Many bloggers, gap year enthusiasts or even just those who want to learn a little bit more about their chosen destination other than just the usual round of beaches, parties and ancient ruins may find themselves returning to this region in order to carry out some volunteer work.
The first thing to do if the travel and exploration bug has fired your enthusiasm is on your return home carry out some research. It’s one thing to travel with all the arrangements made by one of the many travel experts in this region, including, Selective Asia, but it’s a very different matter if you are organising your trip yourself. On your travels through Cambodia, or Laos or any of the other countries that comprise this area you may well have become interested in one of the many volunteering projects that are available. Read up about them, find out if you’re going to be paid expenses or if you have to pay the organisation in order to take part. You should also discover what type of visa you’ll need and so should possibly contact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as well as the voluntary organisations themselves. Personal health should never be taken lightly, if you’re struck with malaria you won’t be of much use to anyone, let alone feeling absolutely lousy yourself. Diabetics and asthma sufferers should check with their GPs for their own safety.
Many travellers to Cambodia will have visited the wonderful temples at Angkor Wat and may well have visited Siem Reap on their way to this historic site. The town of Siem Reap is famous for its hotels and guesthouses but few realise that it also suffers from huge poverty and one of the voluntary projects is helping local children get an education as well as providing houses for the locals. Many in this area live on less than $2 per day.
Those who have been captivated by the many animals that they may well have seen on their visit to Cambodia or Thailand, may want to learn more about some of the conservation projects that are desperate for volunteers. One of these is a marine based scheme based on the island of Koh Rong Samleom, close to the costal town of Sihanoukville where those who want to use their scuba diving skills to help map the ecology of this stretch of water as well as helping to protect seahorses. This project also offers to train those who are less than confident about their underwater skills. If you like your animals a little larger then there is a brilliant elephant protection project in Thailand where you will have the chance to help work with elephants that have been domesticated for the logging industry and then abandoned to their own devices following the collapse of this industry. The elephant sanctuary is always in need of volunteers all that is asked is that you are over 18 and in good health.
By Celina Bledowska, journalist and occasional volunteer