If you have the urge to volunteer in Chiang Mai, here’s a complete guide to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand and Burmese opportunities.
But before you do, a few words of advice:
To enter Thailand with the purpose of doing volunteer work you must have a Non-Immigrant O Visa. Here’s what you’ll need to apply at your local Thai consulate or embassy:
Your original passport with at least one empty page (I recommend having at least four empty pages as, if you stay in Thailand for a year or longer, you’ll be surprised how many visas you end up getting stamped in it).
A visa application form, which you can download from here.
Two photographs taken within the last six months (2″ x 2″).
Evidence of at least $500 in funds (In actuality, you will need a lot more than this if you’re not getting paid as nobody can survive in Thailand for a year on $500 (currently less than 18,000 baht)
A letter from the organization you’ll be volunteering with, confirming they’ve offered you a volunteer position and that they are requesting approval of a temporary stay for you. All legitimate charities and foundations in Thailand are used to creating these so, if the organization you want to work with can’t get one for you, they’re not an agency you should volunteer with as you’ll end up having to volunteer without a work permit – against the law in Thailand.
After you arrive and before you begin volunteering, you must apply for a work permit and receiving a work permit can take up to two months, although once it’s applied for you are allowed to begin volunteering.
All genuine charities, foundations or schools in Thailand know you must have a work permit. If an organization refuses to apply for one for you, don’t work for them and find a charity, foundation or school that will. There are tens of thousands of them all over Thailand.
And don’t sign up with a ‘charity’ in Thailand that’s asking you to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of volunteering. That’s not a volunteer position, it’s an organization making money off people’s kindness and should be avoided at all costs.
Children & Family
Schools of Hope – The temple takes in orphaned or neglected Shan migrant children from the surrounding area and provides them with shelter, food, community, education and empowerment opportunities. I am constantly amazed at how well Noom and his children are able to advocate their cause throughout Chiang Mai. One reason Schools of Hope is so special to me is that Noom not only provides the kids with standard education, but really encourages them to express themselves artistically. One of the kids self-taught himself how to play a number of instruments by observing others and simply listening to the tune of a song. These kids are seriously talented.
Childlife – Mae Sai. Children’s charity in MaeSai.
Magical Light Foundation: A non-religious, nonprofit organization devoted to building schools for children who wouldn’t normally have a chance to receive an education. Volunteers will spend their time teaching English classes, visiting local orphanages and refugee camps as well as helping to plan the construction of schools for hill tribe communities. Magical Light is most interested in volunteers who can commit for a long time. Lodging is provided, but it is an unpaid position that involves some travel outside of the city.
The Life Skills Development Foundation (TLSDF or Rak Dek) Indigenous/hill tribe community and skills building related to child rights, early education, HIV/AIDS awareness & stigma reduction, coalition-building and advocacy. We often accept interns from universities in Chiang Mai. Email: [email protected]
Inter Mountain Peoples Education and Culture Thailand (IMPECT). All Indigenous Peoples advocacy and knowledge and have effectively established their place as the source of inter-tribe collaborations.
Foundation for Applied Linguistics (FAL) – FAL works to promote the integration of Indigenous People’s mother-tongue languages with school curriculum. It addresses a complicated dilemma in the Thai education system regarding migrant, hill tribe and indigenous learning.
Baan Nok Kamin Foundation: welcome help from volunteers with teaching English to the children at Baan Nok Kamin and also to their Thai employees. Other roles include building houses out of mud, organic farm projects and coaching sports. Volunteers pay 300 to 500 baht, depending on how long they stay, towards lodging and two meals a day.
Cultural Canvas Thailand: Teaching English in Rural Schools Program, volunteers are placed in two local elementary schools in Chiang Mai to assist the Thai teachers in delivering English language instruction to children aged nine to 12. Programme fees include orientation, board and accommodation and start at $1500 for three weeks.
Raks Thai – These guys are a ton of fun and have a fairly extensive operation throughout northern Thailand. Their focus is on sustainable development within disadvantaged and marginalized communities. I’ve only observed their Power Teens group during an HIV/AIDS awareness event and they were pros at media outreach!
Kids Ark Foundation:. Helping disadvantaged children whose lives have been affected by poverty and/or hiv/aids. Kids Ark works to keep children with their extended families in their villages while they continue with their education. Some of the children have no parents at home due to causes, such as hiv/aids, and may otherwise be at risk to be sent to an orphanage. In later years Kids Ark has expanded to provide after school programs and day care for children. Though they do not cite a specific volunteering need, they do accept donations and you can also help to sponsor a child in need!
Big Brother Project:. Matches disadvantaged youth with older mentors who might help to guide them through difficult situations using education and play as a means of connection. The organization seeks out volunteers who are ready to spend a significant amount of time with their new found partners in crime.
Child’s Dream: Empowers marginalised children and youth in the Mekong Sub-Region, which includes Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Initiatives of the organization range from health interventions for children to reduce child mortality, construction of educational facilities to provide universal basic education, youth employment centers to high school and university scholarships. Volunteers are readily welcomed in either the office in Chiang Mai or the office in Siem Reap. Typically, a stay of at least one full school semester (4-5 months) is required. The position is unpaid and housing is not provided.
Skill Center Chiang Mai: Help disabled children by giving them free horse riding therapy. Their second concern is to help children from impoverished backgrounds receive training so that they might acquire well-paying jobs. Though they do not cite a specific need on their website for volunteers, if you are familiar with horses or horse riding therapy, it would certainly be worth it to contact the organization!
Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation Thailand (PCF) – Huge supporters of coalition building amongst child rights-related NGOs in Chiang Mai, they also take the lead in promoting multilingual education in indigenous schools and have access to a huge network of orgs in northern Thailand and Switzerland. PCF is Swiss-based.
Agape Home: Chiang Mai home that takes in children affected by HIV/Aids, either those living with the disease or those greatly at risk. The staff and its volunteers act as a family for 100+ children annually, working as teachers and mentors for the children. Volunteers are always needed, though the organization requires a minimum 6-month commitment. Volunteers live at the home with the children.
School for Life: Provides a home and education to children in difficult circumstances. Volunteers take on a variety of roles including helping to teach English and German, and are asked to pay 240 Euros per month towards their food and lodging. Volunteers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland are asked to attend an interview in person, otherwise a telephone interview is required.
Volunteer in Chiang Mai to Stop Human Trafficking
Daughters Rising: Works to prevent sex trafficking by empowering at-risk girls through education, training programs and scholarships. Volunteers are needed for: teaching English in the local Karen village, teaching workshops on the effects of pollution, and designing reworked garments made from traditional handcraft elements. For more info please email [email protected]
COSA House: Prevention of human trafficking and child exploitation through education and community empowerment. The home is located outside of Chiang Mai, where both volunteers and children live. Volunteers spend time engaging with the children through English classes as well as community outreach projects. COSA House requires a minimum 6 week commitment, but volunteers can stay on for at least a year. To maintain the household and the organization, volunteers must pay a small fee.
Urban Light:. A faith-based organization serving boys who are victims of trafficking and exploitation. Regularly seeks volunteers to help teach English classes as well as to act as mentors for the boys. The position is unpaid and housing is not provided, but their location near Tha Pae gate makes housing readily accessible.
Union for Civil Liberty (UCL): 7/1 Thiphanet Rd. Soi 2 – 053-275035
Wildflower Home: Provides shelter and other services to single mothers. Volunteers are readily welcomed and help with tasks as varied as construction, English teaching, garden work and grant writing. Wildflower Home requires a 4 week minimum commitment from its volunteers and can provide room and board at the home, with a small fee.
Chai Lai Orchid. : A social business and eco-resort located next to an elephant camp in Mae Wang, which provides paid training in the hospitality industry for local at-risk women. Specialized volunteers are needed for: mentoring community members in beekeeping; building a bat house, chicken coop and rabbit run; and turning a defunct swimming pool into a swimmable natural pond. For more info please email [email protected]
We Women: Education and well-being of unrecognized refugee women from Burma. The Foundation targets women whose passions, goals and motivation implicate them as future leaders of Burma. We women provides a much needed service to women from Burma by offering them the opportunity to succeed in higher education. The long-term aim of the We women from Burma project is to assist unrecognized refugee women into obtaining higher positions within policy making or influential organizations, so that they can empower women and their communities, in their own terms as policy making positions are still often held by outsiders. The organization is currently looking for volunteers with administrative skills who speak fluent English and have education experience.
Women’s League of Burma: Promotes participation of women in the struggle for democracy and human rights, promoting women’s participation in the national peace and reconciliation process, and enhancing the role of the women of Burma at the national and international level. Though they do not cite specific volunteer needs on their website, their programs are extensive and often involve other organizations with volunteer needs.
Volunteer in Chiang Mai and help Migrants
Migrant Learning Center: Offers Thai Language, English Language, Burmese Language and Computer training. Anybody regardless of race, gender, age, language, education, religion, political belief and social background are free to take these classes and pay no tuition. Volunteer teachers are always needed and email contacts are provided on the home page.
Burma Study Center: Pperates a lending library of books, reports, and documentary films about Burma and Southeast Asia, offers free English and computer classes for migrants, and coordinates community information-sharing/awareness raising events. Volunteers who are based in Chiang Mai for at least a few months are sought to help with our teaching programs, and also to contribute news, human interest articles, and book/film reviews for our newsletter and website.
Dulabhathorn Foundation – Focuses on the development and education of disabled children, a group often discarded by Thai society. Located on a gorgeous estate just outside Chiang Mai, they’re leaders in education for children with Down’s Syndrome and autism.
Nikki’s Place: Home for babies with HIV/AIDS opened in May 1996 and now provides a loving family for over 80. Volunteers spend from six months to a year working alongside Thai nannies helping to care for the children.
Thai Freedom House: Language and arts community learning center in Northern Thailand dedicated to assisting families and individuals who are refugees from Burma and members of minority groups of Thailand. They not only provide education in Thai, English, Shan and Burmese languages and the arts but also house a community resource center with information on where to find valuable resources for people in need. They run the popular Free Bird Cafe and all proceeds go back into the project.
CBT Network: Uses tourism to improve communities throughout Northern Thailand. Volunteers, referred to as guests by the website, will have an opportunity to experience and learn about the community and the environment through fun, “hands-on” activities led by local community guides. These activities include things such as jungle trekking, traditional fishing, natural dyeing and learning to cook local dishes. Local members of the community manage the groups of volunteers.
Art Relief International: Offers struggling social groups in Chiang Mai the opportunity to express themselves through an artistic lens. Volunteers support almost every aspect of the organisation, working as grant-writers, office assistants, lesson plan developers, teachers, community artists, and everything inbetween. (Applications via Cultural Canvas Thailand).
Documentary Arts Asia. : Gallery and learning center seeks to advance visual literacy and support underrepresented documentary artists throughout Asia.
Art Speak. : Using art as a tool for underprivileged children and communities to express themselves; to transform and transcend their environment. Volunteers at Art Speak believe that something as simple as a colourful wall mural, a simple little painting on the wall, a communal playground with art randomly placed, a painted post box or dustbin can bring smiles and a sense of ownership to disadvantaged children and adults.
AIDS Network: Anantasiri Tennis Court 48/1 Chiang Mai-Lampang Superhighway Rd. – 053-222484, 053-222417
Empower: Ramingniwet Village 72/2 Thipphanet Rd. – 053-282504
Family Planning Northern Project: 200/3 Bamrungrat Rd. – 053-249406, 053-262859
Health & Development Networks: 22-22/1 Soi.1 Ratchapakinai Rd. –
North Net: 225/112 Moo 3, Ban Sinthana – 053-380566-7
Northern Development Foundation: 71/1 Moo 5, Suthep Rd. – 053-810623-4
Project HOPE Thailand: 248/28 Maneenopparat Rd., Sahasriphum Place – 053-404259
Sangha Metta Project: 103 Phrapokklao Rd. – 053-814405
Y.M.C.A.: 11 Soemsuk Rd. Soi Mengrairatsami – 053-221819-20
Rain Tree Foundation: Helping the poor in Thailand is on education, water projects and community projects. Long, mid and short term volunteers are required all year round to help out by teaching English, farming, building and with arts and crafts, music and drama and sports activities.
Foundation To Encourage The Potential Of Disabled Persons: Promotes the health, education, employment, and dignity of disabled people in northern Thailand, self-funded, skilled volunteers are sought to help with their aims. At the time of writing the foundation is looking for physical or occupational therapists, Thai to English translators, qualified medical nurses and welders.
Atma Seva: A cultural exchange programme where participants have the opportunity to live and teach English to Buddhist monks in northern Thailand. Fees, covering meals and lodging at either a Buddhist temple or home-stay, range from $700 for one week to $2400 for three months. A no fee volunteer option, suitable for people already in northern Thailand, is also offered.
Nextstep Thailand: An eco-tourism business that arranges volunteer teaching in Karen villages near Chiang Mai.
The Chai Lai Orchid: This nature retreat nestled in the mountains near Chiang Mai is also a social business that works to promote sustainable tourism, kindness to elephants and helping at-risk women take the first step to get out of poverty. English teachers, doctors and nurses and creative are sought.
Warm Heart Foundation: Serving a rural village in the Phrao Valley in northern Thailand, 89 kilometres from Chiang Mai, the Warm Heart Foundation posts numerous positions on their website including writers, managers, farm workers, fashion designers and physical therapists.
Habitat for Humanity: HfH works across the world, including in Chiang Mai and Thailand, to provide decent housing to people on low incomes. To date, they have built, repaired and rehabilitated over 8,800 houses across the country.
Panya Project: A natural building education center, which focuses on teaching individuals how to create and maintain sustainable homes. To create these homes, they use all natural materials, advertising on their website that a lot of their time is spent “playing with mud.” Volunteers and visitors are welcome, though they do require quite a bit of advanced notice because a lot of their time is also spent hosting schools and other large groups. Volunteers live on the premises and help to educate as well as to construct sustainable homes.
Care for Dogs: Grooming, walking, playing with the dogs, vet runs, administrative work or helping at fundraising events are some of the tasks undertaken by volunteer staff. CDF can help with arranging accommodation locally starting at 200 baht.
Lanna Dog Welfare: Dog lovers are welcome to help with field sterilization, learn how to train and catch dogs, produce hand made products for sale and with fundraising activities..
Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation: Santisook need volunteers to help run their shelter for homeless dogs. Tasks range from giving the dogs a hug to selling merchandise at Chiang Mai’s Saturday Walking Market.
Save Elephant Foundation: Two projects are offered by Save Elephant Foundation to those wanting to get up close to these magnificent creatures. In the first volunteers pay 12,000 baht per week to enjoy up-close and intimate interactions with the 30+ elephants of the herd at Elephant Nature Park. The second programme, called Journey to Freedom, is more physically demanding and encourages Karen villagers to stop leasing their elephants to trekking camps and return them to the jungles of Northern Thailand. This programme costs 15,000 baht and is available from October to June
Elephant Nature Park: An elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand where you can volunteer and visit to help. The programmes and costs are the same as those offered by Save Elephant Foundation. There are so many volunteer opportunities with this organization that to list them here would take up way too much space! A few examples include work with a Dog Rescue Project, a specialized Vet Volunteer Project as well as group and class visits that can last for as little as a day and as long as 4 weeks.
Wildlife1. : A nonprofit organization dedicated to monitoring and preventing illegal wildlife trade and deal with conservation issues throughout Asia. Volunteers can stay at the beautiful wildlife rescue sanctuary in Chiang Dao, where free room and board is exchanged for dedicated volunteer work building shelters, caring for endangered animals, gardening, cleaning and other daily tasks.
Chiang Mai Zoo: While looking on the Chiang Mai Zoo’s website the other day to see if they have pandas I not only found out that they do, but that they hire volunteer panda keepers. Volunteers must pay 5,000 baht, not including accommodation and meals, to work as a keeper for two days on Thursday and Friday or Saturday and Sunday.
Organic Farms & Sustainable Living
Sangob Foundation: There are two ways to get involved with Sangob, a sustainable living and permaculture project in Mae Taeng near Chiang Mai. Volunteers stay a minimum of one week and will learn composting, planting, mulching and taking care of the animals. Volunteer contribute 2,500 baht for the first week and 300 baht per additional day towards accommodation and three vegetarian meals a day. There are also a limited number of intern positions lasting over six months.
Panya Project: Though shorter visits are possible, volunteers are encouraged to stay for two weeks or longer to get used to the Panya way of life and be more effective in your stay. A 2000 baht contribution is welcomed for a one week stay, with 250 baht expected each day after, falling to 125 baht per day after a month. Full time paid management positions are also advertised on their site.
Baan Raska: Meaning Happy Healing Home in Thai, Baan Raska is a sustainable living project run by Jim, a Buddhist monk for 16 years and his wife Tea Kumsrisom who own the ten acres of the organic farm. In exchange for three or four hours’ work and a contribution of 150 baht a day they can offer you three meals, clean drinking water straight from the mountains, a private hut or a bed in the dorm.
Pun Pun Center for Self Reliance: A small organic farm, seed saving centre and sustainable living and learning centre. Volunteers help out with whatever work is happening seasonally, such as gardening, weeding, cooking or building, and are asked to contribute 350 baht per day.
Baan Rung Nok: Ryan, a ginger wine brewing photographer and Non, a natural builder, accept volunteers for Baan Rung nok (meaning Birds Nest House in English) via the WWOOF network.
Mindful Farmers in Chiang Mai: Mindful Farmers are still at the early stage with their project and welcome energetic people to join them working on their farm, 75 kilometres to the nor th west of Chiang Mai. Food and basic accommodation is provided in return for your efforts and 150 baht per day.
Phrao Organic Farm: This small certified “Organic Thailand” orchard in Ampur Phrao, 100 kilometres north of Chiang Mai, grows a wide variety of tropical fruits including guava, longan, passion fruit, mango, rose apple, papaya, banana and jackfruits. They accept volunteers via WWOOF.
The Traidhos Three-Generation Community for Learning: There isn’t any information on volunteering on their site but Annie Allen’s article in the Chiang Mai Mail describes her time as a WWOOF volunteer in Mae Rim.
Green Net Organic Agriculture Center: Green Net is a Thai social enterprise working to link sustainable farmers and community enterprises with consumers. The centre employs a volunteer Organic Vegetable Seed Production/Processing Assistant. For a placement of one month volunteers are asked to contribute $200 toward food and lodging but this is waived for placements over two months.
Miscellaneous Volunteer Opportunities
Limeleaf Eco Lodge: This off-grid eco-lodge in the hills north of Chiang Mai recruits volunteers via Workaway (though none are needed until October 2013). Volunteers have a variety of options, including working with the Black Lahu hill tribe in the fields or in their village, building mud adobe house, making repairs, or helping the Limeleaf owners in running the camp..
Friends for Asia: Friends for Asia can place volunteers in varied short and long term volunteer projects in either Chiang Mai or Surat Thani. Volunteers can work at elephant camp, in an orphanage, teach English or take on medical or multi-media internships. Fees vary depending on the project.
Avril, a Burmese American resident of Chiang Mai, can help with volunteer opportunities in Southeast Asia. She also administers the Team Chiang Mai Facebook page that often lists locally based volunteer work. A wealth of inexpensive volunteer options in Thailand can be found via VolunteerWorkThailand.org. And more at Free Volunteer Work Abroad.