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Alternative Travel Picks in Southeast Asia

By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter


While many countries in Southeast Asia offer rich alternative travel options, none provides the sheer variety of possibilities that Thailand does. From teaching English in a small village in the countryside to learning to make the perfect homemade curry in Bangkok, Thailand is the epicenter of alternative travel in Southeast Asia.


Potential volunteers in Thailand can choose from a number of programs. One of the most well regarded is Global Service Corps’ Thailand Project which offers volunteer placements every month except April. Volunteers have a one-on-one local partner, live with a Thai host family and join the staff of a school or community health center.

Volunteers work primarily as English teachers, but may also choose to work with members of the community to assist in HIV/AIDS prevention education and to gain experience in rural health care. ( ),

Cooking Classes

Thai cooking schools are found throughout the country, and a list of schools can be found at Choosing a school will come down to the degree of formality and level of instruction you want (i.e. do you want only a few lessons in the basics or would you prefer a course that includes more in-depth instruction).

There are several Thai cooking tours and programs. The most well known is the Chiang Mai Cookery School in Chiang Mai, where you can take one, two or three-day classes conducted in English. In Bangkok, you can take classes at most of the major hotels, as well as in smaller cooking schools. And in Phuket, try Baan Kata, or visit The Boathouse for their Saturday and Sunday morning cooking classes. You can arrange your courses in advance or choose a school upon arrival.

  • Thai Massage (nuad bo)

Here, too, schools abound throughout the country. The International Training Massage Institute of Thai Massage ( in Chiang Mai is one of the most famous, but other schools offer a format similar to ITM’s 5- to 10-day courses of small-group instruction for basic through advanced students.

In Bangkok, check out the School of Thai Massage at Wat Po (The Wat Po School of Traditional Medicine). You can take a mini-course, a longer course or just get a massage from one of the students. For more information, ask the guides at Wat Pho for directions to the Thai Massage School. (Note: In Thailand, it is vital that you specify "Thai" Massage; if you don’t, you could end up with a whole other kind of "massage.")

  • Meditation

There are many Buddhist meditation centers throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia that offer courses ranging from a few hours to a few months. The International Buddhist Meditation Center in Bangkok holds a daily class for beginners and advanced practitioners. Section Five at Wat Mahadhatu in Bangkok also holds three different daily classes (in English on M, W, F) and offers longer retreats.

Many meditation centers throughout the region offer accommodations to those wishing to stay and meditate. Check with the Northern Insight Meditation Center in Chiang Mai for longer retreats.

  • Agrotourism

In Thailand, you can visit working farms, produce factories and enjoy village homestays through the Department of Agricultural Extension’s Agro-Tours. In Chiang Rai, contact Ban Hua Mae Kham Agrotourism Center, Tel: (66-53) 765-277. You can also take part in rice planting and harvesting in Chiang Mai through Maejo University.

Other Alternative Picks in Southeast Asia

  • The National Meditation Center ( offers tours, intercultural relations studies and volunteer programs to the Philippines. All participants receive instruction in language and culture.
  • Global Volunteers ( has short-term (2- or 3-week) service programs throughout the year in communities of the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Volunteers work in teams of 10 to 15 people, and during free time, volunteers tour the Mekong River Delta, the infamous Cuchi Tunnels, Buddhist shrines, cultural centers and other sites.
  • Myths and Mountains ( provides custom-designed trips for travelers interested in experiencing local languages, music, art and cooking, including itineraries to visit the hilltribes of Northern Thailand.

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Tags: storySection: Alternatives
Location: Asia, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Vietnam
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