While exploring Asia Pacific, it’s hard not to be affected by the complete extremes of sheer wealth and utter poverty. The confronting lifestyles, landscapes and cultures tug at the heartstrings and often make an impact. Travelling for a cause has been a growing trend for those that want to satisfy their wanderlust and also make a difference to the lives around them. With so many volunteer programs on offer – from people, environment and animal programs – sifting through the options can be pretty overwhelming. To make the choice a little less mindboggling, we have found five destinations that tick the scenic travel box as well as offer meaningful programs where you can have a hand at making a difference.
1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Source: Flickr (Axel Drainville and Flickr (Cedar)
Away from the bustling hubbub of Bangkok, travel further north to Chiang Mai which is arguably one of the most beautiful parts of Thailand. Aside from Doi Inthanon National Park, which boasts stunning waterfalls and rivers that surround the mountainous terrain and tropical forests, Elephant Nature Park is another must-see. Home to majestic elephants, the nature park provides refuge and safety to distressed elephants from all over Thailand. Travelling animal-lovers can help make a difference in the centre by assisting with caring for the creatures. The sanctuary offers a range of volunteer programs that get participants involved with preparing food for the elephants, facilitating with bathing, collecting food from the plantation and other maintenance tasks. As well as being hands-on, the program also helps raise awareness of the challenges faced by conservation in Thailand.
2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Source: Flickr (Mark Turner) and loveandwaterdesigns.wordpress.com
The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is a charming city that was once known as the “Pearl of Asia”. Phnom Penh offers visitors cultural and historical attractions including the popular Silver Pagoda located within the Royal Palace which contains golden treasures and a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha named the “Emerald Buddha of Cambodia”. 50km away is Kampong Speu, one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia and home to over 8,400 Cambodian villagers who have no access to clean drinking water. Managed by the Singapore International Foundation, Water For Life (Kampong Speu) is a project initiated to install 1,400 bio-sand water filters in rural households over three years, providing villagers with convenient access to clean drinking water. Volunteers can apply to help in building and installing bio-sand water filters and simple communal latrines for the villagers in their homes. By helping Water For Life, you can assist in reducing illnesses and deaths attributed to water-borne diseases and improve the overall quality of life for the people of Kampong Speu.
3. Pokhara, Nepal
Source: Flickr (Dhilung Kirat) and wandermelon
Located between India and China, Nepal stretches across with tropical forests and majestic Himalayan peaks. Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal and is often the starting point for most trekkers in the Annapurna area. One good place to soak in the view of the high mountains like Manasalu, Dhaulagiri, and Machhapuchhre is from Sarangkot. Nepal is also home to millions who live in the rural plains and mountainous areas, most of whom are farmers while others live in poverty. Habitat for Humanity helps to build homes in many areas of Nepal, providing poor families with housing using readily available resources close by. These resources range from mud, brick, bamboo, and “green” clay bricks. Habitat for Humanity also partners with other non-profit organisations to teach the local families on house-building and provide clean water and proper sanitation to people in need. Volunteers can select from a range of projects that take place during different times of the year to assist with the construction and building of homes for the needy.
4. Agra, India
Source: Flickr (Francisco Martins) and catholicphilly
Agra is the city renowned for one of the seven wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal, which is about 220km away from Delhi. Make a trip to see the wonder and admire its remarkable architecture combining styles from Persian, Indian and Islamic designs. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Queen Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj is a picture of splendor and love along the river with its dome and minarets. Along Anjmar Road in Agra, you’ll find the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa. The orphanage and care facility looks after abandoned and sick infants, children and teens, and visitors can lend a helping hand by facilitating day-to-day tasks or donating supplies and food which assist with the centre’s operations.
5. Gold Coast, Australia
Source: Flickr (monkeyc.net) and Flickr (James Niland)
The Gold Coast is one of Australia's favourite beach holiday destinations with long stretches of sandy coastline, perfect sunny weather and dozens of activities. Renowned for its great surf, head down to Snapper Rocks where Quiksilver pro surfing competitions take place on the world’s longest waves. For something a little more hands-on, travel west of the city in the Gold Coast hinterland, where you’ll find the Oceans 2 Earth Foundation, which initiated the Flying Foxes & Aussie Wildlife project. Deep in the lush rainforest, the organisation aims to provide medical care to all species of sick, injured, and orphaned flying foxes and other bat species. They also assist native animal trauma cases nearby. Due to climate change and land clearing, bats are at risk of losing their natural habitats. Volunteers provide help by caring for the flying foxes, birds and mammals that arrive at the project. Other activities include food preparation, feeding, nursing and offering support to vets and centre staff.
Apart from travelling to soothe that wanderlust soul, you can also find ways to make that next holiday a more satisfying one. This year, ZUJI would like to give back too and will be partnering with MasterCard to contribute to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF). From 20 April – 3 May 2015, every booking made with a MasterCard will put forward a $2.50 donation from ZUJI and MasterCard. To complement the decrease in global fuel prices, ZUJI will also sweeten the deal to provide a 25% off* fuel surcharge rebate for each of their bookings.
On social, every new Like on ZUJI Singapore’s Facebook Page from 13 April – 1 November 2015 will contribute $0.50 to SPMF. In addition, during the last week of April, ZUJI will be bringing joy to the little ones of SPMF by bringing over 40 children to the Beauty and the Beast musical. Finally, ZUJI will be selecting two low-income families from SMPF to go on a holiday; celebrating travel, togetherness and priceless moments.
This year, make travelling the season of giving! Visit ZUJI to find out more.
*Terms and conditions apply