Thailand: Alternative Tourism

Thailand banner - April 24 to My 6, 2018

Applications for this experience are now closed. Check back with us in January 2018 for more opportunities.

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. And sure enough, all of this exists, but Operation Groundswell’s “Rise of Alternative Tourism” program digs beneath the surface of conventional tourism to examine its pitfalls and the emergence of new alternatives that focus more on community, environmental sustainability and/or social good.

Journeying from the bustling capital of Bangkok to the cultural mecca of Chiang Mai and the tiny hill tribe villages in northern Thailand, we’ll experience different forms of tourism while asking ourselves and each other about the impacts of tourism, who benefits, who doesn’t what potential do 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


  • Embrace the chaos and complexity of modern Bangkok – from the delights of Thai cuisine to the beautiful temples and pagodas, from the spirituality of Buddhism to the harsh realities in the urban slum of Khlong Toey.

  • Get up close and personal to the endangered Asian elephant as we talk eco-tourism with the volunteers and staff at Elephant Nature Park.

  • Live with homestays in a hill tribe village and learn about one of Thailand’s most successful volunteer and community-based tourism initiatives.

  • Trek through tropical forests and lush rice paddies, stopping to stay the night in bamboo huts and savouring banana-leaf delicacies. 


  • Dates: Tuesday, April 24 to Sunday, May 6, 2018
  • Estimated Cost: $3900-$4200

Important Dates

Participants must be available on the dates specified below for the pre departure and post-departure sessions as a requirement of participation in this experience. Plus, participation in the pre departure sessions and reflection after the experience will get the experience recognized on the Co-Curricular Record!



Monday, September 11 to Monday, November 15

Application Period

November - exact date to be determined

Pre Departure Orientation: Creating Connections

March - exact date to be determined

Pre Departure Session: A World of Opportunity

Monday, January 15, 2018 from 2-4pm DV3130 OR

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 from 1-3pm DV3130

Safety Abroad Mandatory Session at UTM (students can also participate in sessions offered at St George) 

Tuesday, April 24 to Sunday, May 6, 2018

Travel Dates

May - exact date to be determined on a Saturday for approximately 4 hours

Post Trip Session: The good, the bad and the travel bug


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.

Day 1-3

Location: Bangkok


Following airport pickups, our group will be introduced to Thailand’s bustling capital, Bangkok. Hitting the ground running, we’ll get to know the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this modern yet distinctively Thai city. We will check out some of the best food stalls, markets and temples! While Bangkok is one of the worlds most visited cities, we’ll escape from the crowds and join our local friends from Hivesters for a day exploring a less known neighbourhood. Bangkok is a city of contrasts and we will begin to see the stark difference between mass and alternative tourism right away! 

Day 4-8

Location: Chiang Rai


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. 

Day 8-9

Location: Chiang Rai


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. 

Day 9-10

Location: Chiang Mai


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 visiting glittering spiritual sites, sitting down and talking with monks to learn about Theravada Buddhism, and of course, trying our hand at the art of Thai cooking! 

Day 10-11

Location: Sukhothai


Before heading back to Bangkok we will stop at the World Heritage Site of Sukhothai, renowned for an outstanding array of surviving architecture from the 12-14th centuries, a time when this area was a powerful kingdom in the region. We’ll rent bikes and explore for a day! Furthermore, we will take time to reflect on issues surrounding tourism development at ancient sites such as this. 

Day 11-13

Location: Bangkok


Coming full circle, we’ll conclude our adventure where it all started in Bangkok. Reflecting back on our incredible journey, we will discuss lessons learned and assess our impact. From there, we head directly to the international airport to catch flights home and say our fond farewells! 

APPLICATIONS FOR THIS EXPERIENCE ARE NOW CLOSED. Check back with us in January 2018 for more opportunities or contact us at should you want more information.

 "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."