Traveling to Thailand for an Outdoor Adventure
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Traveling to Thailand for an Outdoor Adventure

Travelers who want adventure are increasingly adding Thailand to their bucket list of places where they must visit. In a recent U.S. News and World Report survey, the nation ranked fifth in the world for adventure. That’s good news for thrill-seeking students traveling to Thailand this coming summer.

For them, a popular program choice is the action-packed Southeast Asian Adventurer trip. It has a little bit of everything – adrenaline-pumping thrills, conservation lessons, cultural activities, and plenty of time outdoors with animals and nature.

Southeast Asian Regional Manager Keegan Kennedy says the program tends to attract gungho teens who have a variety of interests. One of the highlights is a chance to try rock climbing at one the most famous climbing destinations in the world. In southern Thailand, the Tonsai and Railay Bays are surrounded by cliffs on all sides. At this site climbers of all different ability levels scale limestone karsts that overhang the beach.

Kennedy says sometimes students are a bit afraid to try climbing, but they are thankful when they give it a try. He particularly remembers one case where a student who was afraid of heights almost passed on the opportunity.

“When her friends started doing it and getting to the top, she decided to try and the nerves went away as she climbed. It was great to see how excited and how proud she was,” Kennedy said. “It was a growing moment for them on the trip.”

Before the students reach the beaches in the south, the students spend a number of days enjoying the culture and the scenery in northern Thailand.

Exploring Mountainous Northern Thailand

Students begin their journey in Chiang Mai, which is the second largest city in Thailand and the former seat of the Lanna Kingdom. One of the first activities is an introduction to an important cultural aspect of Thai life – its food.

Students take a cooking class to learn why Thai food is treasured worldwide for being both healthy and flavorful. The teens learn how to utilize many of the spices and herbs that are popular in the cuisine. After getting their fill, students continue their cultural lessons by taking a class in Muay Thai or Thai kickboxing.

Students learn about the spiritual aspects of this activity, along with basic fighting techniques. Afterwards, they head out for their first outdoor adventure during the trip, traveling to the Bua Tong or Sticky Waterfalls for a swim. It got its name from the rocks that have enough friction to allow visitors to climb up the waterfall. There are guide ropes to help, but generally the minerals in the tiered rocks make climbing relatively easy.

After visiting the falls, the students explore the caves of Chiang Dao. The cave system includes 100 caves, but only five are open to the public. The caves include many shrines, statues and Buddha images, since they are considered sacred spaces.

After a day of hiking, the students get their first dose of adrenaline while white water rafting on the Mae Tang River. Then a couple days later they also go zip lining high above the forests. Alumnus Ryan Barish who traveled on this program in 2019 says the thrills he enjoyed during the trip opened his eyes to activities he didn’t think he’d ever do.

“I was always the person who was afraid of heights and was not open to trying new things, but this trip indeed changed my outlook on life,” Barish said.

Such student perspectives are also influenced by the lessons centering on conservation. In between the adventure activities, the students dive into environmental topics taught by ecologists from Chiang Mai University.

The students will explore the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, which is a biodiversity hotspot. There they’ll learn about endemic species and search for seeds to plant in an amazing mountaintop rainforest.

Afterwards, the teens hike to Chiang Mai’s most sacred temple, the golden Wat Doi Suthep temple and travel to Thailand’s Grand Canyon. It’s carved out of red clay soil and has deep tranquil waters amid the cliffs.

The site includes an inflatable jungle gym that gives the students a water experience that they’ll love. It’s a grin-producing wild-and-wet day before the students prepare to learn about an essential topic  – animal conservation.

Learning about Elephant Conservation

About mid-way through the trip the students head to an elephant sanctuary where they learn about conservation efforts for endangered Asian elephants. The elephant plays an important role in Thai culture and history. They were used by kings in battle and are a national symbol that can be seen on objects ranging from coins to architecture and artwork. They are also said to bring good fortune.

The sanctuary allows students to see an elephant herd in its natural habitat and to partake in caretaking activities for the animals, such as food preparation and cleaning. Kennedy said it’s complicated work to conserve such large and high maintenance animals, so they discuss the pros and cons of different approaches.

This will be one of several opportunities students will have to interact with locals in Thailand. Audrey Mitchell who traveled with Rustic Pathways to Thailand in 2019 says spending time with local residents was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

“Without exception, the people we met welcomed us warmly into their homes, businesses, and places of worship,” Mitchell said. “They proudly shared their lives, customs and traditions with us, and we quickly learned they were as interested in learning about us, as we were about them.”

-These types of interactions continue as the students prepare to head to a different part of Thailand. After saying farewell to the elephants and their caregivers, the students take a scenic ride down a jungle river, and then return to Chiang Mai. They start the next morning by taking a bicycle ride through the outskirts of the city before it’s time to head south to Bangkok.

A Journey Through Southern Thailand

When the students arrive in Bangkok they will head to Siam Square, which is the shopping and entertainment center for the city. The area is a popular destination for local university students.

Later the teens get a different view of the city as they take a boat ride on the city’s canals. They’ll visit the district that is home to the famous Emerald Buddha and Royal Palace.

The Emerald Buddha is made of semi-precious jade stone and clothed in gold. For hundreds of years it was moved around various parts of southeast Asia, but it has been located in Bangkok since the late 1700s. It’s believed that the figurine has protective powers.

The palace is on the same grounds as the temple holding the Buddha statue and has been the residence of the Kings of Siam for hundreds of years. It still serves as an important ceremonial center.

After finishing lessons about Bangkok’s past, the students travel to the Krabi province in southern Thailand. This is where they will have the chance to try rock climbing.

The teens will also take a longtail boat ride to nearby islands and have time to snorkel, swim and enjoy the beach. The deep blue waters are teeming with a diversity of marine life and vibrant coral reefs.

As the students wind down their trip, they’ll have time to reflect and relax. The mother of Rustic alumna Madison Jennings said as the trip concluded she realized what an unforgettable experience it was for her daughter. Looking back, she is glad that her daughter had the chance to see such an incredible region of the world.

“The friends she made, the elephants she touched, the people she interacted with, the culture she absorbed… all were gifts to her that she will treasure forever,” Kelly Jennings said.

For more details on all that this summer’s trip has to offer, please visit our Thailand program page.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.