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Work with elephants under the guidance and supervision of professional handlers, skilled Rustic Pathways leaders, and trained mahouts at a world-renowned facility. Learn to feed, red, bathe, and care for elephants and return home with a certificate attesting to your experience and achievements. Explore Thailand from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok to chilled-out Chiang Mai and the northern Hill Tribe regions. Head home having seen the fascinating diversity of Thailand

Program Profile

Country
Thailand
Community Service Component
Next Level
Community Service Focus
Environment
Get to Know
Nature, The Sights
Lifestyle
A Little Bit of Everything
Travel Component
Moderate Travel Involved

2016 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
June 7 June 24 Available
June 14 July 1 Available
June 21 July 8 Available
June 28 July 15 Available
July 5 July 22 Available
July 12 July 29 Available
July 19 August 5 Available
July 26 August 12 Available

Connecting Programs

Schedule two or more programs in a row to create your ideal Rustic Pathways experience.

This program connects especially well with:

  • Day 1

    Depart from the USA!

    Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Prior to your departure, you will receive your pre-departure packet, which will include your Rustic T-shirts, luggage tags and country books, airline tickets, and important contact information.

    Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Flight Liaison will help you get checked-in for your flight. Your Flight Leader, in conjunction with your Flight Liaison, will escort you all the way to Thailand! Our Flight Leaders are most often schoolteachers 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!

  • Day 2

    Travel Day

    Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.

  • Day 3

    Welcome to Chiang Mai

    Sawat dee, and welcome to Thailand! Upon your arrival into one of the world’s most modern airports, you will immediately get the feeling that you have arrived in a place that is far different from home. Thailand is known as one of the most welcoming countries in the world and is affectionately nicknamed the Land of Smiles.

    As you exit the arrival hall with your Flight Leader, you will meet our team of staff. Unwind and meet new friends who have arrived on different flights or are connecting from different programs.

    In the mid-afternoon, hop on a quick one-hour flight up to Chiang Mai, where your program begins. This ancient and graceful capital is a fascinating mishmash of Northern Thai style, hill tribe cultures, and a vibrant community of non-profit workers. Almost immediately, you’ll start to notice signs of the importance of elephants in Thai culture. You’ll spot these magnificent animals making appearances in the décor, architecture, even on T-shirts, most likely before you even arrive in your hotel room. Freshen up, rest, or take a dip in the hotel pool. After dinner, we’ll head back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep and to recharge our batteries for our busy week ahead!

  • Day 4

    Into the Jungle

    Depart for the elephant camp by 8:30 a.m. From Chiang Mai, it’s a little more than an hour’s drive through the scenic mountains to the city of Lampang – your home for the next week.

    Once you arrive at the camp, meet the entire staff – including the elephants – and then the senior camp officials will offer an opening prayer ceremony, which is performed for good luck and to show the commitment of the group to the task at hand. With the ceremony finished, the program will be officially underway, and you will waste no time in getting down to business.

    Your first order of business will be to look the part – so everyone will receive an official mahout suit. Once you are comfortable in your fashionable new attire, you will be assigned to an elephant. Depending on the size of the group, there will be one or two students assigned to each elephant. First, master the basic mahout commands and how to interpret and communicate with these amazing animals. Before you know it, you’ll be riding your elephant into the jungle, learning its personality, and communicating with it – it’s all part of your new job as a mahout!

    In the evening, settle in to jungle life, with plenty of time to relax and share stories or maybe have an early night, ready for a dawn start with the elephants tomorrow!?

  • Day 5

    Getting into the Groove

    The morning is truly a special time in the jungles of northern Thailand. The birds bring the forest to life and the sun cuts bright rays through the lingering mist. Rising early, walk down to greet and bathe your elephant at 7 a.m. Once your elephant is fed and cared for, head back to the camp for breakfast yourself.

    After you are well fed, hop on your elephant and ride down to the elephant show, which is designed to showcase the elephants’ skills to tourists. The show is a fundraising event for the camp and a great way to show the public these amazing creatures’ intelligence and potential. As a member of the mahout training camp, you will get a unique insider’s perspective on the show.

    Congratulate the elephants’ talents with a few bushels of sugarcane before you head to the elephant dung paper factory, where you’ll get your hands dirty learning how this useful product is made. Then ride your elephant back to the camp base and return them to the jungle for some rest while you join your mahout in some traditional Thai games. Say goodbye to the cheerful mahouts for the evening and head into the nearest town of Lampang for dinner and a stroll through the Saturday Walking Street Market.

  • Day 6

    The Way of the Mahout

    Rising early, take your elephant down to the river again for its morning bath. Then, after breakfast, you will begin the day’s lesson – the life and practices of a mahout. Many people don’t realize that being a mahout is a life-long career. Although they don’t make much money and it is not a glamorous profession, mahouts are essential for the survival of elephants in the world today, and they are very respected in Thai culture.

    Learn about the special relationship that develops between the mahout and the elephant, the tools and skills involved, and how they communicate with one another. Then practice the training commands with your elephant, learn how to weave rope for a saddle, and find out how to strap cargo on comfortably. You will have gone a long way in developing your own relationship with your elephant by the time you release it back into the jungle in the afternoon.

    Once your elephant’s harness is complete, take a refreshing dip in a nearby swimming hole before lunch. In the afternoon, join the senior director of the school and a good friend of Rustic Pathways, Danger, for a discussion about the king’s royal white elephants and the dangers of working with an aggressive elephant.

    After dinner, join the staff to learn some songs in Thai that will help bring you closer to your mahout on your journey into the jungle tomorrow. This lesson always turns into a dance party, so bring your best moves to teach the local staff!

  • Day 7

    Overnight in the Jungle

    After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, use the skills you learned yesterday to load up your elephant with everything you will need for a night in the jungle. Then climb aboard and head toward the jungle camp, which is about an hour’s ride away.

    Once you reach the camp, give your elephant a chance to rest while you enjoy a jungle-style lunch cooked over an open fire. After taking a rest and maybe a dip in a nearby river pool – depending on that week’s rains – to cool off in the day’s heat, head into the jungle with the mahouts in search of bamboo. Craft what you find into several different kinds of products, including cups and dishes, with the help of the mahouts.

    As evening falls, throw on warmer clothes, eat a jungle feast, and play some Thai campfire games while singing and dancing the night away. For many students, this night is the highlight of the whole trip!

  • Day 8

    Back to the Camp

    The sun will wake you up early this morning, and you will help your mahout bring your elephant in from the jungle where it spent the night. Then, after taking the elephants on a short walk to an area where they can munch on fresh greens for breakfast, hike back to the main camp. After a well-deserved shower and hearty lunch, learn to make a typical Thai dessert and head to a nearby market to try the local fare and grab some souvenirs. On your return, help reforest the jungle by planting trees that will eventually help shelter our pachyderm pals in their home. On your last night at the Conservation, eat dinner family-style and reflect on your amazing week with the elephants.

  • Day 9

    Goodbye to your Pachyderm Pals

    After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, head to the elephant hospital for a tour. Learn about the elephants’ lifespan and how injured elephants are treated and cared for here. Learn about the many elephants the camp has rescued from abusive situations and how they are rehabilitated. This will be your last chance to ask any lingering questions you have about these gentle giants before you leave, so don’t be afraid to speak up!

    It will now be time to say good-bye to your elephant, your gracious hosts, and the camp. At the closing ceremony, receive a certificate of completion for the program. In the afternoon, depart for Chiang Mai and check into the hotel for some down time by the pool. After a nice rest, head into town for a traditional Thai massage before dinner, and take in some souvenir shopping at the world-famous Night Bazaar.

  • Day 10

    Introduction to Muay Thai or Delve into Yoga

    Today, you’ll have the chance to delve into local culture with your choice of activity – learn about self-defense and composure with a Muay Thai kickboxing lesson, or opt for a more relaxing yoga class instead. You’ll also have some time to rest after your time in the jungle – it will be a busy week ahead!

  • Day 11

    Chiang Mai

    Today will start with a trip to some of the oldest temples the center of the Old City. You’ll visit Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, Wat Mun, and the beautiful Wat Chedi Luang, which was once the largest structure in the Lanna Kingdom before a large section was knocked down in an earthquake several hundred years ago. Take your chances on the temple’s slot-machine fortuneteller or hang a golden silk banner for good luck before sitting down to chat with a local monk.

    Chiang Mai is home to a thriving artist community, and while in town you will have the chance to learn about many traditional handicrafts that this region has become famous for. After breakfast, you’ll see some of the city’s modern art as well with a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s newest attractions, the Art in Paradise 3D museum. Then, you will head into the rolling mountains to Northern Thailand’s Holiest site, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. With panoramic views of the lush Chiang Mai valley below, learn about the unique religious traditions of the area, a fusion of Buddhist, Hindu and animist traditions. Hear the Legend of the White Elephant that marked this sacred spot as the location for the temple, and climb the dragon-guarded staircase to into the shrine itself. Once inside, be blessed by a monk for a happy and healthy trip before making offerings and getting your fortune read (spoiler alert!).

    Coming down from the mountain, you will stop at a bustling market in front of Chiang Mai University where you will feel the buzz of student life at one of Thailand’s largest universities. The last stop of the day will be the Night Bazaar, where you will shop the night away while practicing your bargaining skills (hint: Don’t be shy!).

  • Day 12

    Heading for the Hills of the North

    Rise early today and set out into the stunning mountains of Northern Thailand. This is the most diverse region of the country, home to more than a dozen hill tribe minorities, each with its own distinct language, history, and culture. Following the Ping River, wind through the mountains to the Chiang Mai area’s most unique waterfall, Nam Dok Bua Thong. Sourced by a mineral spring, this waterfall runs through a forest and over limestone, making it ideal for exploring on a hot day.

    Next, the journey continues into the Chiang Dao Valley, famous for the magnificent mountain that towers over the landscape. The Doi Luang Chiang Dao Mountain is one of the tallest peaks in Thailand and easily the most impressive, with sheer limestone cliffs ascending to the top.

    Settle in for the night at a country eco-resort and take in the view of mountains and rice fields as the sun goes down beyond the mountains. By evening, enjoy a traditional khantoke cultural dance performance while you enjoy a delicious meal.

  • Day 13

    Exploring Chiang Dao

    Enjoy the fresh mountain air as you wake up early to give alms to village monks. Those of you who did not participate in the Thai Elephant Conservation Project will then have the chance to visit a small, locally owned elephant camp to get up close and personal with Asian Elephants. Then, we will begin exploring Chiang Dao by foot and by bicycle. This area is a treasure trove for botanists and biologists, and walking through the lush forest you will see why. Explore a meditation retreat set at the foot of the towering peak of Doi Luang, and then enter the Chiang Dao cave at the foot of the mountain. Local guides will lead you by lantern-light to explore the many hidden passageways. This cave is an important spiritual center filled with flower-laden Buddha statues and the occasional hermit. Next, you will head out into rice fields in a surrounding village to observe the rice-growing process and take some photos of the greenest greens that you will ever see.

    Once you have worked up a proper appetite, we will stop at the Chiang Dao Nest, one of the finest restaurants in the region, for some delicious international cuisine in an idyllic setting. In the evening, you will return to the resort to take a Thai cooking class and sing some karaoke with your new friends.

  • Day 14

    Chiang Rai and the White Temple

    After breakfast, we will depart for Chiang Rai. Here, we will visit two of the most unique structures in Thailand, created by two of the country’s most renowned artists. First, the White Temple, an intricate frosting-like edifice takes visitors on a journey through heaven and hell showing the karmic path away from temptation. Next we will head to the White Temple’s darker twin, the Black House. This complex contains massive teak halls where snakes and skeletons abound. Wander through the forested grounds and inside unique buildings, a fusion of Thai, Balinese and Burmese styles laden with modern paintings and ancient relics.

    In the late afternoon, we will check into the hotel and enjoy some poolside relaxing time before heading out to explore the town. Walking through the back alleys and fresh markets of this charming and sleepy city, you will see what a “real” Thai town looks like.

  • Day 15

    Muay Thai in the Big Mango

    Today, you will catch a mid-day flight down to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. You will check in you your hotel, get refreshed, and get ready to head out for a night of excitement in the city. Tonight, you will experience a championship Muay Thai (Thai kick-boxing) fight at the most prestigious stadium in Thailand, Lumpini Stadium. Muay Thai is an ancient art and a huge source of pride for Thai people, and experiencing a match in person is quite an experience. Later, we’ll return to the hotel to get some rest for a bg day exploring Bangkok tomorrow!

  • Day 16

    The Highlights of Bangkok

    After a nice breakfast at the hotel, get ready to see it all in a day here in Bangkok! You’ll start the day with a refreshing traditional Thai massage to get in the right state of mind. After that, you will hop on the bus and start working your way towards the the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the King’s most official residence and the home of the famed Emerald Buddha. You will have some time to wander the beautiful grounds here before heading around the corner to Wat Pho, another of Bangkok’s most famous temples and home of the ‘Reclining Buddha,’ the largest such Buddha in the world. Next, you will walk out to the banks of the Chao Phraya River, or the ‘River of Kings.’ Here you’ll hop on a long-tail boat and go for a cruise upstream. Viewing Bangkok from the river – away from the busy streets and with a cool breeze on your face – is truly the best way to see it. Finally, you will cap off your final day with an evening dinner through the heart of modern Bangkok. This will be an awesome way to talking about all that you’ve seen on this memorable trip, and enjoy your final evening with your new friends.

  • Day 17

    Chock Dee, and Safe Travels!

    Today, you’ll have time to relax at the pool before checking out and heading to the airport. Whatever is next for you, we hope that you always cherish the warm memories of Thailand you have made this week. Safe travels and chock dee!

    ** Please be aware that students traveling to LAX will have an overnight layover in Singapore on the way home, during which our staff will take them to a hotel not far from the airport. Students will be checked through to LAX from Southeast Asia, and the flight departs from Singapore at 9:25am. All students on our group flights arrive home on Fridays, regardless of whether they return to JFK or LAX. **

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

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.

For more information, email thailand@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • There is no difference between these programs. The Amazing Thailand program and the Elephant Conservation Camp are two programs that are popular to combine, so we’ve gone ahead and combined them for you at a lower cost than signing up individually for the two programs. The program runs in the order of the Thai Elephant Conservation Project followed by the Amazing Thailand Adventure!

  • During the week of Elephant Conservation, we’ll stay in basic accommodations at the Mahout Training School within the Center. As reward for a week in the jungle, those continuing on to the Amazing Thailand Adventure will enjoy a few of the most beautiful four-star hotels Thailand has to offer.

  • Yes. Please note that each program is about a week in length, with international travel times on each end, making it 18 days total outside of the United States.

  • At the start and end of the Elephant Conservation Project, you’ll stay in a 4-star hotel in Chiang Mai – the same as you’ll stay for your first day on the Amazing Thailand Adventure, but the rest of the week will be at the Elephant Conservation Camp itself. At the Center, we’ll be in simple rooms with hot-water showers, air conditioning, and western-style beds. During Amazing Thailand, you’ll enjoy some of Thailand’s finest four-star hotels.

  • Laundry will be available to students once during the week on each program. During the time at the Conservation Center, you’ll be provided with a special Mahout suit that you’ll wear most days. Your ‘mahout suit’ is made of denim, which over the week will absorb your scent making it easier for your elephant to get to know and trust you.

  • There are mosquitoes. They’re usually not too bad, but you will want to have a long sleeve shirt and long pants in the evenings. Be sure to bring insect repellent containing DEET, which wards off mosquitoes, ticks, and most other insects.

  • Check with your doctor that all of your routine immunizations are up to date. Your doctor will also be able to give you the best advice about what precautions to take when traveling to the forests of northern Thailand.

  • You will want money to buy handmade crafts at local shops and at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. There will be all kinds of souvenirs and fun stuff to buy, so budget accordingly. Markets and local crafts are huge part of Thai culture and a great way to support the local community. 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

  • Rustic Pathways will cover all tips for guides and activities during the program, but we do ask students to budget about 1,200 Thai Baht (200 for each day of the program) as tip for their mahout at the end of the Thai Elephant Conservation Project. This is a recommended amount only, and students are welcome to leave as much or as little as they feel appropriate. Students usually also choose to leave a small gift indicative of their hometown as a gift for their mahout, who they grow quite close with during the week. The mahouts love to learn where you’re from, and a small trinket from America is a valued treasure here!

  • It is hot and humid in the day and a little cooler in the mountains 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.

  • Rural Thailand is still quite conservative, and Rustic Pathways expects our students to be upstanding ambassadors of our home countries. As a blanket rule at the Conservation, we ask that shorts are at least fingertip-length and any tank-top straps are at least the width of three fingers. During Amazing Thailand, there will be several days of “temple attire,” which requires your shoulders and knees to be covered.

  • Students will always have access to a phone, though we’d like to limit use of cell phones while at the Center. Internet will be available at the beginning and end of the Elephant Conservation Project, but will be available daily on the Amazing Thailand Adventure.

  • Each trip is staffed by a combination of western (American) and Thai 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.

  • We will eat a wide variety of Thai and ethnic food, as well as the occasional Western meal. Thailand is famous for its food, and this trip will awaken your tastes to flavors you didn’t even know existed. Almost all dietary concerns can be accommodated, but please alert us of any relevant restrictions beforehand just to make sure. Vegetarians welcome!

  • We will be drinking all bottled water. Bottled water is safe and readily available.

  • The Conservation Center is under an hour from Chiang Mai’s world-class hospitals. While on Amazing Thailand, every city we visit has a hospital with reliable medical care that caters to hundreds of Westerners every year. For the short time we will be in more rural areas farther from top-quality medical care, our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare depending on the severity of the situation.

  • Safety is a top priority at Rustic Pathways, and for that reason we ensure that all of our staff is certified at the very least 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. 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. The programs visit Chiang Mai, Lampang, Mae Hong Song, Pai and Bangkok. Most of these areas are largely considered to be malaria-free.

  • 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.

Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:

Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means bringing long shorts (think Bermuda and basketball shorts), t-shirts with sleeves to cover shoulders, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.

Rustic Gear. Want to get all your shopping done for your program in one place? We’ve got you covered. Check out Rustic Gear and get all the essentials sent right to your door.

Carry-On

A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport
  • 2 passport-sized photos
  • Wallet/money
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Chargers
  • Camera
  • Ear buds
  • Change of clothes
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Medication
  • Additional community service forms
  • Outlet power converter
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal. A wheeled bag is acceptable only if it can be carried like a duffel bag over rough terrain.

Clothes

  • Socks (2-4)
  • Underwear (8)
  • Pants/capris (1-2, lightweight)
  • Knee-length shorts (3-4)
  • Athletic shorts/leggings (1-2)
  • T-shirts (4-5)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2, lightweight)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket
  • Strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers
  • Flip-flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (for sun)
  • Quick dry towel

Toiletries

(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm w/sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contact solution
  • Foam earplugs
  • Personal med kit
  • Deodorant
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet wipes
  • Small packs of tissues
  • Razor/shaving cream

Miscellaneous

  • Headlamp/flashlight with extra batteries
  • A bag for dirty clothes

Optional

  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Pictures of family and friends
  • Travel pillow

Important Reminders

  • SE Asia is a conservative culture with ancient customs based mostly on Buddhism. Dressing respectfully is very important. You will not be allowed to wear short shorts and low cuts tops. Everyone will be expected to respect the people and culture by dressing appropriately.
  • Carry-On Luggage cannot weigh more than 7 kilos (15 lbs.)
  • Check-In Luggage cannot weigh more than 15 kilos (33 lbs.)
  • If your bags weigh more than the amounts specified above, the airlines in Southeast Asia will charge you an excess baggage fee for every kilo over the allowed limit. In past years, we have had students incur significant charges for excess baggage. These fees must be paid in cash at the check-in counter (no USD accepted), so this is a situation that we always try to avoid!