On Tribal Issues, you will examine issues facing men and women in tribal areas along the Thai-Burma border. This program will take you into remote areas of both countries, giving you firsthand insight into the lives of residents here. Through meetings with local leaders, NGO workers, and community members, you will identify the sources of their compromised situations and what is being done to improve life going forward. This is a challenging program, and is suited only for students who are comfortable with remote travel, who have deep interests in learning about and helping improve the lives of others, and who are able to understand and deal with very adult issues.
Every Rustic trip operates on the belief that if students are traveling without interacting with locals, they might as well stay home. The Tribal Issues program is built on an intensification of that attitude. We design your journey in order to maximize your interactions with residents of Thailand and Burma in a way that builds friendships, knowledge, and cross-cultural understanding. This year, your itinerary will take you from Chiang Mai up to Mae Hong Son in Thailand, then down along the border of Thailand and Burma to Mae Sot. This region is brimming with fascinating cultural diversity, and through your meeting with locals, you will learn about the issues they struggle with as refugees, migrant workers, and members of rural hill tribes with minimal access to modern conveniences and education.
You’ll also meet aid workers who will help you fill out the picture of these people’s lives, and who will teach you about the strengths and the shortcomings of aid work. From Mae Sot, you’ll fly to Burma, where you’ll have the opportunity to explore Yangon, Inle Lake, and Bagan – each area different, but all fascinating. You’ll meet with villagers, monks, business people, and others who can take you by the hand and lead you into their modern history.
It’s important to remember that while traveling circumstances may change abruptly – often for the better! Some pre-arranged interviews may fall through, and some amazing opportunities may arise without warning – Rustic students should embrace these possibilities, knowing that chance meetings are part of what makes traveling so magical!
In the past, students on this program have spent hours with Karen refugee high school students who were living without adequate clothing or school materials, met with a young Akha man without access to medical care trying to help his dying mother, talked to a Shan prostitute who was working to support an elderly family back home, chatted with a group of orphans struggling to legally establish their identities, interviewed Shan children who had fled violence in their traditional homeland, met with a group of Lahu students in a village without access to clean water, talked with young monks who left home at the age of six to join a monastery in hopes of gaining an education, met with a young Khamu hunter whose handmade rifle had exploded and killed his friend, and spoke with very young mothers struggling to raise children without any access to medical care or modern technologies. While no two Tribal Issues trips are the same, you may find yourselves involved in conversations you never anticipated, and you will be expected to conduct yourself with poise, maturity, and sensitivity in these circumstances.
Your access into these peoples’ lives is an enormous privilege, and we want you to be properly prepared to make the best of every moment. Toward this end, you’ll be trained in ethical journalistic interviewing techniques and practices early in your trip, and will be given ample time to put these skills to use as you travel throughout Thailand and Burma. You’ll learn through a seminar and through constant practice how to prepare for interviews, how to structure questions, how to broach sensitive and potentially painful topics, and how to honor the people you’re interviewing by keeping accurate notes – and how to do all those things when you’re working through a translator!
Tribal Issues is all about meeting and learning from men and women in the real settings where they live. This means traveling into very rugged and remote areas, moving by four-wheel drive, and getting dirty and wet. With each person we meet, we will try to share a meal or, at the very least, a few cups of tea. While some discussions with local people are held in a question-and-answer format where you ask questions and take notes on the answers, we will endeavor when possible to spend a little time shadowing them throughout their normal daily routines. This non-verbal interview style will allow you to gather observations about these people and their lives without the need for an interpreter.
This trip will snake through the heart of tropical Southeast Asia. You’ll fill in the blanks on maps as you venture into uncharted territories and various vistas where elephants and tigers once dominated the landscape. Mornings will be greeted with sunrays spilling over mountains and striking through jungle canopies. Evenings will be magical as the sun sets over vast plains, secluded hillside hamlets, and submerged, reflective rice paddies. All of these unique and breathtaking landscapes help define the people and communities you will explore.
At the beginning of your trip, you and your fellow travelers will decide together on the format of a group documentary project that you will produce throughout your two weeks together. All students will be required to keep a journal throughout the trip, and you will be taking notes during your interviews as well. These notes, combined with you and your traveling mates’ perspectives, are incredibly valuable. When you complete your group documentary project, you’ll be reminded of the power of firsthand storytelling, and the value of each individual on your team. There are several incarnations this project can take, and it will be up to you as a team to choose how you will proceed. Any photos or video footage taken during the trip may also be used in your project, if you decide you would like to include visual elements.
A crucial part of this project will be a plan of action. As your trip draws to a close, you will discuss as a team a concrete way for you to take home the knowledge you’ve gained. To earn your full service hours for this trip, you will each commit to this plan of action. This could mean submitting your documentary project to your respective schools’ newspapers or magazines, arranging events in your own hometown to raise awareness about what you’ve learned, or even planning fundraisers to benefit the people you met along the way – the sky is your limit. Our requirement is that your plan of action puts your new knowledge to use and includes all students on your trip.
You’ll come away from this trip with an understanding most travelers couldn’t dream of attaining. You will have attaineda firm grasp on the very complex political, social, and religious issues that have influenced this region for centuries. You will also learn what is being done to help and how you can contribute to solving these issues. Past trips have evoked spontaneous acts of kindness by our students, and many have been inspired to start their own initiatives after returning home.
We believe that there is no end to the benefits you can take away from this trip, but your potential on this program is largely up to you. We invite students who are passionate about social issues, who crave cultural knowledge, and who aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zones. If you have an interest in pursuing a career in aid or social work, in international relations, in politics, or in journalism, this trip might be especially suited for you.
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Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Prior to your departure, you will have received your pre-departure packet, which will include your Rustic T-shirts, airline tickets, and important contact information.
Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Flight Liaison will help you get checked in to your international flight. Working with our Flight Liaison will be your Flight Leader, who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Our Flight Leaders are most often school teachers or good friends of our organization who happily fill this role for us each year. Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Thailand!
Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.
Sawatdee Jao, and welcome to Chiang Mai, the heart of northern Thailand. Earlier in the day you transferred through the glass and steel of Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, meeting new friends and trying new foods before hopping on the one-hour flight north. Now as the sun sets over the Ping River you are eating your first northern Thai dinner and taking in the rich atmosphere with your new Tribal Issues crew. We will meet and greet, orient ourselves and delve into the issues, people and places that we will be encountering in the coming weeks.
The hills of Northern Thailand border both the Shan highlands in Burma and northern Laos. For hundreds of years these verdant mountains have been a place of refuge and a migration destination of ethnic groups from all over Asia. The settlement of these remote, isolated valleys by hill tribe groups has created an amazing fabric of ethnic diversity that is unique in the world. It is here that we will begin our expedition of the issues that these communities face in a rapidly changing world.
Rise and shine for your first full day in Thailand! Over breakfast, enjoy an orientation and discuss the history, trade, politics and geography that have made this area one of the most ethnically diverse in the world.
We will then take a short field trip to a local fresh market to stretch our legs before we dig into an interactive seminar on interviewing. Learn some tried-and-true practices for the structured and un-structured conversations you’ll be engaging in throughout your trip. You’ll learn that interviewing doesn’t always mean just asking questions, and you will consider the role sensitivity plays in cross-cultural interactions. This intensive hands-on seminar will introduce you to ethical journalistic interview techniques, but will also give you the chance to step into the shoes of those you’ll soon be meeting – plus, you’ll enjoy getting to know your trip companions on a more intimate level! This will also be an opportunity for your group to discuss the documentary project you’ll be compiling throughout your travels. You and your traveling peers will have several options for what format this project will take, and you’ll have a chance to brainstorm together about what you hope to learn during your time in Southeast Asia. Your maturity factored into your decision to choose this program, and this will be your time to decide as a team what you want out of it.
We will then head to a beautiful Hmong village one hour north of Chiang Mai. Up until 20 years ago, Ban Mae Samai was infamous for the opium grown in the surrounding hills. Now the Hmong have transformed this upland valley into a thriving agriculture community surrounded by orchards, terraced fields and reforested ridges. You will encounter elders who remember a whole different way of life, and meet young people who have grown up in a new era. See a how the community reforests and protects their watersheds and talk with the locals about land use and environmental issues that hill tribes face.
At night we will return to the city and visit Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazaar for dinner and a chance to pick up some cool souvenirs.
Rise early and head to the airport to take the short flight over the mountains to the lush Mae Hong Son valley. This quiet mountain town is set back in time by the isolation imposed by the surrounding peaks. The town itself is populated by Shan and Thai ethnicities while the mountains are home to Karen, Lisu, Lahu and Chinese Koumingtan. After arriving, head down river to a long neck Karen village. Members of this small ethnic group are easily identifiable by the brass rings the women wear around their necks. There are several theories about how this practice started which you will learn about from the villagers themselves. These people have had a difficult time in the past several decades. Forced to flee their homeland in Burma as a result of the civil war, they are now struggling to keep their unique ethnic identity alive. You’ll put your interviewing skills to practice as you enjoy an in-depth conversation with friendly residents here about their collective choice to embrace tourism, and what that means for their culture and everyday life.
We’ll then load into the vans and head to the hills to Baan Rak Thai (literally the “Love Thai Village”). Perched on a high plateau on the Thai-Burma border, this tea-growing community is Koumingtan, remnants of the Chinese Nationalist army that fled after the Communist Revolution. Decades later, they settled on the Thai side of the border, where they were employed by Thailand as an anti-communist militia throughout the Vietnam War. During your time in this fascinating village, you’ll learn from locals about how they have transformed themselves from a small refugee camp supported by opium trade and military aid to a quaint mountain town supported by tea and tourism.
Heading back to Mae Hong Son, we’ll have an opportunity to stop by the Phu Klon mud spa for a massage and a dip in the hot springs, just in case there is any lingering jet-lag.
After a morning hike to a magnificent cave in the hills of Mae Hong Son, begin a road-trip south along the Thai-Burma border. Your first stop will be in Mae Sariang at the Rustic Pathways Children’s home. Established in 2007, this center houses dozens of Karen children who are provided with food, essential needs, education, and a home. After seeing this special facility, you’ll meet with some educators in Mae Sariang and learn about the challenges and highlights that face passionate teachers in underfunded schools full of students from remote and impoverished villages.
After lunch, we’ll head up to one of the hill tribe villages that dot the surrounding landscape and spend time getting to know the locals.
Today you’ll take leave of your hosts in Mae Sariang and head out for the last leg of your southbound road trip on the highway to Mae Sot. Along the way you will see large refugee camps housing thousands of Karen people who were displaced by the 40-year-old civil war that has been waged in Burma. In recent years the fighting has died down and there are signs of a long term peace, but the effects of the conflict are still apparent on the outskirts of Mae Sot. This area has a rich blend of Thai, Burmese, Indian, Chinese, and hill tribe cultures, and it is a hub for international aid heading into the region.
Pay a visit to some of our friends who work in the aid industry here in Mae Sot and learn about the inspiring efforts to improve long-persisting regional problems.
Spend time with various aid groups, advocacy activities, educators, and students who live and work in Mae Sot.
Your informative discussions will provide you with a valuable perspective on everything that you’ll be seeing during the program, and it will help you learn what kind of work is being done in the region.
Walking along the Thai side of the river you will look across into Myawaddy in Burma, but all around you it will feel like you are already there. Men will be wearing longyis, the traditional skirt-like wrap, Burmese tea shops will be selling their fragrant brew and the bustling markets are laden with antiques from the British colonial period.
Today we fly to Burma! After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll head to the Mae Sot Airport for our flight to Yangon. This city became the capital of British Burma at the end of the 18th century, and you will see that the contrast between the mountains of northern Thailand and the old British colonial buildings of Yangon is as striking as the differences in language and culture. After settling into the hotel and getting freshened up, we will explore the city. Members of the Burma Army are the bad guys of many of the stories you will have heard so far. In this segment of your journey, you’ll learn how important it is to see the inside of Burma in order to truly understand the many sides of these regional political, social, and religious conflicts. Expect to talk to locals from many backgrounds and walks of life from the comfort of Yangon’s legendary tea houses.
In the morning we will fly back in time to Inle Lake, the heart of the Shan State. This natural lake has bounty of marine life that supports many self-sufficient communities accessible only by boat and is relatively untouched by the influences of modern development. In addition to Shan, Pa-Oh and Bamar ethnic groups, there are the Inta, famous for standing and rowing their boats with one foot while balancing on the other. It is an amazing sight that would make any yoga teacher jealous. We will have our own flotilla of boats to take us to our hotel, where we will settle down and enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the serene water and surrounding mountains.
As in Yangon, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from conversations with the locals here, who will be just as excited to talk to you as you will be to hear about their lives. Expect the unexpected as you delve into this part of the world, closed to the outside for so long. Discussions will touch on culture and lifestyle, of course, but you’ll also explore the country’s shifting political and economic overtones. Burma’s current political reforms seem to be ushering in a phase of previously unimagined openness economically, a trend that can have both positive and negative impacts on local residents throughout the country.
Climbing into our flotilla of boats, we will explore the lake by water with visits to local markets, temples and villages. We will see the fisherman in action, casting their nets and laying their traps just as they have for thousands of years. In the afternoon we will travel to Taunggyi, a village up in the mountains that is as far as foreigners are allowed to travel. Today you will learn much through observation, but you’ll also be able connect with the people you encounter on the way. Rustic Pathways has long-standing relationships with locals here, and our connections will open up the doors to genuine and enlightening conversations everywhere we go. Sink this in – not many foreigners have had the privilege of being where you are now!
Waking up with the sun over the majestic lake you will have your mohinga noodles and enjoy the beautiful scenery one last time before taking boat, car and plane northwest, to the ancient Burmese capital of Bagan.
After settling into a hotel, you will head out to enjoy a late afternoon cruise along the picturesque Irrawaddy River, the life-force of this region of the world. Sample more famous Burmese dishes as you contemplate the wonders of this ancient city.
You will set out on bicycle to explore some of the thousands of ancient pagodas and temples of Bagan, one of the great marvels of the ancient world, and with our local staff and friends you will get a completely unique experience of this wonderland. These ancient temples were built at the height of the Burmese empire from the 7th to 13th centuries, but have been relatively abandoned since the empire collapsed after repeated Mongol invasions. We will have ample time to wander, explore, and lose ourselves in the maze of intricate stone structures.
In addition to the archeological tour, our staff will introduce you to the locals. You will hear their stories and see what life is like in this sleepy town surrounded by the ghosts of antiquity. You may talk with Bagan natives, visitors from other parts of Burma, or members of Burma’s Buddhist clergy, as you soak up all you see and hear.
Today you will take a side trip to Mount Popa, or Burma’s “Mount Olympus,” about 30 miles outside of Bagan. This spectacular dormant volcano dominates the surrounding countryside, and you’ll get to take in the view from the top of its 777 stairs. The Taung Kalat temple, perched at the base of the mountains on a volcanic outcropping, has sheer cliffs on all sides. The foreigners immediately notice the hundreds of monkeys inhabiting the temple, but for locals it is an important center for nat worship. Nats are pre-Buddhist animist deities that have been woven into the Buddhist fabric as temple guardians, and an example of the rich cultural and religious practices found throughout Burma and Southeast Asia. Learn through observation and interviews how faith and tradition influence everyday life in this deeply religious country.
You’ve seen a lot in the last few days; it’s your last night in Burma, so you’ll discuss the interviews you’ve participated in and the observations you’ve made through a group reflection time.
Say goodbye to the wonders of Burma and hop on a morning flight to Yangon and connect to Bangkok. You will spend your last day in this vast metropolis, a sharp contrast to the rural mountains, valleys and villages that you’ve been immersed in lately. Bangkok is a fascinating mixture of modern, ancient, and developing. Within a few blocks, you may see upper-crust Thais shopping for designer clothes at a world-class mall, a temple that dates back hundreds of years, and neighborhoods whose residents live in abject poverty. You may meet people from all walks of life here, from hill tribe youths drawn to the urban hub by job opportunities, migrant workers who come from necessity, and others. You’ll finalize your group project here, and will have time to see a few of the sites of this amazing city. Enjoy a final Thai feast and reflection of our journey, the epic places we have been, the powerful stories we have heard, the inspiring people we have met, and where you’ll go from here in life and in service. This is your time to celebrate!
This is your last day! Depending on when your flight leaves, you may have time for one last field trip or shopping excursion out and about in bustling Bangkok before it’s time to head to the airport and say goodbye to the friends you’ve traveled with for the past two weeks. You will be amazed at all that you have done and the experiences you have had will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity. The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.
As a general rule, DON’T BRING TOO MUCH STUFF! If you’re not sure whether or not you should bring something, you’ll probably be better off leaving it at home.
In terms of dress, traditional Thai culture is very conservative. Despite the hot climate, you will almost never see women with their shoulders exposed, or wearing low cut shirts or short shorts. As we seek to respect and preserve the culture of the communities where we work, we strongly urge you to dress respectfully. This is especially true in rural villages and mandatory in temples.
Basic items such as soap, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, etc., can be found in many places along the way on our trip. You can bring a small amount from home but large amounts will not be necessary, it will just make your bag heavier.
**Remember, if you not sure, leave it at home. Laundry is easy enough, and people are usually surprised at the good and cheap stuff you can find when you’re here.
We’ll stay at hotels, guest houses, and Rustic Pathways bases. Nice beds, Western toilets, and hot showers are available at each location. There will be one or two occasions such as the refugee camp visit in which we’ll sleep on mats and pads under mosquito nets, and showers will be bucket style.
There is amazingly little crime and violence in most of rural Asia. These are small, friendly communities where everyone knows each other, and they truly act in a communal fashion. Additionally, Rustic Pathways longtime aid and presence in these regions has earned a certain amount of respect within these communities and our visitors are welcomed with open arms. Many of our staff come from or have family in the villages we visit.
There will be days in which there is no internet, and phones are only available on an emergency basis. Phones and internet will be made available at least every few days, although we encourage our students to use the internet only for a limited time, and only for corresponding with their family and friends.
Yes. In addition to the conversations and learning that will take place, you can expect to partake in hands-on community service projects such as simple building projects and English teaching. If possible ways to help or solutions present themselves, we will not shy away from getting our hands dirty.
We’ll have opportunities to wash clothes every few days.
There are mosquitoes. They’re usually not too bad, but you will want to bring a light, long sleeve shirt and light, long pants for some evenings. Also bring a small bottle of insect repellent containing DEET.
Markets and local crafts are huge part of SE Asian culture and a great way to support the local community, so there will be opportunities for shopping in most of the places we visit. You also may want to donate some things along our trip- these things can be bought in Thailand. Here are some approximate, sample prices (listed in US dollars) that should help you prepare a budget: hand-woven scarf = $3; hand-woven shoulder bag = $6; T-shirt = $6; small wood carving = $5; soccer ball = $10
It’s hot, and humid in the day and a little cooler at night. Daily downpours are short and give way to sunny skies. Be prepared for heat and dampness. Synthetic fiber clothes are great because they dry fast and don’t get as mildewy as cotton can.
Each trip is staffed by a combination of western (American) and Burmese leaders, and in most cases each team will include a nationally licensed guide, a western man and a western woman. We never have fewer than one staff member for every five students.
During this trip we will be eating at local restaurants, shops and hotels. We will be eating a variety of local food as well as some western food. We will be able to cater for almost all diets. Vegetarians welcome!
We will be drinking all bottled water. Bottled water is safe and readily available.
Tribal Issues is appropriate for students of most physical activity levels. Students should be prepared for short hikes that may require moderate physical activity. The true strain can be emotional, as you can expect to hear stories unlike anything you have ever heard before.
Many of our staff are trained in emergency medicine care and many places we visit will have a reputable hospital within minutes. For those places without reliable medical care nearby our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare depending on the severity of the situation.
Because safety is our number one priority, all of our programs have staff that is certified with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.
Rustic Pathways does not make recommendations regarding immunizations. We strongly suggest that you consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for medical recommendations based on the area where the student will be traveling (Thailand, Burma, Laos). You can also check the Center for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov for more information.
This decision is best made by you, your family, and your family physician. For up to date information to help your decision please visit the World Health Organization website (http://www.who.int/en), the Center for Disease Control website, and consult your physician.
All flights departing from and returning to the United States will have flight leaders. In the event a student is connecting from another country, they may or may not have a flight leader. In such instances, we generally have coordinated with the airlines to escort the students from check-in through customs, and delivered to a verified Rustic Pathways staff member.
All of our programs within Asia connect seamlessly. All trips begin and end on Thursday, thus allowing for easy connectivity and convenience.
Ages: 16 to 18 years old
Length: 18 days from the USA
Hours: Up to 64 hours awarded
$740 Internal Airfare
International airfare is not included in the above cost. Check our Travel Desk for airfare pricing.
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Dates shown are inclusive of travel time from the United States. Most Rustic Pathways trips interconnect, allowing you to design your own perfect summer program.Apply Now
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