Finding Joy in the Land of Smiles: Why Students Love This Program
All Articles

Finding Joy in the Land of Smiles: Why Students Love This Program

For more than a decade students have traveled to southeast Asia for the Amazing Thailand program that shows teens highlights of the country. Southeast Asia Regional Manager Keegan Kennedy says the staff has been running this Rustic program so long that it is easy for staffers to give students the best journey possible.

“We have several trips in Thailand for different types of students,” Keegan said. “The Amazing Thailand program is for students who want more comfort…. and incredible, really cool experiences.”

Rustic Pathways students in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Rustic Pathways students in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The program begins in mountainous northern Thailand in Chiang Mai, which was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The city often is on travel lists as being among the best small metropolitan areas in the world.

Early activities include an introduction to Muay Thai kickboxing and a Thai cooking class. Alumna Abigail Evangelista says the food was among the highlights of her trip.

Rustic students enjoy food in Thailand. Credit: Rustic Pathways

“I tried new foods and drinks I would never have had the opportunity to try elsewhere,” Evangelista said. “To this day I still do not completely know what I ate. But I will never forget trying crickets and actually enjoying them! … I will also never forget my first authentic Thai street food – roti (flatbread). I have even tried finding local Thai restaurants in the U.S., but none of them can make roti as good as the ones in the markets of Thailand.”

After a busy time cooking, the students finish up the day by heading up a mountain to see the Doi Suthep Temple, and then heading to the Chiang Dao Eco-lodge. While in this region, the travelers visit a network of caves, sometimes led by lantern light. This is one of several spiritual places students visit along the way.

The students also later visit Wat Pho in Bangkok, which is one of Thailand’s most famous temples and home to the largest reclining Buddha in the world. Evangelista found the lessons about Buddhism and spirituality during the program to be eye-opening.

“Along the way there were several Buddhist teachings (in Thai and English) which led to deeper reflection,” Evangelista said. “I remember I made self-confidence a focal point during my reflection, something I struggled with the year prior… While it may sound cliché, my time meditating and being a part of the Thai Buddhist culture led me to be more confident in who I am.”

The scenery adds to these opportunities for reflection. Outside of the caves in Chiang Dao, students view limestone cliffs and a jungle canopy. They also take a bike tour past rice fields with the greenest of greens. Then it is time to head south.

Exploring Southern Thailand

The students board a flight south to the island of Phuket in the Andaman Sea, which is one of the premier beach locations in Thailand. The island has a diverse population, including residents of Chinese, Malay, Burmese, Lao and Cambodian descent.

There students enjoy the beach and snorkel to see the vibrant marine life. After a relaxing day, it’s time to head to Bangkok.

Kennedy says one of the highlights of this part of the trip is seeing in action the Muay Thai kickboxing the students learned about earlier in the program. They watch the ancient art at the Lumpinee stadium, which Kennedy says is a quite impressive event.

While in Bangkok, the students also see a famous Emerald Buddha, get a Thai massage, and cruise through the canals on a long-tail boat.

“The students see neighborhoods on the canal and monitor lizards on the side of the river, along with the general hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a really cool scene,” Kennedy said. They also visit a big Asian market on the last night.”

Along the way, alumna Maria Araujo says she had a fantastic time interacting with the people, which is an important aspect of every Rustic program.

“Thailand is called “The Land of the Smiles” for a reason, and it’s because their citizens always  have a smile on their faces,” Araujo said. “The experience helped me realize that besides the cultural, language and race differences, we all had a lot in common.”

On top of this, another good aspect of the program is that it works well for both new and experienced travelers. The Western amenities make it easier for teens on their first trip, but the exotic aspects of the journey are perfect for veteran travelers.

Alumna Lil Keller is among those veterans. She traveled with Rustic to Thailand and on two other Rustic programs in the Americas after going on a number of trips with her family.

Photo: Lil Keller

“I have been to all seven continents and over 60 countries and I can say with absolute confidence that the three Rustic Pathways trips I went on are in my top 5 of all time,” Keller said.

One of the highlights of the Thailand program that made it rank so high on her list is the bond she made with her fellow travelers.

“By the end of the fastest two weeks, we were all inseparable,” Keller said. “I can say by the end of the trip, I had twelve good friends that I wanted to keep in contact with always.”

Copyright: Rustic Pathways

Alumna Tingyuan Chen found these relationships important as well when she traveled to Thailand. And she echoes the sentiments of other travelers that her trip to Thailand gave her so many worthwhile memories – along with the confidence to keep traveling long after her high school days.

“During the trip to Thailand, I had so much fun by tasting exotic cuisine and experiencing local Thai culture,” Chen said. “For me, the trip was all about being independent… Along the way, I built the habit of learning ceaselessly and keeping my mind open each time I went to different countries.”

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer