prosperity in recent years. However, due to this growth, the city has seen an increase in a variety of social issues, including poor living conditions, overcrowding, pollution, and human trafficking. If you’re looking to make a difference in a needy area and eat some of the most amazing food in the world, then you should without a doubt volunteer abroad in Bangkok.
Volunteering in Bangkok
Due to the sheer size of the city of Bangkok, there are a plethora of volunteer placement opportunities. Between the downtown area and its many urbanized neighborhoods, volunteers will find environmental safe havens, also known as sanctioned green zones, which bring nature into the city. The diversity of the city allows for a range or volunteer work to take place, with placements spanning from working in hospitals to raising awareness about different social issues facing the people of Bangkok.
Wildlife Conservation. Even though it is one of the biggest cities in the world, with an intensely growing urbanization movement, Bangkok also features specific green zones protected by the Thai Department of National Forestry. Individuals can volunteer their time in these zones in cooperation with the Thai government, and help educate locals about sustainable ways of living, develop or contribute to rehabilitation programs for endangered animals, and promote the protection of sacred wildlife, including the elephant, macaque, and gibbon, both in and out of the city’s borders.
Healthcare. One of the most popular types of volunteer work in Bangkok is healthcare. With opportunities to volunteer in Bangkok in everything from mental health facilities and hospitals to rehab centers, meditation centers, and physical therapy clinics, volunteers will have a large selection of placements and specialties. Medicine is approached with a holistic mindset in Thailand, so those who volunteer in Bangkok will have the opportunity to learn new medicinal practices and perspectives on healthcare, making their experience all the more valuable.
Women’s Empowerment. From little girls to grown adults, women all over Thailand face a variety of obstacles that keep them from gender equality. As a volunteer in Bangkok, individuals can contribute to numerous women’s empowerment projects and help girls achieve their goals, so as to eradicate negative stereotypes about women overtime. If you’re looking to make a huge difference in the lives of Thai women while volunteering in Bangkok, by helping them to move past the challenges of poverty, then women’s empowerment projects are for you.
Teaching. Another popular way to volunteer abroad in Bangkok is by teaching English, whether at schools or childcare centers. International teachers can help improve local children’s English language pronunciation, grammar, and most importantly, their vocabulary. By teaching English in Bangkok, you will not only improve their grades; having greater English language skills will also improve their future job prospects. One of the most interesting ways to become a teaching volunteer in Bangkok is by working at Buddhist temples and helping monks practice their English language skills.
Life in Bangkok
Day to day life in the capital of Thailand can seem both chaotic and calm compared to life in the Western world. But at its center, life in Bangkok has a confident tranquility that will enrapture any volunteer who stays long enough.
Getting around Bangkok is fairly easy to manage as there is an organized bus system, as well as affordable taxis and tuk-tuks everywhere. Just to give you perspective, a 45 minute ride from one of the suburbs of the city to the center of Bangkok will cost about $20, split between four friends is only $5 each!
If you’re the type of person that can’t sit still, even after a full day of volunteering and working, then Bangkok will accommodate you. There are so many things to do that you probably wouldn’t even be able to do them during a full year of volunteering in Bangkok. There are bike tours, Muay Thai tournaments, beautiful Buddhist temples to visit, fine arts performances to watch, and spas to enjoy. Along with these year round activities, Thailand has a wide range of festivals throughout the year, including Loi Krathong, Songkran Festival, and the King’s Birthday.
With a very affordable cost of living, an incredible social life, and amazing food, life as a volunteer in Bangkok could not get much better.
Costs & Affordability
One American dollar exchanges at about 37 Thai baht, which is pretty favorable considering a typical meal from a street vendor could be between 35 and 40 baht. In fact, the affordability of the city as a whole is a huge upside to volunteering in Bangkok. Just be sure to avoid the touristy parts of Bangkok. Even though a normal Pad Thai on the street will only set you back a dollar, if you’re hungry and stuck in a tourist area, like Khao San or near the National Palace, you’ll probably end up paying double or triple what you normally would. Try to stay near your project and ask your Thai friends and co-workers where they usually eat if you want to save money and live like a local.
In terms of transportation, always makes sure your taxi has the meter on, and if you’re going in a tuk-tuk, be prepared to negotiate the price beforehand. Keeping those two things in mind, transportation is incredibly affordable, with a 40 minute taxi ride from the city center to one of the outlying neighborhoods being about 20 dollars.
Accommodation & Visas
Volunteers may be surprised that the majority of Thai houses do not include an equipped kitchen, if they even come with a kitchen at all! This is because eating out is actually way more affordable than grocery shopping and making your own food. When searching for housing or reviewing accommodation options for your volunteer program in Bangkok, be sure to look what amenities are included. If housing is not included as part of your program, you can easily rent a one bedroom apartment in the city center for about 20,000 baht a month, while an apartment outside the city center is usually closer to 10,000 baht a month. If housing is provided, it is likely that your home will be equipped with a hot shower and a comfortable bed, at the very least. The only iffy part could be a lack of air conditioning, making life in hot and humid Bangkok a little uncomfortable at times.
In order to volunteer in Thailand, for the majority of people, a tourist visa is needed, which is available upon arrival for up to 30 days. If you plan on volunteering in Bangkok for longer than 30 days, be sure to check with your volunteer program provider or host organization to see what kind of visa you will need to get. Keep in mind that recently Thai officials have been on the lookout for foreigners who repeatedly exit and reenter the country to get the 30 day tourist visa, so it is best to get the most appropriate visa for your stay, which may not necessarily be the easiest one to obtain.
Benefits & Challenges
While an amazing and vibrant place, volunteering in Bangkok will have its ups and downs. Chief among these downs is petty crime, so make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables on the front of your body, especially when in a crowd.
Another challenge that volunteers face in Bangkok is a sense of being overwhelmed by their surroundings. Sometimes health concerns, overcrowding, and traffic can become too much for those who aren’t used to life in Southeast Asia. When this happens, just take a step back, realize you’re doing your part to help people, and “keep on keepin’ on”.
Even with any number of challenges, volunteering in Bangkok will be wonderful, as Thailand is a place rich in smiles, delicious food, and once in a lifetime experiences!