Southeast Asia Encountered

Stay in a remote elephant sanctuary and help these amazing giants and work in a local school teaching English to young kids. 

  • Day to day care and socialisation of elephants
  • Working within local schools teaching English
  • Restore the local primary schools
  • Cultural tour of the country – markets, temples
  • Adventure tour of Laos – cycling, kayaking, tubing, waterfalls

In the first week, you’ll be assisting the centre’s team in a variety of projects: accompanying the elephants to and from their jungle bedroom, preparing their daily meals, planting banana and sugar cane for their future source of food, and maintaining and building infrastructure such as the veterinary clinic, elephant nursery and viewing platforms. 

Just as importantly, we’ll be working within local schools teaching English to the cutest kids in the world. They are shy but so willing to learn. Providing an introduction to English is such an important role in this part of the world, where a grasp of English can mean escaping the poverty cycle and securing their future. 

A lot of these local schools are in bad shape, so will be brightening things up with fresh coats of paint, some cute murals and installing much needed infrastructure. This might include building new classrooms, bathroom blocks or water catchments.

Volunteer feeding an elephant

In the second week you will be off on an incredible cultural and adventure experience! Relax in a hammock by the river or be as active as you want: swimming, kayaking, tubing, caves, markets, awesome food.  A Volunteer Eco Students Abroad program allows you the opportunity to make a difference and enjoy incredible moments in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world.

About Laos

The Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers, Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835 kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to the East 1,957 kilometers.

With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, around 70% of Laos' terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam, in particular, are dominated by rough mountains.

The Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometers of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the South the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating an area with thousands of islands.

A bit about the people of Laos

Laos has a population of 6.5 million people. There are 49 ethnic groups and four main languages.
Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strongly developed sense of courtesy and respect and our volunteers will receive a warm welcome.

Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society. Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirths. It is expected that every Lao man will become a monk for at least a short time in his life.

Laos Traditional Dress

Our Volunteer Week

The Elephant Conservation Centre

The Center was launched in association with conservation organisation ElefantAsia. The NGO has been working towards the protection of elephants in Laos for over 12 years, running welfare, vet care, breeding and mahouts training programmes. 

"Domesticated elephants in Laos are traditionally used in logging. Worked to the point of exhaustion, these elephants are not reproducing, with life spans, birth rates and quality of life considerably below acceptable standards."

With only two elephants born for every ten that die, the Asian elephant, the sacred national emblem of Laos, is under serious threat of extinction. If immediate action is not taken, the Lane Xang or 'Land of a Million Elephants’ stands to lose not only its elephant populations, but a major component of Lao cultural heritage.

Laos Asian Elephant

With these threats in mind, the ECC and VESA have joined forces to:

  • Encourage natality by creating an elephant nursery and a “Baby Bonus” programme
  • Enhance access to veterinary care by offering the qualified services of a permanent hospital
  • Propose training sessions to mahouts in various fields (tourism, care and welfare, traditional medicine)
  • Reconvert logging elephants into fair, environmentally friendly ecotourism
  • Ensure the viability of the ECC through visits on site
  • Inform the public about the condition of Lao elephants
  • Protect a highly endangered species from regional extinction
  • Ensure a sustainable and fair income for mahouts and their families
  • Support an environmentally friendly and fair business approach
  • Protect ancestral cultures, knowledge and traditions
  • Protect a rich and fragile tropical ecosystem


  • The construction and installation of water catchments in local schools that have no access to safe or reliable drinking water
  • The ever popular construction of eco –friendly amenities blocks
  • Refurbishment of playgrounds for the fun and enjoyment of the village children and parents
  • The painting and refurbishment of tired and shabby school rooms which is extremely popular with both the kids and teachers and improves the learning and teaching environment.
  • Our education programme helps the younger children to learn English and improve their knowledge of nutrition, health and hygiene through games and activities while we aim to develop the confidence of the older children in spoken English through detailed lesson plans.

Laos Education

Some useful tips for our volunteers:

  • When you visit temples (‘Wat’) avoid wearing sleeveless shirts and short skirts/pants.
  • When you enter a Wat or a private home please remove your shoes. In traditional homes, people sit on low seats or cushions on the floor. Men usually sit with their legs crossed or folded to one side, women prefer solely the latter. Upon entering, guests may be served fruit or tea. These gestures of hospitality should not be refused.
  • Since the head is considered the most sacred part of the body and the soles of feet the least, please don't touch a person’s head nor use one’s foot to point at a person or any object.
  • Men and women rarely show affection in public. It is also forbidden for a woman to touch a Buddhist monk.


After all this fantastic work, it’s your time to enjoy all this mystical country has to offer — and we really pack in the activities.

Laos Asian Elephant

We’ll soak up the Laos culture; witness the morning procession of the many monks; visit ancient temples and bustling markets. You will experience the stunning Karst Limestone Mountain scenery and trek through rice paddies to four great caves and cool off by tubing inside a cave. After lunch at a local restaurant, we move on to an Organic Farm with goats, pigs and mulberry trees, whose leaves feed the silkworms.

In Vang Vieng, we’ll tube the river, visit amazing caves, swim in the famous Blue Lagoon, climb to the Pou Kham cave and then cool off in the refreshing river. You can relax with your new friends and savour your last full day in Laos.

After a farewell party we leave early on the last morning for the trip back to Vientiane and your flight home.

While VESA encourages you to be part of the many activities we have on offer, we are more than happy for you to relax by the river and take in the sun and the unique atmosphere that is Laos!

A Volunteer Eco Students Abroad program allows you the opportunity to make a difference and enjoy incredible moments in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world.


Southeast Asia Encountered

Itinerary 2017

Day 1

Flight to Vientiane.

Day 2

You will be met at Vientiane, airport by our friendly VESA staff member who will be easily recognisable in their VESA t-shirt and will be holding a sign. Please ensure that whatever your flight arrangements, you will be at the international arrivals hall at the time of the group flight arrival. We will be transported by minivan to our hostel in the city of Vientiane where we will have a briefing and spend our first night.

Day 3

Transfer via minivan to Sayaboury Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) and comprehensive orientation on the volunteering week.

Day 4-9

Volunteering week: You will be staying at the ECC which is set on the picturesque Nam Tien Lake. You will be split into groups, working with the elephants, planting food, maintaining and building infrastructure such as the veterinary clinic and accompanying them to and from the breeding area. You will also work with the children in a local school teaching English and basic sanitation, renovating and revitalising the facilities with fresh coats of paint, installing new play equipment and the construction of bathrooms.

A typical day volunteering goes a little like this:

  • 7am – Breakfast

  • 8am – Begin Volunteer work

  • 10am – Light refreshment

  • 12.30pm – Lunch

  • 1pm – continue volunteer work

  • 4pm – Finish

  • 4.30pm – Free time and activities

  • 7pm – Dinner

  • 8pm – Free time and activities 

Day 10-14

See all that Laos has to offer on our stunning adventure tour... 

Day 1: Tour of Luang Prabang, visit exotic temples, local markets and cool off with an afternoon pool party at ‘La Pistoche’ 

Day 2: Cultural tour of a traditional rice plantation and visit exotic waterfalls with refreshing azure water for a swim. 

Day 3: Take a scenic bike ride through the countryside for a kayak trip downriver past rural villages and elephants! 

Day 4: Experience the stunning Karst Limestone Mountain scenery around Vang Vieng and go Tubing. We trek through rice paddies to 4 great caves and cool off by tubing inside a cave. Then float gently down the beautiful Song River back to VV.

Day 5The Blue Lagoon awaits you with its crystal clear turquoise water and chill-out booths. Climb to the Pou Kham cave, check out the zip-line option and cool off in the refreshing river water. 

Day 15

Transfer by coach from Vang Vieng to Vientiane and your flight .


  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner on all days except for the free day.
  • All accommodation.
  • All volunteer materials and local builders/assistants.
  • Drinking water where necessary.
  • All in country transportation.
  • Entry to temples, palaces etc.
  • All activities except where indicated as optional. 

Southeast Asia Encountered 2017


South East Asia Encountered

4  Sat 17th June - Sun 2nd July 2017


Sat July 1st - Sun July 16th 2017 


Sat July 15th - Sun July 30th 2017 - FULL

How much does the program cost?

To secure your place with VESA a non-refundable deposit of is payable immediately after you have received notification of your acceptance to participate in the program.

The balance or final payment of the program costs is due 45 days before departure. 

The total cost (inclusive of deposit and exclusive of flights) of the VESA program is: 


 Program  Deposit  Final payment  Total

Southeast Asia Encountered




What is included in the cost?

The cost includes:

  • Non refundable deposit to secure your space.
  • All accommodation for the duration of the program.
  • All ground transportation in country.
  • All meals (three meals per day) whilst in Laos, except for the free day.
    We can cater to vegetarians and some types of food allergies.
  • Some snacks.
  • Building materials needed for volunteer project.
  • Hiring of local skilled trades people to assist in the volunteer projects.
  • A monetary donation to the local host organisation.
  • 5 day Laos adventure tour.
  • All admission fees to local parks and sites.
  • All accompanying VESA staff members.
  • All administration costs.
  • Certification (if requested) of completion of the volunteer program. Great for your resume.

What is not included in the cost?

The cost does not include:

  • International airfares
  • Airfares to the International point of departure (if required)
  • International Departure Taxes
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations
  • Any visas (if required)
  • Passports
  • Meals on one free day

What if I need to cancel?

If you wish to withdraw your enrolment please notify us in writing by post or by email. Please note that if you wish to withdraw your agreement you will be bound by the cancellation fees set out in the VESA Cancellation Policy.

Am I able to fundraise to offset the cost of the program?

Absolutely! In fact, we encourage all our students to actively fundraise to help pay for their program costs. Upon receipt of your deposit and confirmation onto a program, VESA will send out a fundraising package. The fundraising package contains a letter from VESA introducing you to potential donors, a letter from the local host organisation, a list of proven fundraising ideas and a receipt document.

Many of our students have raised all of the funds necessary for their program and flights costs. Join our Facebook group and page Volunteer Eco Students Abroad to see some of their ideas.

Please note, whilst VESA is a volunteer organisation it is not a registered charity so donations will not be tax deductible.

Trip Extension

Please note there are currently no trip extensions for the Southeast Asia Encountered Program, but watch this space......

Group Flight Information

Group Flights to Vientiane in Laos are arranged by VESA through reputable licensed travel agents and offered to our volunteers.

There are many advantages to travelling with the group:

  • You only have to pay the initial deposit to hold your seat rather than the whole amount leaving loads of time for fundraising.
  • You will be travelling with a big group of fellow volunteers.
  • You will be met by our friendly staff on arrival at your destination

VESA Group Flights: Group flight booking forms will be emailed to all confirmed volunteers

Independent flights: If you wish to book your own flights, refer to the details below to ensure that you can meet the group at the arrival date and time in Vientiane and depart Vientiane at the same time or later than the group flight. You must inform VESA of your itinerary so that we can be assured you will be able to meet our schedule.

Group Flights:
Southeast Asia Encountered 2017

Laos Flights
Group Depart London HeathrowDepart Vientiane
17 Jun Thai Air flight 911 depart Heathrow 1230 arrive Bangkok 0545 +1 day
18 Jun Thai Air flight 570 depart Bangkok 1120 arrive Vientiane 12.30pm 18th June
01 Jul Thai Air flight 575 depart Vientiane 9.30pm arrive Bangkok 2235
02 Jul Thai Air flight 910 depart Bangkok 0110 arrive Heathrow 0715
01 Jul Thai Air flight 911 depart Heathrow 1230 arrive Bangkok 0545 +1 day
02 Jul Thai Air flight 570 depart Bangkok 1120 arrive Vientiane 12.30pm 2nd July
15 Jul Thai Air flight 575 depart Vientiane 9.30pm arrive Bangkok 2235
16 Jul Thai Air flight 910 depart Bangkok 0110 arrive Heathrow 0715
15 Jul Thai Air flight 911 depart Heathrow 1230 arrive Bangkok 0545 +1 day
16 Jul Thai Air flight 570 depart Bangkok 1120 arrive Vientiane 12.30pm 16th July
29 Jul Thai Air flight 575 depart Vientiane 9.30pm arrive Bangkok 2235
30 Jul Thai Air flight 910 depart Bangkok 0110 arrive Heathrow 0715

Frequently asked questions

Is Laos Safe?

Safety is a good question, and a matter we take very seriously. Laos was actually chosen as our destination because of the security of the location. 

VESA staff members meet the designated Group Flight at the arrival hall of the airport, where they are accompanied to our hostel and then on to the elephant Conservation Centre. Our VESA staff members are with the volunteers in the centre’s accommodation overnight and the whole group stays together. 

The volunteers are supervised and accompanied on all volunteer work, activities, overnight accommodation and in country transportation by a VESA rep.

 As with all our programs, safety of our participants is our #1 priority. 

We are aware that for some of our participants this may be their first experience abroad or even away from their families. Should they have any queries or need any assistance while on program there will always be someone nearby to help and you should not hesitate to ask any question at all. We are definitely there to make our volunteers have the best possible experience.

VESA closely monitors all political, civil and environmental situations in Laos. Should we deem that the area is unsafe for travel we will readjust the program accordingly.

Please visit your government’s travel website for further information on travelling conditions throughout the South Pacific.

Who is leading the program?

Volunteers on the VESA programme will be accompanied at all times by members of our staff who are all qualified Senior First Aid technicians. 

In Laos, we work with an already established Non Profit organization. The Elephant Conservation Centre, and at all times will be accompanied by the organization’s staff as well as two VESA staff members. On tour both staff members as well as a local guide will travel with you.

How is the weather?

The climate in Laos is tropical and warm year round.

I can't speak Lao, is that a problem?

Not at all - all our guides in Laos speak the local language. It doesn’t hurt to learn a few greetings which will be sure to garner some smiles from the locals!

Can I ring/email home?

There is very limited cell phone coverage whilst on the first week of the program. Internet is not available during the volunteer week, but will be available for a fee at reception at our hostels in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. 

How much money do I need?

All accommodation and food is included in the cost of the program. However if you wish to buy that special necklace or souvenir for back home, then you will need to bring along some cash. 

At Laos International airport on arrival there are ATMs for you to take out local currency, the ‘Kip’, for drinks, snacks and souvenirs. $US Dollars are accepted for larger purchases and are easily changed.  It is extremely important that you alert your bank and credit card company that you will be travelling overseas so that they do not put a hold on your card. A quick phone call is all it takes.

Optional activities in Laos i.e. hot air ballooning can be paid for by cash on the spot

What is the currency in Laos?

The Lao Kip and $US dollars are accepted for larger purchases and are easily changed.

What transport in country will be used?

In Laos we travel by coach!

What do I need to bring?

VESA will be sending all participants detailed travel information approx 45 days prior to departure. This will include information on the Volunteer Project, the centre you will be staying in, packing lists, and other valuable tips.

Do I need any vaccinations?

No vaccinations are mandatory however VESA strongly recommends that you speak to your medical practitioner about any further immunisations you may need.

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date. Pack a travel first aid kit, especially as you will be travelling away from major city centres. Malaria is a risk factor in rural Laos. Malaria prevention options should be discussed with a travel medicine specialist prior to departure. There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.

Do I need insurance?

Yes. All participants must provide VESA with proof of medical insurance prior to departure.

Do I need a Visa?

Most travellers need a visa to enter Laos. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival at the airport in Vientiane. The current price for a visa is between $30 and $50USD (USD cash only, passport photo required). Visas cost an extra $1USD on weekends and public holidays.

Health and Safety – Laos

Every aspect of the program, from your departure to your return, has safety as the highest priority.

Laos and the Elephant Conservation Centre were chosen as our destination because of the security of the location and the friendliness of the people.

We are aware that for some of our participants this may be their first experience abroad or even away from their families. Should you have any queries or need any assistance while on program there will always be someone nearby to help and you should not hesitate to ask any question at all. We are definitely there to make our volunteers have the best possible experience.

Laos Health and Safety

  • If you chose to travel on the group flight you will be travelling with the people who will be your companions on the program.
  • Your flight will be met at Vientiane International Airport and we will have a fleet of mini buses to take you to your accommodation.
  • You will be living in a shared, same sex room, in picturesque accommodation at the centre located in Sayabouri. You will have access to all the usual facilities you would expect. You will be in a safe and secure environment with facilities to lock up your valuables.
  • VESA and centre staff will prepare all your food, and you will have access to unlimited supplies of bottled water where necessary.
  • Each day you will be accompanied at all times by one of our Group Leaders, and any activities you are involved in will be conducted under the supervision of qualified on-site mahouts, veterinarians, conservationists and/or teaching staff.
  • All VESA Group Leaders are first aid qualified and there is a private clinic in Vientiane.
  • At the end of the program you will be transferred to the airport and accompanied to your flight. You will travel home with your new friends and a great sense of accomplishment.




Season Report NH 2016

  • Achievement


    • One primary school fully refurbished and painted and a floor put into a classroom block.
  • Achievement


    • Four hundred and eighty hours of hands on elephant conservation work
  • Achievement


    • Five thousand hours of face to face English language education

Go on, step into an adventure that will change your life!

Apply Now

South East Asia Project Location