When travelers ask us about philanthropic experiences in Southeast Asia, we turn to our trusted partners to access the most impactful programs. Here, John Nguyen, CEO of Trails of Indochina, reveals how to make a difference while empowering local communities.
What trends are you seeing among travelers in Southeast Asia?
People who come from the other side of the ocean tend to be very curious, and they’re interested in authentic experiences. When I started 20 years ago, there were few high-end travel concepts in Southeast Asia, but there were many opportunities to develop experiential travel through local connections.
What are some meaningful ways people can help?
In Cambodia, many people lack access to clean water. By working with local authorities, guests can donate wells in remote villages and help complete the final touches.
In the southern part of Vietnam, we have a sampan boat donation program. Locals use these sampan boats to commute, transport goods and even as floating shops. Guests can donate directly to a hand-selected family and are welcomed by hundreds of villagers for a very emotional donation ceremony.
In Thailand, guests can travel to work with underprivileged communities in Bangkok and engage with members of the Karen ethnic group in Chiang Mai, among other opportunities.
How much time can travelers spend in these communities?
Most people don’t have the flexibility to spend more than a day in the villages. However, if they desire deeper immersion, they can stay for several days — perhaps helping to build the well and participating in farming activities — and really spend time with the villagers.
What types of travelers are gravitating toward this style of travel?
We’re seeing more families with younger kids. In Asia, family values are at the center of our culture, and it’s one of our goals to share that. Not only is it educational for the parents, but the kids have an opportunity to realize how much they have at home — which is a humbling lesson to learn at a young age.
When planning your journey through Southeast Asia,