Combining two of his greatest passions - Asia and road tripping - IVHQ's Reeve Barnett shares how to make the most of your time as a volunteer in Asia. Consider yourself warned, his passion may be somewhat contagious...
What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear "road trip"?
“Road trip…………..road trip…………..volunteer road trip………….."
Say this over and over again, out loud or in your head, and I am sure a spark of excitement will begin to grow and grow…
I personally love hearing "road trip" as all sorts of connotations come to mind. The two strongest connotations I get are freedom and adventure. The idea that I am my own person and I can do what I like, experience my own experiences with my best mates and do all this with a laid back exterior and a smile on my face. I have taken many road trips in my life and each one has provided me with fond memories.
My favorite road trip to date was over summertime a few years ago, cruising along the highway on the coast in New Zealand with five mates and surf boards all hanging out the back, trying to eat ice-creams that were splattering our faces from the wind. Road trips are a key way to travel around the word, as by definition it is a journey made by a car or bus, which you can pretty much do anywhere. Interestingly, the first ever recorded road trip took place in Germany in 1888 and was 106 kilometers!
Now you are probably wondering how volunteering can fit into this concept of road tripping? Let me introduce South East Asia...
I have traveled to South East Asia many times over my short life and there are plenty of reasons why. South East Asia comprises of 10 independent countries, with over 600 million people, speaking over 1,000 languages. As you can imagine there is massive diversity in culture, scenery and culinary dishes, and International Volunteer HQ is excited to offer volunteer programs in six South East Asian countries - Bali, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
My question to volunteers who are looking to journey to this inspiring part of the world is: Why stop at one country? Why not make your trip into a journey and turn it into a road trip? Instead of flying into Bangkok and out of Bangkok, create a road trip that starts in Bangkok and ends in Ho Chi Minh City. Doesn’t that sound like more fun?
South East Asia may be considered small in scale compared to the rest of the world but it packs a lot of punch and boasts a fascinating history. You many not know that there is a real mix of Indian influence in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand; however Vietnam was under China’s sphere of influence throughout much of its history. When traveling through these countries, you now notice the small details of influence that come through in everyday life. As a rule, people who eat with their fingers are more likely influenced by the Indian culture, whereas the people influenced by ancient Chinese culture, eat with chopsticks.
Or did you know that Thailand was the only country in South East Asia that remained free of colonial occupation? Wouldn’t you like to see how this has made Thailand different to the other countries? Road trip through South East Asia and find out!
Then came the spread of Islam; then the Europeans came with their colonializing power and established their power far and wide; large World War 2 battles raging between the allies and the Japanese because of its strategic location for shipping routes; conflict between the Communists and the Non-Communists. As you can read, there has been a lot of history that has shaped this part of the world into what it is today. I can assure you that if you road trip here, you will never get bored and nothing is ever the same.
Volunteering in multiple programs in South East Asia is a fantastic opportunity, as this gives you the opportunity to explore more of the region while contributing to sustainable development projects. I have put an itinerary together of how a volunteer could road trip across South East Asia, based on my experience...
Volunteer in Asia Road Trip: The South East Asian Ham Sandwich
I fly into Bangkok, precisely a week before I begin my volunteer program working within the hill tribe community of Chiang Rai. I am registered to participate on the Outdoor Work project, so I want to experience the city life of Bangkok and the beach life of the islands in the south.
Khao San Road and Bangkok life are a whirlwind experience of lights, noise and activity. The difficult part is to decide which osland is best to relax on for a few days after; Koh Chang, Koh Tao, Koh Samui... Options are endless and I am in luck, as the islands are celebrating their famous Full Moon Parties when I am there.
After three days of chilling on the beach, the road trip continues with an overnight train trip to Chiang Rai to start the IVHQ Thailand volunteer program.
The volunteering work is in a remote hill tribe village where I, alongside other IVHQ volunteers, are provided the task of repairing homes for the local elderly. It is satisfying work where I make life-long friends that I am already looking forward to seeing again in their native countries in my future travel plans.
Two weeks later having completed my volunteer program in Thailand, I am now off to Pai to soak up its relaxed ambience for a few days. With the body all relaxed, it is time to head to the border and cross over the Mekong River at Chong Mek into Laos.
Another country, with another experience that I am looking forward to!
The border crossing over into Laos is right up the north (almost by China), and here I am about to begin the three day Gibbon experience. The Gibbon experience is where you live some 30 meters (100 foot) up in a tree house and you zip-line through the jungle getting up to speeds of 70 kilometers per hour; seriously awesome! Throughout the three days of walking and zip-lining through the jungle, I got to witness the abundant flora and fauna of Laos, with the overall purpose to see the Gibbon apes swinging through the trees. Also, it has the best bathroom view I have ever experienced!
Decision time? Do I continue my road trip to Luang Prabang via the Mekong River, or by bus?
The white water river rafting I did in Luang Prabang provided myself much entertainment and I wanted to do it again; however it is time to move on and see the natural beauty of Vang Vieng, which I would describe as an oriental silk painting. While the tubing does not exist anymore, I am more than satisfied with the many adventure options available with caving and climbing opportunities abundant in the karst.
There was no better way to arrive to IVHQ's Laos volunteer program than by a kayak adventure that I started in Vang Vieng and finished in Vientiane. This time my volunteering is spent in a completely different environment, as I have chosen the Special Needs/Childcare project that is based in Laos' capital of Vientiane. Vientiane is situated on the Mekong and after spending the four weeks on the banks of the Mekong, I understand why it has charmed many travelers over the years.
I continue my road trip east, off to the land of motor cycles. Destination: Hanoi, Vietnam.
Still with time up my sleeve before I am required to be in Hanoi for the first Monday of the month for my volunteer program to begin, I decide that Ninh Binh is the best option to rest my head for a few days. Learning about the Vietnam agricultural juggernaut is a mind-boggling experience, especially seeing the back breaking work associated with rice farming.
If I thought Ninh Binh was beautiful, I was absolutely mind blown by Ha Long Bay. Vietnam is teasing me with all the treats it has offered. Wow!
Hanoi is the last destination of my road trip, which has so far included three countries, countless bus trips, over 30 new friends on my Facebook account and enough photos that have filled up all my memory cards.
But I am not finished yet.
My road trip swan song is volunteering on my third and final program in Hanoi. Again, I have opted for the Special Needs/Childcare project because of the rapport with the children in Laos. After another rewarding couple of weeks of playing a human jungle gym, friend, teacher and carer to the children, everything must come to an end.
My road trip is over and I absolutely loved it.
To discover the opportunities to travel as a volunteer in Asia, take a trip to the International Volunteer HQ website.