By Emma Parry

28 February 2013 — Voluntourism, that is, volunteering overseas or as part of your holiday, is swiftly gaining popularity and becoming a new growth area for the tourism sector, as people increasingly want to do something more meaningful with their vacation time.

Whether you have a day, a week or longer to spare, there are a myriad of options depending on which causes you want to support, what skills you have – or want to learn, and where you want to go. Contrary to general perception though, volunteering isn’t always free, with several of the larger charitable organisations requiring thousands of dollars in fees to cover accommodation, food and administration costs, as well as reasonably high fundraising targets – often in the region of $5000 or more. So, if you are more wallet-conscious consider smaller, local-based groups who will sometimes pay you or at least offer accommodation and meals as contra for your volunteering time.

One place which offers a selection of local opportunities is the beautiful island of Ko Lanta, located off Southern Thailand’s Andaman Coast. There are three organisations looking for volunteers right now in exchange for free accommodation. So book some time off work, get your jabs, and get volunteering!

Eco volunteer opportunity at boutique luxury hotel Costa Lanta

Costa Lanta, a 5-star boutique resort on the quiet, northern end of three kilometre long Khlong Dao beach, but just 5 minutes from the island’s main town of Saladan, is seeking up to four volunteers to assist the management team and staff with improving the biodiversity and land management practices of the hotel grounds during this year’s low season, May to October.

Costa Lanta offers a serene, natural environment with the hotel implementing environmental initiatives since its construction in 2002, when not even one tree was removed in its development. The resort recycles its waste and has a wood chipping machine to mulch fallen branches and grass clippings from the property, making its own fertiliser for the grounds and organic garden. Currently experimenting with its land, water and waste management, as well as horticulture practices, the hotel is seeking people experienced in these fields to help them educate staff and improve their sustainability practices and biodiversity.

Ideally they are seeking volunteers who can stay for a few weeks or more, in exchange you can stay for free in its deluxe cube-like cabanas – which cost upwards of A$150 per night.

With only 22 minimalist cabanas on acres of pine tree studded beachfront, Costa Lanta is sensitively designed in its environment and is one of the most stylish hotels in the region.  Recycled timber is used throughout the property in the rooms and in the extensive decking and walkways of this idyllic resort. Bedrooms feature super king size beds, swathed in billowing mosquito nets and recycled timber sliding doors that are retractable to let in the cooling sea breeze and daylight. The polished concrete bathrooms have a large white canvas sail for a ceiling, maximising natural light and ventilation; essential in the tropical heat of Southern Thailand. Relax by the ultra sleek dark tiled infinity pool, or read a book in the breezy loft lounge and take in the stunning sunsets for which Ko Lanta is renowned.

To apply for the volunteering opportunity, email Kasira at bookings@costalanta.com For further information about the hotel, visit www.costalanta.com

Animal welfare volunteering

Not far from Costa Lanta, just off the main road in the tranquil Phra Ae area, there is a year-round volunteering opportunity for animal lovers at the heart warming Lanta Animal Welfare centre. Founded in 2005, by Junie Kovacs from Europe, the organisation’s objective is to relieve the suffering and pain of the animals on the island through sterilisation and care.

In 2010, thanks to donations, they opened the island’s first animal sterilisation centre to address the prevalent problem of unwanted animals; unfortunately an all too common a sight in Thailand and many parts of South East Asia. To date, more than 6000 animals have been sterilised. In addition, all animals are vaccinated against rabies, thereby protecting visitors to the island and locals alike; with no recorded case of rabies on the island for the past 15 years.

The centre cares for sick and injured animals, often hurt by locals who sadly use vicious methods to get rid of animals on their properties such as poison, hot oil and beatings. Sometimes volunteers find kittens and puppies left on the main road to be run over or left on rocks by the sea as tide is coming in. Local education is therefore a key part of the Centre’s philosophy and they run mobile clinics around the island, as well as neighbouring islands such as Ko Phi Phi. In addition, they run an animal welfare education program in local schools to teach children and their families how to better care for animals.

The centre and all its programs are funded entirely by donations, including all profits from Junie’s acclaimed Time for Life cooking school and restaurant located on the same beach as Costa Lanta.

Lanta Animal Welfare is always seeking volunteers to play with the cats and walk the dogs, and if you have more time, they have a limited number of bungalows available and offer free accommodation for volunteers who can spend a month or more working in the centre. While volunteers with a veterinary background are particularly sought after, all animal lovers are welcome to visit and help out.

I volunteered for a couple of days walking dogs and playing with the cats and I highly recommend it, as Tripadvisor reviewers also attest. It is currently the No. 1 attraction in Ko Lanta. This isn’t a sad place, with spacious areas for the dogs and the cats having their own “cat house” and free reign of the front of the centre.  Of the 30 or so dogs and cats currently at the centre, the vast majority have been adopted either by locals or volunteers and supporters around the world.

While quarantine laws in Australia are considerably more restrictive than the EU, where many of the animals find homes, one unique way of helping out is to accompany a dog or cat on the flight to its new home.  All it takes is a little extra time at the airport, there is no cost to you and you save the charity money and stress for the animal, which otherwise need to travel unaccompanied as cargo. So next time you are looking for an Asian stopover to break up a long-haul flight to Europe, consider this volunteering option with considerable karma miles as a result.

For further information on the centre and how to volunteer and donate funds, medical and general supplies for the animals, visit www.lantaanimalwelfare.com

For information on being a flight volunteer visit www.soidog.org/en/be-a-flight-volunteer

If you are in Ko Lanta, do visit Junie’s restaurant and bar for great mojitos and Thai food or take a cooking class – all profits go to the Animal Welfare Centre. See www.timeforlime.net

AsaLanta farmstay

Located in a rural part of Ko Lanta, studded with rubber tree plantations, Asian Sustainability Activities Lanta offers a unique farmstay experience.  In 2010, leaving their corporate lives in Bangkok behind them, Thai/Dutch owners Aoi and Anke, set up a plot of land and converted it to an organic farm and built traditional mud houses.

If you have at least one week to spare, free accommodation and breakfast is available in exchange for four hours’ volunteering, six days a week. You will be taught natural conservation skills and how to live a self-sustaining lifestyle including learning to build natural bricks and farming methods. Volunteer work is varied and includes gardening, making furniture with clay, wood and bamboo, preparing jams to creating herbal health products for their natural spa. The owners are open to new ideas about how to live sustainably so bring your experience and skills to contribute and help develop this unique farm stay.

Day visitors are also welcome for a tour of the property including the organic teahouse that sells homemade teas, jams and chutneys using local produce, as well as handmade jewellery.

For further information, visit www.workaway.info/26493161964d-en.html or connect with ASA via Facebook on www.facebook.com/infoasathai

Getting there

Ko Lanta is a large tranquil island, located off the Southern coast of Krabi. Laid back and less developed than Thailand’s more famous islands, Ko Lanta is part of a National Marine Park of over 50 islands and offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in Thailand. It is easily accessible by ferry from Phuket or Krabi, with connecting flights to Bangkok and beyond.

High season is November to April for best weather and calmer seas, May to October is the green season where rain is more frequent but the island can be visited year round via the overland route and car ferry.

Useful links and further reading

www.volunteerworkthailand.org/volunteer-thailand.php  – lists more than 100 organisations which offer volunteering opportunities in Thailand

www.voluntourism.org – a comprehensive site dedicated to voluntourism providing extensive information, research and resources.

http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/world/volunteer-a-travellers-guide-2/ is Lonely Planet’s guide to volunteering overseas.