Thailand: Alternative Tourism

Thailand banner - Spring 2019

Applications for this experience are open from September 1 - November 11, 2018.

 "This trip made me never want to travel in the traditional touristy way again. My favourite part of the trip was the amazing bonds we made and the goofy memories we share. I didn't realize how much this trip would change the way I live my life."

The Program

Thailand has long been a famous tourist destination and it’s not hard to see why. Known as the “land of smiles”, visitors revel in the country’s incomparable pad thai, idyllic beaches, full moon parties, and sacred spaces. But Operation Groundswell’s “Rise of Alternative Tourism” program digs below the surface of conventional tourism to examine its pitfalls and the emergence of new community-led alternatives that focus attention on local income generation, environmental sustainability and/or social justice.

Journeying from the bustling capital of Bangkok to the cultural mecca of Chiang Mai and tiny “hill- tribe” villages in the country’s northern reaches, we’ll interact with different forms of tourism through community engaged-activities and critical service-learning while asking ourselves and each other about their impacts, who benefits, who doesn’t and what potential the alternatives hold for the people of Thailand.

This trip will allow you to travel with other students, a UTM staff member, and our partners from Operations Groundswell

Program Themes

  • Exploration of conventional and alternative forms of tourism with a critical focus on the distribution of costs and benefits.
  • Exploration of identity and citizenship and how they connect with accessibility and opportunity.


  • Dates: Travel date range is April 26 - May 12, 2019. *Exact dates to be confirmed
  • Estimated Cost: Coming Soon

Important Dates

The UTM Abroad GIP is a comprehensive program that is a semester long committment. Students interested in completing the program must participate in all components. Successful completion will result in three entries on the Co-Curricular Record!



September 1 - November 11, 2018

Application Period

January - February 2019

Workshop Series (4 weeks)

February 19-21, 2019

Alternative Reading Week Placement

March-April 2019

Workshops Series (4 weeks)

April 26 - May 5, 2019

Travel Dates

May 24, 2019

Reflection Project due


Our partners at Operations Groundswell will lead you through a truly immersive 14 day experience filled with planned daily excursions, educational programming and opportunities to interact with the local community.

*The following is a sample schedule and is subject to change.*

Day(s): 1-3
Location: Bangkok
Accommodation: Khao San Immjai (or equivalent)
Transportation: Private shuttle, public bus
Meals: Local restaurants
After being picked up from Survhanabhumi International Airport, we’ll settle into our temporary home downtown in Bangkok’s historic Rattanakosin district. Over the next 3 days, we’ll explore the diversity of Thailand’s big bustling capital and acclimatize to the sights, sounds, smells, flavours and smiles of the country.

Once we get our cultural bearings, we’ll find our way to some the best food stalls, markets and temples Bangkok has to offer! We’ll also escape the crowds of the world’s most visited city and join our friends from the Sikha Asia Foundation and Hivesters for a day of exploration in some of the Bangkok’s lesser known neighbourhoods. All together our first few days will provide a menu full of contrasts and lots to chew on as we begin to unpack the differences between mass and alternative tourism.

Engaged Learning Part 1:
OG’s partner, the Sikha Asia Foundation and Hivesters have requested that participants serve by spending a total 6-8hrs on an interactive tour of Bangkok and visiting the Klong Toey slum of Bangkok participating in a workshop and facilitating a number of educational games with local youth in one of Bangkok’s overlooked and underserved communities.

Day(s): 4-9
Location: Chiang Rai
Accommodation: Pak La & Ban Kway Homestays
Transportation: Public Bus, Private bus
Meals: Homecooked
Next, the group will take a comfortable overnight bus from Bangkok to the far northern province of Chiang Rai where we will be met by our friends from the Mirror Foundation. Mirror is a Thai NGO that works towards improving livelihoods for underprivileged ethnic minority groups in the country. One of the ways they do this is through an ecotourism project that combines immersive homestays, volunteer opportunities and cultural exchange in villages with which they have strong connections. Hiking through tropical forests and past rice fields, we’ll get to bask in a landscape of endless hills and lush greenery. Along the way, we’ll visit remote villages and see firsthand, the Mirror Foundation’s initiatives while hearing the stories behind them from the volunteers and villagers they work with.

Critical Service Learning (Volunteering) Part 1:
As OG’s primary partner within the Rise of Alternative Tourism program, the Mirror Foundation has invited participants to spend 4 days engaging in critical service-learning on two different projects with two distinct communities in Chiang Rai. In this regard, a minimum of 20hrs will dedicated to an ongoing road construction project in the village of Pak La with an additional 5hrs devoted to agricultural projects (aquaculture, organic compost, etc.) in the community of Ban Kway. The combination of homestays and critical service-learning with Mirror and communities in Chiang Rai will allow participants to explore issues surrounding immigration, identity, citizenship, and access to opportunity.

Day(s): 9-11
Location: Chiang Rai
Accommodation: Bbeez Guesthouse (or equivalent)
Transportation: Private bus, songthaew
Meals: Homecooked
After our time spent with the Mirror Foundation we’ll take some time to get to know the city of Chiang Rai. Famous for its night bazar and northern-style cuisine, we will take some time to take it easy and enjoy the ambience of this quiet town. The highlight in Chiang Rai will certainly be a visit to a nearby Elephant Sanctuary (Elephant Valley Thailand) where we will have the chance to learn about an important conservation project aiming to put an end to the mistreatment of elephants in the tourism industry. We will, of course, also have a chance to meet the resident elephants and hear their individual stories from the dedicated staff. We don’t ride or bathe these gentle giants, it’s all about letting elephants be elephants in a setting as close to their natural environment as possible.

Engaged Learning Part 2:
Elephant Valley Thailand (EVT) has invited participants to serve by visiting the sanctuary and learning about (un)ethical animal tourism with local staff/volunteers. In this regard, a minimum of 4hrs will be spent in workshops and performing light chores around the compound.

Day(s): 11-14
Location: Chiang Mai
Accommodation: Guest house
Transportation: Private bus
Meals: Local restaurants
We’ll take a short a bus ride from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, often referred to as the cultural capital of Thailand due to its well-preserved historical character and a vibrant, modern yet distinctively northern Thai cultural identity. Here we’ll spend time interacting with different forms of cultural tourism while visiting Chiang Mai’s glittering spiritual sites, sitting down with Buddhist monks, and trying our hand at the art of Thai cooking!

Finally, we’ll celebrate disorientation. A staple of every OG program, this is an opportunity to reflect back on our incredible journey, discuss lessons learned and assess our impact. From there, we’ll head to nearby Chiang Mai international airport to say a fond farewell and meet our outgoing flights!

Engaged Learning Part 3:
Participants have been invited to an intensive half day cooking lesson where they can engage with Thailand’s cultural and culinary heritage while learning about community-based efforts to generate sustainable livelihoods. Additionally, one full day will be dedicated to exploring cultural and historical forms of tourism with a small number of local partners.