There’s more to Thailand than just great beaches and unforgettable cuisine: it’s also a very popular destination for volunteers and interns who can choose from a wide variety of opportunities, placements and adventures.
ELI Abroad offers programs in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, with an option to also work in both cities. No matter which site you pick, we offer safe and economical group housing, airport pick up, orientation and 24/7 in-country support.
The main difference between the two locations is size and atmosphere. Bangkok is a huge, bustling city, and one of the most important urban centers in Asia. It’s crowded, exhilarating and unforgettable, a city of temples, museums, a pulsating nightlife and world-class food. When you volunteer in Bangkok, you gain a rare insight into the everyday lives of its residents, and enjoy an opportunity to become part of a community rarely seen or experienced through tourism alone.
In comparison to Bangkok, Chiang Mai seems downright mellow, even though it’s the largest city in Northern Thailand and a significant cultural center that draws visitors from all over the world. The nearby hill country offers countless adventures, everything from river rafting and trekking to visiting exotic semi-independent tribal villages.
Whether you want to volunteer in Thailand or enhance your resume with a professionally oriented internship, ELI Abroad can organize an exciting, reasonably-priced adventure in either Bangkok or Chiang Mai (or in both!) that’s likely to become your trip of a lifetime.
Youth Programs -- Chiang Mai and Bangkok
Eli volunteers work with a few children’s homes based in and around Chiang Mai. They range in age from 6-16. The orphanages are run by a few local families, and in general don’t have much money. These places would have a hard time functioning without volunteers.
Volunteers help out when the youngsters get back from school - around 4pm- Monday-Friday. They help cook, clean, play sports and games, teach arts and crafts and help out with homework. Volunteers usually eat with the kids, and help out with bedtime, if necessary; their day usually ends around 8:30 pm.
This is an ideal program for upbeat, energetic volunteers interested in mentoring some of the poorest members of Thai society.
In Bangkok, we have opportunities for volunteers to work with babies, elementary-school age kids and high schoolers at a remarkable campus-like center for at-risk women and impoverished children run by Catholic nuns. The site has two schools, a daycare, a home for unwed mothers, resources for religious refugees, and a shelter for abused women or trafficked women where they can also learn skills and further their education. This nurturing and upbeat center would make an ideal placement for those who want to work with kids or in women’s empowerment.
Elephant Camp - Chiang Mai Only
The Asian Elephant is only thriving in Thailand due to the work of a few organizations, and ELI volunteers help with this massive effort at a Thai-run elephant camp in the hills just 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. After 2 days of orientation in the city, volunteers live on-site at the camp and assist the hill tribe staff with the bathing and feeding of 60+ elephants Monday through Friday. The camp hosts day visitors from all over the world, so volunteers also assist in educating the visitors and make sure that they are interacting safely with the animals and learning about conservation. The elephant camp is lively and has a very large staff - it’s almost a community of its own. The typical length of stay is 2-6 weeks. Volunteers must be between 18 and 60 years old.
“I'd repeat my stay in a heartbeat! …The elephant camp is truly saving the Asian elephants which are diminishing at astounding rates. I spent a month with these magnificent creatures and continue to be in awe of them…On a daily basis, I rode elephants to the river for their bath, I cleaned up after them, I rode them into the dense jungle, helped the staff cut corn or grass to feed them. When I was not working with the elephants, I taught English at the public school. The students were so happy to see me and so filled with enthusiasm to learn! My normal one hour lesson often turned into two hours, with other classes asking if they could participate. The staff at the elephant camp was terrific. The kitchen staff had coffee ready for me each morning...along with a freshly prepared breakfast of my choosing. It just took my leaving my comfort zone to get to know them and before long different mahouts asked me if I'd want to work with their elephant. Their orientation was outstanding, and the follow-up support they provided was great. I loved every minute of my stay at the elephant camp....a month was just not enough for me...and if I could go back and spend a year I would. In fact, I just might!”
-Allen T., Elephant Camp Volunteer
"The people were so friendly... and the elephants were amazing creatures to spend time with... Try and do absolutely everything possible at the elephant camp at least once. Take the time to be extra friendly to the camp staff and it will be rewarding for you!"
- Tia, Elephant Camp Volunteer
"It was an adventure from day one. We had just arrived, signed in, put our stuff in our room and right away we were helping to take the elephants for a bath in the river. An amazing experience – we get off the bus, and in no time we’re leading elephants to the river!"
-Korey, Elephant Camp Volunteer
Medical, Dental, Physical Therapy Programs - Chiang Mai and Bangkok
A medical internship in Chiang Mai puts you in one of several hospitals in the city and offers exciting opportunities to learn about the Thai medical system, tropical diseases and public health issues in a developing country. Students shadow doctors and assist staff 5-7 hours a day Monday through Friday, and successful interns are often invited to observe in the OR. This program is open to junior and senior pre-meds, nursing and medical students. Fourth year medical students and above are typically put into rounds. Evenings and weekends are free time, when you can relax in one of Chiang Mai’s many cafes, explore its famous markets, or plan excursions into the nearby hillside villages and tribes.
In Bangkok, medical interns as well as nursing and physical therapy students are placed at the prestigious Thammasat University Hospital which is affiliated with Thammasat University, one of the best universities in Thailand. This is a huge, modern facility where ELI Abroad interns can shadow, learn from the hospital’s top doctors and accompany staff into the OR. Please note that Thammasat University Hospital is located outside of Bangkok; it takes 45 minutes to an hour to reach it by public transportation via the BTS Skytrain.
Interns can choose from these departments:
- Ophthalmology (must study in this field)
- Otolaryngology (must study in this field)
- Pharmacology (must study in this field)
- Family Medicine
- Community Medicine
- Emergency Room
- Pediatrics (OPD/Ward)
- Nursing (follow the nurses most of the time)
Here a previous intern describes her experience:
"I am a physical therapy student, and all I have been doing at the hospital is PT. They really paid attention to what I said. I'm mostly in the rehabilitation ward. I spent one day in out-patient. They worry about me getting bored, but I don't feel that way at all. The PT's are incredibly nice and seem very willing to learn from me as well as take the time to show me many things, even though they are incredibly busy. The patients are great, and I think part of the reason I like being in the same department every day is because I've gotten to know them a bit even though they don't speak any English. Most of them seem to love having me around, and they usually just ask me for help without words. I'm going to be very sad to leave them...They also have continuing education every Friday, which the director has asked me to attend. I also find that good. I think the fact that it's a learning hospital and that the director of the PT program specifically has a 5 year plan to make the program more internationally based has produced very good results. I also think staying in the same department is a good idea because you get to know the people so they care a bit more about helping you than if you were just in and out in a couple of days."
Dental Internships - Chiang Mai only
Many westerns elect to have dental work in Thailand because of the high quality of care, which means dental interns in Chiang Mai have the chance to learn on modern equipment and wior with highly skilled professionals. The hours are Monday-Friday, 5-7 hours per day. The dental clinic is located at the hospital, so medical and dental interns commute together. This placement is open to serious pre-dental juniors and seniors as well as dental students. Interns are assigned to a supervising Thai dentist to shadow and assist as needed. Typical procedures include bridges, crowns and extractions.
The minimum time commitment for health internships is 2 weeks. No second language required.
Please note that for ALL medical placements: In order to maintain good relationships with the hospitals, ELI's policy is that once your internship is confirmed, the dates cannot be changed.
Monastery Teaching - Chiang Mai and Bangkok
Our volunteers teach novice Buddhist monks, middle school to high school age, at different monastery schools located in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. These teaching positions are a great way to learn about Buddhism and contribute in a meaningful way. The schools provide both religious and secular classes, with secondary education offered for boys who are unable to afford such opportunities. All the students are novice monks and many, but not all, of the faculty and administration are practicing Buddhist monks. In Chiang Mai, one of the schools has both novice monk students and non-monk students (however the majority are monks) separated by classroom. Many of the novice monks are orphans from the hill tribes, and some of them are learning Thai as a second language and English as a third.
For volunteers who prefer working with older students, limited positions are also available for Teaching Assistants at the International University for Monks in Chiang Mai. Volunteers assist the professors in the English department with their lessons. Additionally, volunteers assist the students outside the classroom informally, practicing pronunciation, writing, conversation and other assignments and studies. There is the possibility of taking a more active role in planning lessons and writing exams. These additional tasks however, would only be offered to volunteers with experience and/or education in the field of university instruction.
The Thai school year begins in mid-May and ends at the end of February. There is also a three week break in October. Therefore, blackout dates for our teaching projects are: March, April, the first half of May, and October.
We also have projects teaching with local public and private schools around Chiang Mai. In a word, if you want to teach, ELI Abroad can probably find you lots of options!
Journalism Internships - Chiang Mai only
Enjoy the rare opportunity to intern with the top English-language magazine in Chiang Mai. This lifestyle publication includes coverage of the local cultural and civic events as well as special interest pieces. As in all magazine work, the hours vary based on assignment. Students who are at least rising juniors majoring in journalism or communications are welcome to apply.
Interns work with the Thai and English-speaking foreign staff in one of the following areas:
Interns in the project work with the Thai and foreign, native English speaking staff in one or many of the following areas:
*Print and design
The minimum time commitment is 4 weeks. No second language required, but a writing sample in English will be requested and you will want to bring your own laptop.
"I had a lot of opportunities, received a lot of great feedback, and a lot of encouragement. My boss, an amazing woman, was very welcoming and took me under her wing, so to speak. She helped with my writing, allowed me to shadow her interviews and became somewhat of a mentor. They were very open at Citylife, and let me do as much as I wanted, giving me opportunities I would never have had in the western press. In my second month, I was even allowed to take my own pictures [which were published.] Thanks to the internship, if you Google my name, you can see my work. I now have a portfolio – not very big, but it’s an important start."
- Stacey, Journalism Intern