Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work in Laos
There are far less opportunities for volunteers than can be found across the Thai or Cambodian borders but those that do find a role here will find the wonderfully chilled Lao PDR has its own special way of doing things.
Grassroots Volunteering in Laos
The organisations listed below have either got in touch with us to add their details to this or another of our websites, or we otherwise have reason to believe they are actively looking for international volunteers and charge reasonable or no fees to join in, live and work with them:
SAE LAO’s primary purpose is to set an example of sustainable development in Laos. Most volunteers teach English, but other tasks include helping with sustainable building projects, gardening and working on the rice fields during the rice planting and harvest seasons. Volunteers contribute at least five hours work each day and are expected to stay a minimum of two weeks. Skilled volunteers able to stay for a minimum of six weeks and coordinators able to stay a year are also sought.
Where: Nathong Village, 7km outside Vang Vieng.
Accommodation & Costs: Short term volunteers staying in a 17 bed dorm room pay around £60 (depending on the exchange rate) a week, including three meals a day. There is also a one off £25 payment that helps fund their education and community projects.
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Big Brother Mouse
A publishing project that aims to make reading fun and increase both literacy and the number of books published in Laos. Laotians are very much at the forefront of the project but passing travellers can help make a difference with English practice sessions held at their drop in centre. They also occasionally need volunteers for special projects. Information on these are posted in their Luang Prabang office but they are not able to answer inquiries or discuss volunteer opportunities by email.
Where: Luang Prabang.
Accommodation & Costs: No fees. No accommodation. Just drop by any day between 9am and 5pm.
Bamboo School Project
Khamla and his wife, Vieng, have been providing affordable English classes to the local community since 2012. Their restaurant overlooking the Mekong River doubles up as an English school in the evenings, where over 30 children come to learn English after school. If you would like to experience real Laos culture, gain some teaching experience, have fun and live on the Mekong River – this is the perfect project for you. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about traditional bamboo building techniques and share your skills with the project.
Where: Don Khong, Four Thousand Islands, Southern Laos.
Accommodation & Costs: Shared accommodation and three meals a day is provided for $60, if staying one week, descending to $40 if staying for at least a month.
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Yensabai Organic Farm
Just outside a small hill tribe village Yensabai Organic Farm is a place where they experiment with happy, sustainable living and invite a small number of volunteers at a time from all around the world to come help. Tasks include animal care, gardening, building and bee raising, all punctuated by laying around in hammocks. Sometimes volunteers can help with reception and sharing information with visitors about the farm. Also, volunteers are often invited by the local community to help on their farms, share, learn and join local ceremonies and parties etc. Minimum length of stay is two weeks.
Where: Sop Kong, a small village halfway between Nong Kiaw and Moung Ngoi.
Accommodation & Costs: Fee free. Simple accommodation and 100% organic food for is provided
Village Focus International
VFI’s programmes are aimed at empowering local people in rural areas to take control of the most fundamental issues of daily life, protecting vulnerable women and children and land security and natural resource management issues. The VFI office in Laos has frequent needs that can only be filled by volunteers and interns. Special skills that they frequently lack include fund raising, communications, and other special skills: legal, social work, etc.
Hostel Work Exchanges
All three shacks lining the Mekong that we dossed about in in Don Det had a foreign volunteer doing what can loosely be described as customer facing roles. Most likely others do too. Our guess is once the first volunteer gained a foothold other guest house owners realised they too could fit in more nap time and the idea caught on. I can’t remember the name of two of the places we stayed but it doesn’t matter. Walk around the island and if your face fits (in a vertical position, eyes not too glazed), and the timing is right, you stand a chance of not having to leave yet.
Watching Mario and Olivia’s Travels on Toast YouTube channel, we liked the look (and price) of where they stayed in Luang Prabang. It’s cheaper than where we usually base ourselves so we too might head to Sa Sa Lao next time we are in the city. A quick google reveals the eco lodge takes on a couple of volunteers at a time through Workaway.
Other Opportunities to Volunteer in Laos
The website of Luang Prabang’s NamKhan Project wasn’t working when we visited so try their Facebook page, YouTube channel or the information given on this travel website. They’re an eco farm that will provide volunteers with food and accommodation for their efforts is the gist of it. Head south to Vang Vieng and you can earn a 30% discount on accommodation and food by helping VV Organic Farm for four hours teaching English, in reception or on the farm.
If you are an influencer like Olivia and Mario (see hostel work exchanges above) a comment on one of their videos recommended they head to “a nice resort just outside Luang Prabang [where they] offer free accommodation in exchange for your role as a influencer.” The resort is Manifa Elephant Camp. The guys from Travels on Toast did visit and made this video. Find more information via this facebook post from Michael Harbone.
We heard mention of NK Seeds via another YouTuber. Started by a young French woman they run two projects dependent on volunteers in Nong Khiaw: an English School, and waste paper and plastic recycling. Bungalow accommodation is provided and there’s a common kitchen to prepare food bought in the local markets. Some of the restaurants in the area provide discounts to their volunteers.
Help Exchange Networks in Laos
Other Ways to Travel or Stay for Free in Laos
Stay for free in return for caring for local residents’ homes or pets. Join Trusted Housesitters to live rent free as a house sitter (Americans may prefer this link). You can also get a free Airbnb credit from us here.
Volunteering at SAELAO in Nathong, Laos – Where the hell is Rory? I don’t know but early in 2012 he was volunteering on a project just outside Vang Vieng.
Volunteering at Mr T’s Organic Farm in Vang Vieng, Laos – Penny Atkinson spent some time teaching English, milking goats and building a mud house on the organic farm of a Laotian biologist.
I Became a Mural Artist in Vientiane, Laos – After painting an elephant on a wall in exchange for bed, board and beer, Kristin impresses the owner of her hostel and gets paid to keep painting.
How We got to Teach English to Monks in Laos – After sharing a tree house with two French travellers in Huay Xai, on the Thai/Laos border, Magda and Brent are recommended to go check out Monk Chat.
* not all these volunteer experiences are with grassroots NGOs or low cost organisations
Image courtesy Nick Hubbard