Posted: May 15, 2017
Volunteers and tourists alike are always eager to visit Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, but Laos is Southeast Asia’s well-kept secret – with lush green mountains and an abundance of waterfalls, Laos has a fascinating history and is home to incredibly friendly people who will surely make you feel welcome. Whether you volunteer in Luang Prabang or volunteer with monks in Laos in general, you will surely fall in love with this simply beautiful country.
Further reading: 6 Reasons to Volunteer in Chiang Mai
With two-thirds of the country practicing Buddhism, 130 ethnic minority tribes, and cultural influences from neighboring countries, Laos is culturally rich and diverse. As you explore both urban centers and rural villages, you’ll have the unique opportunity to learn about and immerse yourself in the different cultures.
There are also plenty of festivals to partake in. If you’re in Laos in September or October, be sure to check out Lai Heua Fai, the Festival of the Fire Boat. Small boats made of bamboo are decorated with candles and money, and after a wish is made, released onto the Mekong. With more than 2000 boats released at once, it is a magical and awe-inspiring experience that you don’t want to miss out on.
Further reading: 5 Ways To Handle Reverse Culture Shock
The Buddhist Almsgiving Ceremony is truly a unique experience – get up early to prepare food for the monks as they pass by and be part of a centuries-old tradition. Luang Prabang is one of the best cities to participate in this tradition as 200+ monks make the procession every morning starting at sunrise.
Laos’ position with so many neighbors, coupled with the cultural legacy left behind by France’s colonial presence, makes for unique cuisine that is sure to satisfy any palette. When you’re finished with your volunteer project for the day, enjoy some freshly-made baguettes, rich local coffee, and larb, a local favorite. Go a step further and enjoy a cooking class to learn how to enjoy the local food on a whole different level!
History lovers will find the history of Laos to be both beautiful and tragic – with a long history of tense relations with neighboring countries, it was unified and incorporated as a French protectorate in 1893 before it gained its independence in 1953.
Explore the mystery of the Plain of Jars, historical cities like Luang Prabang, and explore the markets for crafts that tell of Laos’ more painful history. Known as one of the most bombed countries, with more than 2 million bombs were dropped during the Vietnam War, creating crafts from disarmed bombs is one of the ways in which many people have decided to heal.
Volunteering in Laos will give you the perfect opportunity to explore the country as well as its neighbors, either before or after your stay, or during your weekends off. Rent a bike and explore the countryside, go hiking through the jungle, raft down the blue waters, and walk amongst the ancient ruins – there is something for everybody!
For those with a passion for teaching and education, teaching English to Buddhist monks is truly a unique opportunity. Because temples offer free education, many young boys train as monks to get an education. For those students who wish to leave to pursue other professional or academic interests, job prospects generally rely on a solid grasp of the English language. As a result, you will be greeted by eager students. Teach English in Laos and you will surely be rewarded.
Life moves a bit slower in Laos, which is often welcomed by those who visit. Enjoy a relaxing stroll through the markets, especially as the streets are likely to be less crowded than you’d find in, say, Thailand, or have lunch at a café and watch the world pass by. Nobody is in a hurry, and as you integrate into the culture and community by working in Laos, you’ll be sure to slow down as well.
As you look to volunteer in Laos, affordability is sure to be on your mind. How much you spend in country will depend on what is covered during your volunteer stay, as well as your spending habits; however, many tourists are able to travel around Laos for $10-$35 a day, the range of course reflecting personal choices such as accommodation style (from shared hostels to private suites).
With lush green valleys, an abundance of waterfalls, and unique flora and fauna, Laos is known for its untouched and natural beauty. It has also gained international attention for the increasing number of species discovered there, which makes it a great country to participate in wildlife conservation projects.
For those interested in enjoying nature and its wildlife during their downtime, there are plenty of ethical and sustainable tourism opportunities to enjoy – be sure to enjoy a boat ride down the Mekong River, the Kuang Si Waterfall, and Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center either before or after engaging in your volunteer work in Laos.
The people you meet in Laos may just be some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet. You’ll be greeted warmly, especially by those you work with, invited into Temples, shops and cafes, and will always have someone attempt to overcome language barriers in order to help you out. Laos even ranked 3rd on a list of friendliest countries compiled by UK-based Rough Guides!
For more information on volunteer projects in Laos, check this out!
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