From the canals of Bangkok and nearby floating markets, to magnificent stone ruins and truly spectacular temples in Ayutthaya, and on through the limestone cliffs and Railay Bay in the southern province of Krabi we experience it all in this student trip to Thailand! Rewarding community service experiences with children deepen our understanding and relationship with our hosts as we learn about this nation and are won over by the hearts of its people.
We begin this trip with a chaperoned group flight from New York to Bangkok. Our trip leaders greet you at the airport and are with you from check-in onward. Everyone has the opportunity to begin trip bonding before we even land. For our many travelers from outside the New York area, we strongly encourage all participants to join our group flight to Thailand and are happy to assist you with arranging connecting flights at suitable times into New York. If you prefer, you may meet us in Bangkok and we will help you coordinate your flight and times and greet you after you proceed through immigration and customs.
For your return from Bangkok, we offer a chaperoned flight to New York. You may choose to join that flight and arrange transfers (if required) at suitable times after the group has cleared customs and immigration in the USA; or you may fly from Bangkok to your home city and our leaders help you to check-in and remain in the airport until flights in designated times have departed.
The Ban Huaymaesai Primary school in Chiang Rai has close to 200 students between the ages of 7 and 12. The school is located in a very rural area and does not have the same resources and facilities found closer to cities. You will help to beautify the school by painting classrooms and helping with other beautification projects. You will have a great opportunity to form connections with new friends as you organize fun and engaging activities.
The service work you will perform in a hill tribe village further develops our cross-cultural experience. Work with the locals on a community improvement project that will benefit the people of this region. Past projects include building a road to improve access to this remote community, as well as building a center for families to have a place to read, gather and display their crafts to tourists who come to see their way of life. Enjoy a cultural exchange with the Lahu tribe for an evening of song, dance & games.
You will teach English to Thai children at a small local school, an experience that is sure to leave you with many new little friends. Over the course of the 3 days at the Watpakoitai School, you will be working with your peers to design educational programs for the students of this school. You will be splitting your time running educational programs in the classroom, and playing games with the students on the school’s property.
Get up close and personal with these amazing animals. Learn to feed, bathe, and care for the elephants. You will enjoy the day working with local mahouts (Thai elephant trainers) and learning about the extent these local organizations go to in order to rehabilitate these gentle giants. The Thai elephant is the national animal of Thailand and the locals take great pride in taking care of them. Our time spent at the Patara Elephant Farm is an unforgettable experience that will stick with travelers for years to come.
After a warm welcome greeting and orientation to Thai customs, you will experience this intriguing city with multiple modes of transport – by elevated Skytrain, canal boat, three wheeled tuk-tuk and longtail boat. The first stop is a food walking tour of Bangkok where you will be introduced to many traditional Thai dishes and flavors. As you take in the major sights including Erawan Shrine, Golden Mount, Grand Palace and Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha), the city’s people will continue to amaze you with their warmth. Learn about initiatives to rehabilitate the mangrove forests and maintain their traditional way of life. Be amazed by the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya as you visit the stunning temples in the former capital of Thailand.
Take a long tail boat through the countryside to Ban Ruammit! In Chiang Rai city, visit the Night Bazaar and Wat Rong Kuhn (white temple) and have a well deserved Thai massage. Enjoy a short hike to a beautiful waterfall in the Ban Hauymaesai countryside.
Float down the Mae Kok River on bamboo rafts. Work hand-in-hand with community members of the Lahu Village to rice farm and then make a traditional Thai lunch from scratch.
Get ready for what is no ordinary zip line! From multiple platforms, zip from tree to tree with spectacular views of one of the province’s oldest forests. Discover the region’s beauty and history as you explore the old city and some of its most famous temples (including Doi Suthep) before a fully involved learning experience of the country’s national sport, Muay Thai kickboxing. Learn how to cook traditional dishes and of course, enjoy the feast at our very own Thai cooking class.
Kayak Krabi Klong Talen’s ‘Mangrove Maze,’ a chain of rock gardens, limestone canyons and semi-hongs filled with mangroves and plenty of wildlife. In Koh Phi Phi, whether you choose to snorkel or SCUBA in the emerald waters of this paradise, you will see exotic fish, sea turtles and coral. Enjoy a second snorkeling opportunity at Chicken Island and chilling on the beach at Railay Bay. (For your safety, all SCUBA operators restrict participants with certain medical conditions. Please ask about your own circumstances if applicable.)
Fly back to Bangkok where it all began and travel south of the city, to venture to the wetlands and explore the canal communities and the floating markets. At your farewell dinner, there is much laughter as we reminisce and reflect on all we have learned, seen, tasted and experienced. After our time with the friendly Thai people, we understand why it is called “Land of the Smiles!”
This hotel features a rooftop restaurant, swimming pool and sundeck with city views of Bangkok. The central location makes it easy to get around and the perfect place to start and conclude your journey in the Land of the Smiles!
The Luck Swan Resort offers a beautiful view of surrounding gardens and landscape. You will enjoy the convenience of free Wi-Fi, swimming pool and lots of open space to relax and enjoy the grounds of the hotel.
As you arrive by long tail boat, you will be amazed by the beauty of this incredible hotel. Every bungalow is made completely of bamboo (the local building material) with a straw roof. When you are not working in the tribal village behind the hotel, you will have time to enjoy the gorgeous swimming pool and huge open areas for sports and evening bonfires.
The Eurasia Hotel has a very charming and tranquil feeling to it. You will enjoy having your own cottage with a terrace surrounded by fruit trees. The hotel has a swimming pool, free Wi-Fi access and is located 10 minutes away from the many sites you will see in Chiang Mai.
The Krabi Tipa Resort stands out with a stylish combination of tropical lifestyle and contemporary design set in striking natural surroundings. It is a short 5 minute walk to the beach. You will enjoy the swimming pool, open air lobby and convenience of high speed internet.
At Westcoast Connection nothing else comes first. From our extensive trip planning department through our management team and our leaders, it is our single biggest priority! Safety procedures, equipment – we’ve got it covered. All Trip Leaders and Directors are certified in First Aid and CPR. We are extremely proud of our safety record and welcome all questions you may have in this area. Please see more under Safety First.
Once you are on your trip, you will have sensitive leaders that are caring, approachable and always there for you. Your Trip Director and Trip Leaders are people with incredible backgrounds including teachers, guitar players, IRONMAN triathletes, SCUBA divers, volunteers, and so much more.
Every staff member takes part in and must complete our extensive training weekends that review our philosophy and procedures to provide a well-supervised and fun-filled program.
Our Trip Directors, the individuals responsible for overseeing each itinerary, take on the roles of teachers, coaches, camp counselors, mentors, concierges and hosts. They’ve been trained to provide individual attention and create an all-inclusive family atmosphere (our EACH & EVERY philosophy). There’s a definite art to building dynamic groups, and we’ve worked hard to master it! We want you smiling on day one right through to a teary goodbye at your farewell banquet.
Our leaders are non-smokers. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Summer Leaders section.
We can’t say it too many times, this is a really incredible group experience. A great dynamic starts with our secrets for group bonding. Our bag of tricks goes way beyond traditional ice breakers. Imagine people hunts, Rock, Paper, Scissors championships, Ninja tournaments, flash mobs and so much more. We work hard to get everyone moving beyond first impressions and creating an atmosphere of total acceptance. Our staff hiring and training emphasizes social safety and establishing an inclusive culture. Many of our travelers come as individuals and we have a geographically diverse enrollment with students joining us from across the U.S., Canada and internationally. This mix helps eliminate cliques at the outset and establish an open environment that benefits you. We take great care in assembling groups to create an unforgettable social experience. Our international service programs are for up to 24 group members.
Our service projects can change from one year to the next as we adjust to the needs of the local communities and the guidance of our service partners. This way, our service hours have the greatest impact and move forward the projects with the greatest priority. We also focus on service-learning throughout the process, where education and reflection are key to enriching these experiences for all.
We partner with established organizations that have a long history of achieving their goals and integrating teen volunteers into their efforts. Over the years we have built strong relationships with various organizations in the communities we visit who look forward to hosting our groups year after year. The specific service projects that we will work on are finalized in late spring and depend on what is most needed in these communities. Past projects have included building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, planting sustainable gardens with Children’s Eco Training in South Africa, teaching children to read with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hawaii. Last summer we completed 23,201 hours of service (that’s equivalent to 2.6 years!) in just 8 weeks.
Whether it’s building and planting sustainable food gardens in South Africa or lending a hand by making adobe bricks for a community in rural Peru, our community service programs participate in a wide array of meaningful projects on five continents! With the help and direction of our longstanding local partners on the ground, our projects focus on five main themes: community welfare, youth leadership, environmental sustainability, infrastructure, and wildlife conservation. Check out some noteworthy projects we completed in previous summers to give you a glimpse at how we make our summers count!
Our groups participate in well-planned and substantial community service projects in between surfing in Hawaii, snorkeling in the Galapagos, zip lining in Costa Rica, climbing to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru, or marveling at the Big 5 on a safari in South Africa. We know when to pick up the pace to get the adrenaline flowing; we also know when it’s time to chill with some downtime on the beach. The balance of service and recreation is what sets our programs apart. By integrating adventure and recreational highlights into our itineraries, we are able to maintain a high level of enthusiasm.
Volunteer with experienced nonprofit organizations and alongside the locals who often directly benefit from your help, as you become part of a team working towards a common goal. Everyone’s contribution and cooperation are so important to help the service projects progress as planned, so please join us with the right expectations and a positive attitude. The rewards in sharing this experience are many, such as lasting friendships, improved interpersonal skills and personal growth. You will receive a letter of completion recognizing your hours of service and listing the work you helped to complete.
Westcoast Connection is a Certifying Organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award. The award program was developed in 2003 as a way to honor and thank U.S. citizens and residents who engage in service both domestically and abroad. Presidential recognition of what you have achieved speaks to the type of person you are and hopefully inspires others to take positive action to change the world. The award requires completing 100 hours of community service within a 12 month period. Your service hours with our program qualify towards that total to earn the award.
As you travel to new places and experience different cultures, your journey may challenge your ideas and preconceived notions. We recognize this and strive to provide an environment where you are free to question and learn. This is nurtured by our leaders’ open and non-judgmental guidance. The opportunity for growth through service learning is endless!
Of all our summer programs, community service provides the greatest opportunity to interact with the local people and culture. Being exposed to families and children who have different customs and daily realities can broaden our perspective and raise our awareness of important issues. In a multicultural world, this education can break stereotypes and help us understand the role we play as global citizens.
There really is a difference in how different summer programs operate! Motivated teens going away with qualified leaders is a given. But what sets us apart is the depth of our qualified personnel that allow us to perform with the greatest consistency at the highest level.
Your Trip Director and Trips Leaders are with you throughout your program. They have daily contact with one of our two 24-hour Communication Centers and are in regular contact with our Company Directors. Our Company Directors are the most seasoned veterans who each oversee specific programs providing support to trip staff and to assist with any situations that may arise. Collectively our team is an incredible resource with 420+ summers of combined teen travel experience. This way, we can lend a hand wherever and whenever a little extra effort is called for. This investment in depth of personnel is unrivaled in teen travel and is a critical element to achieving consistent, excellent program quality and surpassing client expectations!
Included in the trip tuition are all activities and entertainment described, breakfast & dinner daily, lunches as indicated on your specific program, gratuities, taxes, land transportation, accommodations, and fanatical customer service from our full-time team and summer Communication Centers. This can add up to tremendous value!
We provide clean and comfortable accommodations. Please don’t expect luxury resorts and at the same time we know you need a good night’s rest to perform community service as well as have energy for our many other included activities. For quality and consistency of the group experience, we do not have any homestays. Each student has their own bed. For more detailed information on any specific program, visit the section marked Where We Stay.
A big part of a program’s success depends on how well you eat. We are proud of the fact that year after year we are complimented for our quality and quantity of food and variety of options. Meals vary by destination. Part of your travel experience will be immersing yourself in the local cuisine and culture so please bring with you an open mind and a willingness to try new things. For example, in Thailand, your mouth will water over authentic spicy local dishes, there is plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and many noodle dishes but don’t worry, they also have North American style options on the menu. In Thailand, we recommend against drinking the local tap water and we provide clean water for our travelers.
We have satisfied the choosiest of eaters and gladly accommodate most special dietary requests including vegetarian, anaphylactic food allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease and kosher style. We welcome discussing your individual requirements with you and have extensive personal experience in this area. International travel may present more challenges than domestic locations and we are happy to review your personal needs and help you select an appropriate itinerary.
On international community service programs, you’ll ride in air-conditioned professionally driven vehicles (from motor coaches to smaller passenger vans).
You only need to bring one week’s worth of clothing as outlined in our packing list as we have the opportunity for laundry weekly.
On our international programs, every week you will drop off your laundry at a local wash and fold service and then pick it up clean, folded and ready to go.
While you’re out having the summer of your life, your parents should feel like they are in on the action as well. We post updates to our blog and Facebook page and e-mail photos approximately once a week so those at home can be in on the fun. Parents also have access to our dedicated office Trip Monitors 24/7 for any questions and/or concerns. We’re as in touch as any trip operator could possibly be via smartphones with e-mail and text. The goal is uncompromising safety and peace of mind, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Participants may bring their personal cell phones.
In last summer’s surveys, 99% of responding teens and parents said they would recommend us to others. We must be doing something right!