How to Use This Curriculum


First rule: There are no rules. These resources are completely free and at your disposal. Use as much, or as little, as you want. Study casually, or work to create a portfolio of academic work that will blow the socks off of the educational establishment.

Feel free to adapt the materials for your own purposes. We expect families, business people, backpackers, college students, high school kids, middle aged vacationers, and retirees who are on a late life adventure to take these materials and run with them. We’d be very happy for teachers or travel group leaders to add these materials to their study abroad packets as well.

The nature of open source is collaboration, so please feel free to contribute when you become aware of resources we haven’t listed, or you have project ideas that we haven’t developed. Send us your work and inspire others to reach higher and deeper as they travel!

Our goal with this project is to inspire adventure and further education through experiential learning around the world. Please send us a note and let us know how you used these resources!



Buffet Style Learning

Does the menu look overwhelming? Looking for a formula to use as a skeleton for your studies in Thailand?


  • Two books
  • Two films
  • Three articles
  • One Problem & Solution or Project Option
  • One Cultural Assignment

Table of Contents

Book Recommendations


thai street foodThai Street Food

by Chawadee Nualkhair

Most people think Bangkok is the only place to find great Thai street food, but Nualkhair ate her way across the country and found incredible food stalls everywhere, from Phuket in the south to Chiang Mai in the north.

Even seasoned travelers may find it difficult to identify the best venues—never mind figuring out how and what to order. As an added bonus, Nualkhair includes recipes for the 12 most popular Thai street food dishes adapted for the Western kitchen.

thai historyA History of Thailand

by Chris Baker & Pasuk Phongpaichit

A History of Thailand offers a lively and accessible account of Thailand’s political, economic, social and cultural history. This book explores how a world of mandarin nobles and unfree peasants was transformed and examines how the monarchy managed the foundation of a new nation-state at the turn of the twentieth century.

The authors capture the clashes between various groups in their attempts to take control of the nation-state in the twentieth century. They track Thailand’s economic changes through an economic boom, globalization and the evolution of mass society. This edition sheds light on Thailand’s recent political, social and economic developments, covering the coup of 2006, the violent street politics of May 2010, and the landmark election of 2011 and its aftermath. It shows how in Thailand today, the monarchy, the military, business and new mass movements are players in a complex conflict over the nature and future of the country’s democracy.

kingThe King Never Smiles

by Paul M. Handley

Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and is now the world’s longest-serving monarch. The King Never Smiles, the first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, tells the unexpected story of Bhumibol’s life and sixty-year rule—how a Western-raised boy came to be seen by his people as a living Buddha, and how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political and autocratic.

kingdom crisisA Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century

by Andrew Marshall

Struggling to emerge from a despotic past, Thailand stands at a defining moment in its history. Scores have been killed on the streets of Bangkok. Freedom of speech is routinely denied. Democracy appears increasingly distant. Long dreaded by Thais, the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is expected to unleash even greater instability.

Breaking Thailand’s draconian lese majesté Andrew MacGregor Marshall is one of the only journalists covering contemporary Thailand who tells the whole story. He provides a comprehensive explanation that makes sense of the crisis for the first time, revealing the unacknowledged succession conflict that has become entangled with the struggle for democracy in Thailand.

tattoos thailandSacred Tattoos of Thailand: Exploring the Magic, Masters and Mystery of Sak Yan

by Joe Cummings & Dan White

Sacred Tattoos of Thailand: Explore the Magic, Masters and Mystery of Sak Yan is the first illustrated book in English to trace the history and origins of the Tai hand-inked tattoo tradition. While Thailand remains the centre of the cultural form’s conservation and development, similar traditions exist today in Cambodia, Laos and parts of Vietnam, China and Burma.

The product of 18 months of field research and photography, Sacred Tattoos of Thailand brings the world of this fascinating and commonly misrepresented tradition to light.

letters thailandLetters from Thailand

by Botan (translated by Susan Kepner) – Fiction

When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO Prize for Thai Literature. This new English translation reveals it as one of Thailand’s most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand.

Letters from Thailand is the story of Tan Suang U, a young man who leaves China to make his fortune in Thailand at the close of World War II, and ends up marrying, raising a family, and operating a successful business. The novel unfolds through his letters to his beloved mother in China.

americans thailandAmericans in Thailand

by Robert Horn, Dennis Gray, Nicholas Grossman & others

From early traders and missionaries to diplomats and GIs, Americans in Thailand traces the impact of the United States on Thailand. Who knew that the first-ever surgery in Thailand was completed by an American missionary, or that a young Thai man traveled across the globe to don a Union uniform, fight in the American Civil War, and return to Thailand as an American citizens.

An elegantly designed, illustrated history, Americans in Thailand relates the rich stories and significant roles of American businesses and individuals operating and living in Thailand since the first American arrived in 1818. It follows nearly 200 years of relations between the two countries, including controversy and scandal.

buddhismBuddhism in Thailand

by Lawrence Whiting

Almost all visitors to Thailand will come into contact with Buddhism in some way. There are more than 200,000 monks in Thailand so you will see monks and novices out and about on the streets. There are more than 30,000 temples (wat in Thai) so you will see and may visit a temple, or several. Those lucky enough to spend some time with a Thai family will find themselves witnessing and even participating in many of the rituals and customs that are part of everyday Buddhism in Thailand. This is NOT a book for the serious student of Buddhism, but rather a description and explanation of what you might encounter in everyday life in Thailand.

buddhism cultsBuddhism and Spirit Cults in Northeast Thailand

by S.J. Tambiah

Although this book is written for an academic crowd, it is a fascinating read that kept me interested to the end. There is so much information in this book regarding Thai animistic beliefs that it boggles the mind. It covers funerary rites, ghosts, lore, spirit houses, witches, warlocks, reincarnation, etc. The author mentions something in passing that I found to be extremely profound regarding the modern Thai Buddhist/animist fusion–that the reason so many Thais worship ghosts is because they can deal or barter with the spirits to get around the karmic hand they were dealt at birth. Since there is no escaping karma, you can bribe a ghost with an appeasement offering to help you in marriage, business, love, or whatever else. This explains so much about the mindset behind ghost worship, that I wish he would have expanded on it more–although the author does cover in great detail, the Thai cosmos, spirit world, and its relation to Buddhism. You may have to read this book more than once to absorb it all.– Review by JDV

don't tellWe’re Not Supposed to Tell You

by Noi Thawattana

We’re Not Supposed to Tell You details the gritty reality of Thai sex work, including debt slavery, drug addiction, and underage prostitution. It was written by an insider, a former bargirl who now lives in the United States, and is no longer afraid to speak out about what bargirls know but most customers don’t know or choose not to acknowledge.

wearyThe War Diaries of Weary Dunlop

by E.E. Dunlop

This extraordinary first-hand account of Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop’s experiences as senior medical officer in the infamous prisoner-of-war camps in Java and on the Burma-Thailand Railway, is not only an account of great historical significance but also a testament to the ability of the human spirit to overcome the most unbearably cruel conditions.

artsThe Arts of Thailand

by Steve Van Beek

The Arts of Thailand examines the stunning visual history of Art in Thailand.

Blending a multiplicity of cultural influences with their own artistic genius, the Thai people have created some of the world’s finest art. In this definitive introduction to Thai art, author Steve Van Beek takes a wide-ranging look at how these diverse forces were fused into a wealth of art forms which are uniquely Thai. As a means to a fuller understanding of Thai culture, he explores the symbolism of architecture, sculptures, and painting.  The Arts of Thailand also covers contemporary art and the minor arts.

fairtradeBeyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand

by Mark Pendergrast

“What does compassionate capitalism look like? Mark Pendergrast shows us in this enlightening story of tribal life, opium, missionaries, market trends, a Thai antiques dealer, a mining entrepreneur and coffee.” Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal

The Akha hill tribe of Thailand has a long, tumultuous history. Politics, economics, violence, prejudice, and deforestation consistently worked against the Akha’s desire to move away from their dependency on opium production and create a stable future for their children. That all changed in 2006 when prominent businessman John Darch met entrepreneur Wicha Promyong. Their meeting resulted in the establishment of an equal partnership business venture that goes beyond Fair Trade: the Doi Chaang Coffee Company. Beyond Fair Trade tells the story of the growth of this unique partnership, its successes and challenges, and the people behind it.

dragon's tailChasing the Dragon’s Tail: The Struggle to Save Thailand’s Wild Cats

by Alan Rabinowitz

In 1987, zoologist Alan Rabinowitz was invited by the Thai government to study leopards, tigers, and other wildlife in the Huai Kha Khaeng valley, one of Southeast Asia’s largest and most prized forests. It was hoped his research would help protect the many species that live in that fragile reserve, which was being slowly depleted by poachers, drug traffickers, and even the native tribes of the area.

Chasing the Dragon’s Tail is the remarkable story of Rabinowitz’s life and adventures in the forest as well as the streets of Bangkok, as he works to protect Thailand’s threatened wildlife.Based on Rabinowitz’s field journals, the book offers an intimate and moving look at a modern zoologist’s life in the field. As he fights floods, fire-ant infestations, elephant stampedes, and a request to marry the daughter of a tribal chief, the difficulties that come with the demanding job of species conservation are dramatically brought to life.

windupThe Wind-Up Girl

by Paolo Bacigalupi-Fiction

Anderson Lake is AgriGen’s Calorie Man, sent to work undercover as a factory manager in Thailand while combing Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in this chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits and forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly-acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

hiltonRotting in the Bangkok Hilton: The Gruesome True Story of a Man Who Survived Thailand’s Deadliest Prisons

by T.M. Hoy

Prison is harsh enough, but as a foreigner (“farang”) in a strange land, jail time is an even more horrifying reality. Rotting in the Bangkok Hilton is a collection of short stories chronicling T. M. Hoy’s descent into the harrowing world of Southeast Asian prison life. Through his eyes, readers will experience the bizarre events of daily life in a Thai maximum security prison: feel the weight of the chains he wears, the stomachaches from lack of food, witness the murders, drug overdoses, torture, and unbridled cruelty that ensues.

Sentenced to life in prison, Hoy does his best to accept the fate he’s been given. While attempting to “adjust” to this third-world hellhole, he contracts tuberculosis and nearly loses his life.

kathoeyThe Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand’s Ladyboys

by Richard Totman

Through the lives of three kathoey, male transvestites, this introduction to transgender in Thailand places a cultural, historical, religious, biological, and psychological emphasis on international traditions of sexuality.

A fascinating anthropological and sociological exploration, the context of transgender is detailed through the challenges and joys found in Manat, Lek, and Akorn as they travel through the social rites of passage to become kathoeys. As a part of the cultural landscape of Thailand, the kathoeys are a modern expression of an archaic tradition, and through these personal stories a wider discussion of transgender and the existence of a “third sex” in international societies emerges.

miss bangkokMiss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute

by Bua Boonmee

Miss Bangkok is a vivid, powerful and moving memoir of a life spent in prostitution in Thailand. Poor and uneducated, Bua Boonmee escaped an abusive marriage only to end up in the go-go bars of Patpong. There, in the notorious red-light district of Bangkok, she succumbed to prostitution in an effort to support her family.

Bua’s story is one of resilience and courage in the face of abuse and poverty. Her confessions will make you laugh and cry, cringe and applaud. She will change your perception of prostitution forever.

kwaiThe Bridge Over the River Kwai

by Pierre Boulle

1942: Boldly advancing through Asia, the Japanese need a train route from Burma going north. In a prison camp, British POWs are forced into labor. The bridge they build will become a symbol of service and survival to one prisoner, Colonel Nicholson, a proud perfectionist. Pitted against the warden, Colonel Saito, Nicholson will nevertheless, out of a distorted sense of duty, aid his enemy. While on the outside, as the Allies race to destroy the bridge, Nicholson must decide which will be the first casualty: his patriotism or his pride.

bamboo heartThe Boy With the Bamboo Heart

by Amporn Wathanavongs

The Boy With A Bamboo Heart is the life story of Dr. Amporn Wathanavongs, a man who overcame the depths of poverty to become one of Thailand’s most treasured philanthropists.

Dr. Amporn went from an orphaned Surin street kid to a globally respected child welfare expert, who in his time has met former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and the late Pope John Paul II. He spent 12 years on the streets, totally illiterate and living solely by his wits and intuition. At his lowest point he tied a rope around his neck and tried to hang himself. And when that failed, he drank insecticide that put him in a comma for five days.And it’s this sentiment that puts your heart in your mouth from the very start of the book, when Lek, as he was known back then, lay on his shared bed, clinging to his dead mother, who had passed away during the night.

Books for Kids

toyToy is from Thailand

by Whitney Badgett

Join Toy, a young boy from Thailand, as he takes you on an exciting cultural tour of his country. From riding in tuk-tuks to eating fried bugs for snacks, it’s a journey you won’t forget. Ages 4 – 12.

all aboutAll About Thailand

by Elaine Russell, Patcheree Meesukhon, and Vinnet Yeesman

**Releases Nov. 2016

Thailand is a place where a modern culture thrives in one of the world’s most ancient countries. Your guides in this adventure are two Thai children: Mali is a 9-year-old girl from the countryside and Tawan is an 11-year old boy from Bangkok. Travel with them as they explore their land—experienced its fascinating wildlife, beautiful handcrafts, sports, games, celebrations and, of course—great Thai food! They’ll give you a glimpse of what it’s really like to live in Thailand and they’ll show you all the things that kids in Thailand love to do.

KidkThailand: Kid Kongo Travel The World Series

by Kid Kongo

Thailand is an amazing country with a rich history, culture, and food. Explore the Buddhist temples, there secret WW 2 alliance with Japan, the government coupe and civil war, and much much more, while gazing at beautiful pictures taken from inside of Thailand. Great for ages six and up for book reports, school presentations, and general education.

hushHush! A Thai Lullaby

by Minfong Ho & Holly Mead

This book contains a lullaby which asks animals such as a lizard, monkey, and water buffalo to be quiet and not disturb the sleeping baby. 1997 Caldecott Honor Book.

Film Recommendations


The Impossible


The Impossible is the story of a tourist family in Thailand caught in the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Thailand: A Year of Living Dangerously


In Thailand: A Year of Living Dangerously, after a violent end to the recent protests, Thailand, a country of over 60 million people, was facing its worst political crisis in decades.

For two months anti-government protesters, the so-called red shirts, had taken over key parts of downtown Bangkok, demanding for Abhisit Vejjajiva, the country’s current prime minister, to step down, dissolve parliament, and call fresh elections.

The sit-ins had paralyzed Bangkok and threatened to rock the Thai economy, which is the second largest in Southeast Asia.

The red shirts have been calling for Abhisit’s resignation since he came to power in 2009 – after Thaksin Shinawatra, the country’s populist prime minister, was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006.

Bridge on the River Kwai


The Bridge on the River Kwai deals with the situation of British prisoners of war during World War II who are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge but, under the leadership of Colonel Nicholson, they are persuaded that the bridge should be constructed as a symbol of British morale, spirit and dignity in adverse circumstances.

At first, the prisoners admire Nicholson when he bravely endures torture rather than compromise his principles for the benefit of the Japanese commandant Saito. He is an honorable but arrogant man, who is slowly revealed to be a deluded obsessive. He convinces himself that the bridge is a monument to British character, but actually is a monument to himself, and his insistence on its construction becomes a subtle form of collaboration with the enemy. Unknown to him, the Allies have sent a mission into the jungle, led by Warden and an American, Shears, to blow up the bridge. Written by alfiehitchie

Watch online here

Reef Life of the Andaman


Scuba diving more than 1000 times from the coral reefs and underwater pinnacles of Thailand’s Similan Islands, Phuket, Phi Phi Island and Hin Daeng, to Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago and Burma Banks, I encountered everything from manta rays to seahorses, whale sharks to shipwrecks. The Reef Life of the Andaman, a116-minute film features descriptions of 213 different marine species including more than 100 tropical fish, along with sharks, rays, moray eels, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, sea slugs, cuttlefish, squid, octopus, turtles, sea snakes, starfish, sea cucumbers, corals, worms etc..

This marine biology documentary provides an overview of Indian Ocean aquatic life.

My Thai Bride


In My Thai BrideTed is a 46 year-old salesman from Wales. He is divorced, feels marginalized by middle age and is tired of life in the ‘nanny state’. Ted is a frequent visitor to Thailand as a result of his job in an import business. He revels in the freedom he finds in a country where everything is for sale at the right price; including the beautiful young women who want to be with him.

My Thai Bride is about the power of money to save and destroy – and the harm that ensues when people are reduced to commodities. While there have been other films about prostitution in Thailand, My Thai Bride explores the lesser known story of the foreign marriage industry and the consequences for the men and women involved.

Eyes of Thailand


In Eyes of Thailand, Soraida Salwala opened the World’s First Asian Elephant Hospital in Lampang, Thailand in 1993 to treat elephants that are ill or injured as a result of work, abuse or neglect. To date, she and her staff have treated over 3,000 elephants for everything from eye infections to knife wounds, gunshot wounds, broken bones, drug addictions and building prosthetic limbs for the survivors of landmine accidents.

Since then, the Asian Elephant population in Thailand declined from 40,000 to less than 2,600 left in captivity. Not only are Asian Elephants endangered, the remaining elephants are overworked, abused, exported to zoos around the world, or disfigured by stepping on forgotten landmines along the Thai borders.

The Songs of Rice


In The Songs of Rice you will be in the role of an observer of rural rice farmers.

You follow episodes of their life along the course of a year, following the farming of rice. It shows multiple locations all over Thailand but never forgets the topic of rice.

There is no narrator, only a translation of what the people speak. The style of the movie is similar to the previous works of this director.

The lack of an narrator can make it difficult to understand what is going on in a specific scene. Some knowledge of Thailand and traditional life helps to understand the movie better… Review by Stephen



It’s been named ‘Ingredient of the Year’ by Bon Appetit, ‘Best-tasting hot sauce,’ according to Cooks Illustrated, and in 2012, Huy Fong Foods sold 20 million bottles of Sriracha! That’s 100 million pounds of chiles!

But even with its cult following—recipes, t-shirts, tattoos—most fans don’t know the origin story of this Thai flavor, or recognize David Tran, the man responsible for popularizing Sriracha in the U.S.

This fast-paced documentary finally reveals the story of Sriracha—where it comes from, how it’s made, and the people who love it.

Buddha’s Lost Children


In the borderlands of Thailand’s Golden Triangle, a rugged region known for its drug smuggling and impoverished hill tribes, one man devotes himself to the welfare of Buddha’s Lost Children. A former Thai boxer, turned Buddhist monk, Phra Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositto travels widely on horseback, fearlessly dispensing prayers and tough-love. With his Golden Horse Temple he’s built an orphanage, school and clinic – a haven for the children of the region, who see him as a shaman, father figure and coach.

**Winner Best Spiritual Film & Best Spiritual Documentary at the European Film Festival, Paris March 2009**

Watch online for free

When Elephants Were Young

Coming August 2016

Wok and his young elephant Nong Mai share a life of struggle and street begging in gritty Bangkok. Their tender bond reveals a complex relationship where elephants live with humans even though they are wild animals. One day the opportunity comes to release Nong Mai to the wild. Can an elephant who has only known a life of captivity survive in the forest?

While the lens of When Elephants Were Young never strays from its focus of protecting the endangered Asian elephant from exploitation and extinction, this provocative and bittersweet film is a surprising view into the paradoxes of elephants in captivity, dismantling common beliefs about the age-old relationship between human and elephant. Despite imminent threats to the future of Asian elephants, the opportunity for Nong Mai’s survival may be a happy ending that offers hope for all.

Article Recommendations

Explaining Thailand’s Volatile Politics The Economist

Thailand Profile-Timeline BBC A brief history

List of NY Times Articles About Thailand

Thailand’s Lost Tribes: The Natives Who Are Not Citizens International Business Times

2015 Trafficking in Persons Report: Thailand US Department of State

Thailand Dismisses US Criticism Over Human Trafficking & Slavery The Guardian

Thailand Economic Overview World Bank

What Just Happened to Education in Thailand? Bangkok Post

Can Elephant Tourism be Ethical? The Telegraph

Ethics of Sex Tourism in Thailand by Aino Peltonen, Saimaa University

Climate Change in Thailand: Impacts & Adaptation Strategies Climate Institute

Crop Diversification in Thailand FAO

Thai Buddhism

Situation of Women in Thailand UN Women

Thailand Coup: A Cheat Sheet to Bring You up to Speed CNN

Thailand’s Sex Trade Industry Travel Culture Magazine

Thailand’s Gender Equality Lesson BBC


Project Options

Khao Sok Sunrise beams
For each of these we will suggest several possibilities within each general heading, and then leave it open for a student to tackle some other interesting subheading that they would like to pursue:

Research and write about an aspect of the history, politics or culture (source books, individual experiences, site visits)

Thai History

Choose a period of history that you find interesting and study it, through books, media & site visits or interviews. Options include:

  • Ancient Civilizations in Thailand
  • The Emergence of the Monarchy
  • The Colonial Period
  • Thailand During WW2

The Modern Monarchy

What does the Thai monarchy in the modern era look like? Who are the major players? Why is the monarchy so popular within Thailand? Identify the “sides” to the story. How has the monarchy in the past three generations developed? What are the major accomplishments? Are there any drawbacks?

Political Reconstruction

Discuss the most recent coup (2014) and it’s repercussions for the country. Examine the positions of the Red and Yellow shirts. What have been the outcomes since the coup? Do you think Thailand is on stable footing now, politically? Why or why not? Examine the role of the monarchy vs. the electoral process in Thailand.

The Political and Economic Situation of the Northern Hill Tribes

There is a large segment of the Thai population that does not hold citizenship. Why is this? What is the impact for the country, and for the regions where these people live? What is the economic reality of the Hill Tribes people? Examine the blend of traditional life and the modern world as it has impacted the various people groups. Identify struggles and potential positive paths forward.

Opium Farming in Thailand

Historically, opium farming was a major source of income for the Thai north. Visit the Hill Tribes Museum in Chiang Rai for an excellent explanation of this. Is opium farming still happening? What has replaced it, economically, for the farmers? Are there current efforts underway in the region? What are they? Who is involved?

Economics: Investigate an Industry

Suggestions include but are not limited to: Tea, sugar cane, cassava, palm oil, maize, rubber, mangos, bananas, automotive, soft goods manufacturing, clothing. Cover the process, exports, industry standards, human impact, community impact, working conditions, the influence of unions, or organizations for fair trade or other regulatory bodies. How does this industry contribute to Thailand’s growth and economy?


Examine the linguistic landscape of Thailand. Thai is the official language, but there are several minority languages spoken, as well as the numerous tribal dialects. Study the ways in which this rich heritage of language has build the country and ways in which it holds it back. What is being done, on the one hand, to preserve this cultural heritage, and on the other hand to build the country forward through language?

Festivals in Thailand

Thailand is known for having some of the best and most interesting festivals in Southeast Asia. The Songkran water festival, Loy Krathong, Yi Peng, the famous lantern festival that draws thousands to Chiang Mai every year and the Chiang Mai flower festival are a few. The Vegetarian Festival, held every October in Phuket is a mind bender. And of cours Por Tor, the hungry ghost festival is worth scaring the children over. Attend festivals. Compare and contrast them with each other. Examine the religious, historical and cultural traditions that they arise from. Compare them similar celebrations you’ve experienced other places in the world, or within your own culture.

Profiles Of ….

Conduct a series of at least five interviews within a country.

The point of the exercise would be to get a well rounded view of what it is like to live in Thailand from a variety of ages, incomes, employments and experiences. This could be conducted as video, or as text and the student would be expected to do an analysis of the experience/information.

People you might profile:

  • Farmers
  • Teachers
  • Restaurant owners/workers
  • Buddhist Monks & Nuns
  • Government officials
  • Doctors or Nurses
  • Kathoey
  • Street vendors
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Drivers
  • Artists or Musicians
  • Laborers
  • NGO workers
  • Long term expats

Problems & Solutions

Backpack on boat 2
Study a current problem within the country and suggest, or support a solution


In Thailand 10.9% of the population lives below the poverty line. Compared with the other countries in the region, Thailand’s poverty rate is relatively low. Examine the successes and failures of the Thai government and community in reducing poverty and increasing economic advantage. Is there a difference between regions? Cities vs. rural areas? North vs. South? What role does language or people group play in the propensity towards poverty? Which groups are most vulnerable or affected? What is being done (both publicly and by private NGOs) to ameliorate the situation? What can we learn from this?

Ethnic Violence in the South of Thailand

Since 2004 there has been a surge in ethnic violence in the south of Thailand, on the Malay Peninsula. Much of the violence has been perpetrated by Muslim separatists. Examine the motives of these groups and the specific incidences of violence. Examine the thrust of the separatist movement and what they are trying to accomplish. Examine the historical roots of the ethnic divide in southern Thailand and the ways in which the borders of Thailand have changed over the years. How is the history, and the current events in this southern area of Thailand affecting the political and cultural climate in Thailand?

The Sex Trade

It’s no secret that Thailand is a hub, internationally, for the sex trade. Thousands of visitors go to the kingdom specifically for the easy access to prostitution. Even though it is technically illegal, it is prevalent. Investigate an aspect of the sex trade. Consider the role of the women, how they come to work in this industry and what it means for their lives, their families and their long term prospects. Consider the role of sex tourists and the ethics involved in this kind of tourism. Visit Pattaya, or Patong, or Phuket, or the numerous areas of Bangkok where the sex trade is prevalent. Do some on the ground research. Perhaps conduct some interviews. Think through the deeper issues around economics, human rights, free will, consent, health care, and gender as they apply to the sex trade in Thailand.

Gender Rights

Thailand is one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to gender rights. 30% of upper level business positions are held by women in Thailand. Approximately 1.5% of the biologically male population lives, or identifies as female or transgender. In 2015 the Thai constitution was amended to include language and protections for “third gender” persons. Recently Thailand announced a trial of their first transgender prison, in Bangkok, in an effort to address safety concerns within the transgender population regarding incarceration with men. However, Thai society remains very conservative. Gay marriage is not legal. Society remains, in day to day function, patriarchal in many practical ways. Study the nuances of gender rights in Thailand and examine the ways in which the country is, on one hand, progressive, and on the other hand, conservative. Analyse this dichotomy and it’s effects on Thai thought and culture as well as politics. Read, interview and reflect on gender rights issues in Thailand.

Study the Art of a Particular Region

Produce a multi-media project related to the art history and modern expression. Some options include:

  • Thai carving (from ancient ruins to modern wat carvings, to daily use items)
  • Textiles: Thai textiles have distinct patterns and history, investigate the origins and production
  • Painting: Much of Thai painting art reflects Buddhism or the Indian epics, choose a period or a particular artist that fascinates you and learn more
  • Music: Traditional music, colonial influence and modern trends
  • Pottery: From the archeological excavations to modern creation
  • Food Art: Fruit and vegetable carving is a unique art in Thailand. Take a class, or examine and document examples on your travels.

Cultural Assignment Options

This is a list of ideas for projects that you can take and run with. In order to get credit for these projects there needs to be an “output” of some measurable sort. Common options would include a video project, a blog post, an essay, a published piece of work, or a certificate of some sort documenting the experience (in the case of a class taken)

Study the Language

Record the number of hours of language instruction along with verification from the language school. One week (minimum) is recommended. There are numerous reputable language schools in all of the major traveler centers of Thailand, from Bangkok, to the islands, to Chiang Mai and the north

Sample the Foods

Document the experience of trying  at least five brand new foods during your stay (a fun photo essay? or video?) Take it up a notch and learn to cook something local. Enroll in actual cooking classes, or learn from a local friend. Find a way to document this experience.

Have a Meaningful Interaction With a Local

What is a meaningful interaction? You get to decide that. In general, it should be an interaction in which cultural exchange took place and you learned something. Sometimes these interactions look like very little on the outside but are totally life changing on the inside. Other times, they are rock your world amazing from every angle. It could be a meal shared, an afternoon’s excursion, a discussion that opens your eyes in some way, a self revelation that happened without any words exchanged at all.

Document this interaction and how it impacted you.

Take a Class….

  • Cooking
  • Art
  • Astronomy
  • Massage
  • Religion
  • Permaculture
  • Whatever interests you

Procure some form of documentation from the class provider to document your experience. You might also create a video, or a piece of art, or write about what you learned and how you learned it.

Museum Visit

Save the ticket stubs and share something that you learned.


There are numerous volunteer opportunities available, both advertised on line and unadvertised locally. Look for them at a school, a social project, an NGO, teaching English, building project, or something entirely different.

Photos of work, or documentation from project leader are a couple of options for documenting this one. As is a write up of the organization, what they are doing and how you helped. Preferably this is more than one day.

Live Local

Get out of the hostel, rent a place in a local village, or do a homestay.

Photo essay or a blog description of why living local was different than living in a hostel. How did this experience change the economics of your stay? What did you learn about the way locals live? What challenged you? What would you do differently next time?

Work Stay

Through an organization like WWOOF, HelpX, or Workaway you can arrange for an opportunity to work in exchange for your room and board in a number of capacities, from farm labour to hospitality. Lots of students make use of these experiences to lower the cost of their travels, while at the same time learning valuable skills or “trying out” various career areas that interest them.

Request feedback in the form of a short evaluation that can be used later for a CV or reference

Public Transportation Project

Challenge yourself to take every type of public transportation available while you are in Thailand. Create a photo essay or videologue of your adventures. What did you learn?

Attend a Religious Observance

One way to learn more about a country or culture is to study the religious aspect of life. Attend a church service, visit a shrine, or an indigenous ritual. Visit a religious festival or event. Or, if you’re very lucky, score an invitation to a wedding or funeral for a window into the way that religious ritual is woven into the fabric of life. Compare and contrast this to your other experiences, at home and abroad. What did you learn about Thailand and Thai people as a result of this experience? How did it make you feel? What did you learn about yourself?

How to Create Your Own Course Work




Learn to ask for what you want. If you meet someone interesting, ask them to teach you. Ask them for an interview. Ask to shadow them for a day or a week. You’ll be surprised at how eager people are to share what they know and teach when someone shows actual interest. Learn to ask questions. Learn to take social risks by putting yourself out there as a learner.


You have an idea or an interest. Something surprises you on your journey and all of a sudden you have a burning desire to know more. Plan your attack:

  • Narrow your field of study to a particular question or topic.
  • Compile resources: Look for teachers. Who knows what you need to know? Or who can you interview to learn more? Are there books or videos on the topic you’re interested in?
  • Quantify it. How will you demonstrate what you have learned? A research paper, a video project, a photo essay, through art or music, a blog post, a published piece, an interview series, a mini documentary or do you have some other idea?


Produce a quality piece of academic work that reflects your experiential learning. The whole key to quantifying outside the box learning is to translate it into something that reflects the value of what you learned and how it contributed to your overall educational process.

Perhaps this will be as simple as a traditional research paper, depending on the depth and length of your study this could be as short as three pages or as long as a dissertation. Maybe you’ll produce a video for YouTube, or something grander, like a mini-documentary. Perhaps you’ll do something concrete instead, an art, or community action project and you’ll tell the story through a photo essay, or a series of blog posts. The possibilities are limited only by the resources you have at hand. Get creative. Think outside the box and truly experience your education.

Check Out Some Gap Years Real Students Took to Thailand

For more Gap Year inspiration check out our partners, No Crap Gap Guides.



Do You Have Anything to Add to This Resource Page?

We’re actively seeking to grow these resources in an open-source spirit. Please email jenn(at)bootsnall(dot)com with your edits or submissions of new information or materials.

Thank you!