Volunteering at the Sae Lao Project – Vang Vieng, Laos

Children at school in Vang Vieng, Laos

During my recent trip through Southeast Asia, I was determined to venture off the backpacking trail and find immersive experiences where I could not only live among locals but also give back to the community.

So, when I stumbled across a short-term volunteer English teaching position at the Sae Lao Project in Vang Vieng, Laos, I signed up immediately. The two weeks that I spent volunteering with the project ended up being some of my absolute favorites from five months of backpacking in the region!

If you’re also looking to do something meaningful while you travel, keep reading. Below, I’ll tell you all about the Sae Lao Project, from what they do to how to get involved! 

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Volunteering at the Sao Lao Project, Vang Vieng

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What Is the Sae Lao Project?

The Sae Lao Project is a sustainability project with a focus on education. At the project, they believe that the best method for creating lasting change is to lead by example. The project is largely run with the help of two teams: the local team and the international volunteers. The two groups work together to provide free English classes to children and adults in the community daily. 

Sae Lao Project entrance
The project is run with a local team and international volunteers.

They also work to build and maintain sustainability projects that include construction efforts, farming, a community restaurant, and more. The project and its volunteers are always focused on one thing – how they can make the community better and more sustainable.

How Long Do Volunteers Stay at the Sao Lao Project?

Volunteers can stay with the project for as long as they wish, but there is a minimum requirement of at least two weeks. This is because it is a volunteer teaching role and it is important for the project to maintain a level of consistency for the students. 

There are also long-term volunteer positions. I met a few people who fell in love with the project and ended up staying for several months! I stayed for two weeks and I felt like it was the perfect amount of time to build a solid relationship with my students and experience a lot of Vang Vieng and the surrounding areas.

Girl swims in Vang Vieng, Laos
I enjoyed exploring Vang Vieng in my free time!

How to Get to Sao Lao Project, Vang Vieng

The project grounds are located just 20 minutes outside the center of Vang Vieng, in Nathong Village. It sits directly next to Blue Lagoon 1, a super popular tourist destination, which is a huge perk! 

Once volunteers arrive in Vang Vieng, someone from the project will come to pick them up and drive them to the village. This typically happens on Sunday mornings when new volunteers start their placements. Communication happens via WhatsApp with one of the ‘Laos Guys’ and in my experience, it was a seamless process.

Views in Vang Vieng, Laos
The project sits in the beautiful Nathong Village.

Sao Lao Project – Volunteer Costs and Inclusions

Volunteers are expected to pay a couple of fees if they want to get involved with the project. 

  • There is a one-time ‘Donation for Education’ fee that costs around $29USD. 
  • After the one-time donation, there is an additional fee of around $13USD/day. This covers your living expenses (shared accommodation, three meals per day, and all teaching materials). 

As a budget backpacker, I tend to look for free work exchanges, but I felt confident that the money I paid to the Sae Lao Project was being used in an impactful way. These fees help to sustain the project so I think the cost is totally worth it!

Volunteer teaching English, Vang Vieng, Laos
Volunteers have to pay a couple of small fees to get involved with the project.

A Typical Weekday at the Sae Lao Project

No two days are the same at the Sae Lao Project, but this will give you a decent idea of what to expect on weekdays.

Volunteer Schedule 

Volunteers share responsibilities and work together to create a schedule each week. The schedule specifies who is responsible for cooking breakfast and dinner, cleaning after mealtimes, tidying the dorm/communal spaces, feeding the dogs, emptying the compost, etc. The number of duties will depend on how many other volunteers there are. I went during a very slow few weeks, and even with far fewer volunteers, the responsibilities were very fair and manageable!

Dogs at Sae Lao project in Vang Vieng, Laos
A couple of the adorable pups at the Sae Lao Project.


  • Volunteers meet for a communal breakfast (usually around 8:00)
  • Spend two to three hours working on sustainability projects (whatever the need is at the time). This could include gardening, construction/art projects to better the site, helping in the rice fields, lesson planning, etc.


  • Volunteers will typically hang out around the restaurant/dorm to make lesson plans for their two classes later in the evening.
  • Lunch is prepared by the restaurant’s chef and is eaten communal style.
  • When the lesson plans are ready, volunteers are free to do as they wish. Many will head to Blue Lagoon 1 since it is so close by!


  • Classes are taught from 17:00-19:00. Volunteers head to schools around the village and teach back-to-back classes.
  • Around 19:00, head back to the site to cook and eat a communal dinner.
  • Volunteers are free to do as they wish after dinner. Many stay at the restaurant playing cards or head to the bonfire by the dorms!
Volunteers eating local food in Vang Vieng, Laos
The volunteers had plenty of time to hang out in the free time.

“I loved that the schedule never felt super strict. As long as you are putting in effort and creating a positive environment, you will feel like a valued part of the team. Sometimes I did my lesson planning late at night so I could have more free time in the afternoon to enjoy the gorgeous nature in our backyard. It’s really up to you what you do – which is amazing!”

Taylor Spinelli, Contributor at South East Asia Backpacker 

A Typical Weekend at the Sae Lao Project

Weekends at Sae Lao are a ton of fun. There are usually group activities as well as the opportunity to do your own thing!

On Friday nights, volunteers often take the truck into Vang Vieng and grab a bite to eat. Some will stay behind to enjoy the nightlife and spend some time in the city. On Saturdays, the whole group usually goes on an outing. That may be a trip to one of the other blue lagoons, a hike to one of the iconic Vang Vieng lookout points, or an adventure activity like ziplining! On Sundays, there will likely be a giant game of volleyball going on.

Volleyball match, Vang Vieng, Laos
Enjoying a cheeky volleyball match!

At weekends, there is a lot of flexibility to do as you wish. I definitely recommend taking advantage of the group activities. For one, it’s super fun to hang out with the whole group. But, it’s also hard to get around because the project is outside the city center. The truck is really the only way to get around, so catch a ride whenever you can!

Accommodation at the Sae Lao Project

There are two options for accommodation. The first option is the 21-bed dorm (included in the volunteering costs as standard). The dorm is a large, semi-open space spanning two levels, with a classroom located on the ground floor. It has two outdoor showers and toilets nearby.

The second option is the guesthouse. It is located just a few minutes down the road and is ideal for those looking for a private room. An additional factor to consider is that the guesthouse locks while the dorm doesn’t – there are no safes/lockers available either. The guesthouse costs an extra $5USD/night, hiking up the total volunteer cost per day to $17USD – not bad for a bit of privacy!

Sae Lao Project dorm, Vang Vieng, Laos
The dorm at the Sae Lao Project.

I chose to stay in the dorms and had a really pleasant experience. I enjoyed the community feel of sharing the space with the other volunteers. However, I was very cautious with my valuables due to the lack of locks and always carried my money with me!

Food at the Sae Lao Project

There is always a selection of dried goods, fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, sauces, and spices in the restaurant and these are accessible at all times. Volunteers are in charge of cooking their own breakfast and dinner, while lunch is prepared and served by the chef. 

Volunteers always split duties so that two or three people cooked and everyone else could enjoy the meal. The volunteer chefs have to get creative in the kitchen since there are limited supplies, which is a fun activity in its own right!

The project can accommodate most dietary requirements. I was well looked after as a vegetarian and always had plenty of options to choose from. 

Things to Do Near the Sae Lao Project

Vang Vieng was once known for only the hedonistic tourism scene it brought with it but that is no longer the case! Vang Vieng has a ton to offer adventurous backpackers. 

There are several blue lagoons, some of which have rope swings, ziplines, and platforms to jump off! Try out the zipline course at Blue Lagoon 1, hike to the Nam Xay Viewpoint, check out some of the nearby caves… and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, go on a hot air balloon ride. Vang Vieng is known for its hot air balloons!

Read about more things to do in our guide to Vang Vieng, Laos.

A Round-Up of the Sae Lao Project, Vang Vieng

Backpacking is a hugely rewarding experience. As travelers, we get to meet all kinds of new people, try foods we’ve never tried, and experience new landscapes, adventures, and lives.

Volunteering can make the experience even more enriching, especially with an organization with as much passion as the Sae Lao Project. You can connect with the project via Worldpackers or contact them directly on Instagram @saelaovolunteer

“I continue to think about the two weeks I spent with Sae Lao frequently, months after I left. It’s rare to find such a dedicated, passionate, and efficient organization with such a clear mission. However long you choose to stay, the experience will be sure to leave you with lasting memories for years to come!”

Taylor Spinelli, Contributor at South East Asia Backpacker
Taylor Spinelli – Bio pic
Taylor Spinelli | TaylsTravels

I’m Taylor, a 24-year-old with a huge passion for traveling and creating connections around the globe! I have been bouncing around from country to country for the last few years, trying out all kinds of odd jobs and volunteer experiences along the way. I have been an au pair in Spain, a server and WWOOFer in New Zealand, a tour guide in Thailand, and more. My newest venture is documenting my life around the world in my blog: taylstravels. I share my mistakes and what I’ve learned from three years of travel, destination guides, and advice for creating your dream travel life. I want to share all that I have learned with others!

Find her on: Instagram | TikTok

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