Welcome to Thailand! Mae Sariang is a quaint little mountain town that is home to the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home.
This program is your chance to become part of the extended family at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home, then spend quality time week working with a herd of elephants at one of Thailand’s most progressive elephant projects. Spend your first week at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home in the beautiful hills along Thailand’s western frontier. Explore the Chiang Mai region, hike to wondrous waterfalls and mountaintop temples, and come away with a new appreciation of this diverse country. Then, head to central Thailand to work beside some of Thailand’s most renowned elephant experts on relevant service projects. This is not a mahout training program, but rather a chance to learn all about these amazing creatures while interacting and caring for them at a beautiful private reserve.
With our No-Stress Travel Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.Read More
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 Airport Coordinator will help you get checked-in for your flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leader who 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!
Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.
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 friendly flight leader, you will meet our team of staff. You’ll have a chance to unwind and meet new friends who have arrived on different flights or are connecting from different programs.
As soon as all of the incoming students have arrived at the airport, it will be time to get ready for your connecting flight. You will be on the same flight up to Chiang Mai as all students connecting to programs based in Chiang Mai. The flight will take about one hour.
As soon as you step off the plane in this fascinating northern city, you’ll notice that everything is different from Bangkok. The air is a bit cooler (though still sticky!), and the tiny airport is adorned with live orchids.
After grabbing your bag, you’ll be met in the reception hall by our smiling Northern Thailand team of staff! These are some of the people who will be your hosts at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home.
Once everyone has their bags, it will be time to hop in our VIP vans and begin the trek out to Mae Sariang. Although it will have been a rather long day for most of you, this final leg of the journey is an exciting time for everyone. This is the first time that you’ll see rural Thailand, and the beauty of this area is sure to take your breath away. As you’ll learn in the days to come, Mae Sariang is a diverse town and a central hub for education and employment for hill tribe villagers from the surrounding mountains.
You’ll come to recognize hill tribe members by their distinctive cultural dress. By the end of your stay, you may even be sporting a traditional hand-woven shirt, longyi, or shoulder bag yourself!
The drive out to the Children’s Home is just a little under four hours. You will break up the trip with a nice dinner and be there before you know it!
Once you arrive at RPCH, you’ll be greeted by the Rustic Pathways students who have been at the home for at least a week, as well as the students who live at this facility and the rest of our team of staff. Sit down for a snack, take in your new surroundings, and enjoy a shower before bed.
Wake to a whole new world that the darkness of the night hid from you. Looking out from the main house, admire the lush rice paddies and a swift river adjoining the property. A rolling range of mountains dotted with temple tops and pagodas form the perfect scenic backdrop.
At breakfast, program orientation will begin, and you’ll meet the full team while enjoying some of the resident chef’s legendary cooking for the first time. After breakfast we’ll reconvene in the Big House, a gorgeous semi-open teak structure with breathtaking views, where your leaders will bring you up to speed on the family you are now part of. Here you will learn about the background of this Base, and get a great introduction to the people you will meet, projects you will aid, and the powerful effect you and your peers can have through your positive energy and willingness to help.
Tour the property of the Children’s Home and learn about our relationship with Baan Rai School just up the road where more than 300 Karen students study every day. Most of our Karen students at The Base attend Baan Rai School, but many of their classmates live in simple accommodations on the school grounds. Government funding provides them tuition, basic uniforms, and lunch at school.
This afternoon will be your first opportunity to jump into Karen and Thai culture. A short ride in our songthaews will bring you to the home of our long-time director, Yuttana, where his mother will teach you traditional Karen weaving as it has been practiced through generations. Even today, most Karen women learn to weave as little girls, and you’ll experience this tradition firsthand as you give weaving your best shot. After leaving your mark on a shoulder bag, visit a Buddhist temple to learn about Buddhism and its integral place in Thai culture. After our afternoon programming we’ll head back to the Children’s Home just in time to greet the students returning from school.
The morning orientation explains why this project exists, and when you see the students returning home your heart will fully understand, too. After greeting the students, the games begin! Cultural barriers fall as you and your Karen teammates join hands in activities.
Dinner provides more opportunities to learn about your peers on the other side of the world, and you may even be elected to participate in our dinner presentations, a chance for our Karen students to practice public speaking. After dinner you’ll lead some name-games to set the tone for a great week ahead!
In the evening, enjoy the sunset across the river, go for a run, play pick-up soccer, grab a guitar, or write in your journal.
Although you’ve just arrived, today is the start of the weekend! Rising early, you will review the plans for the weekend at breakfast. First on the agenda will be a trip to the Saturday market, just a short distance from the Children’s Home.
Only held on Saturdays, this market is one of the major weekly events in Mae Sariang. While it may not seem that impressive or exciting to you, the festive atmosphere is contagious, and you’ll soon find yourself having a great time interacting with the local people and perusing random items with your new friends. A little money goes a long way here, and our local staff will help you find the best deals and the tastiest snacks like nothing you’ve tried before.
After lunch at the Children’s Home, we are off on the ROAD. This is our Rural Outreach and Development program. This ambitious project was established to address some of the issues facing the Karen villages where our full-time students live with their families when they aren’t at The Base. Get your hands dirty working alongside the locals. After a satisfying day of service and play, you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep!
Wake up to the delicious smells of breakfast and the proud sights of your previous day’s work. After working up an appetite through a few hours of service, we’ll return to Mae Sariang. In the afternoon, you’ll enjoy the comforts, beauty, and people of the Children’s Home. Share stories, try your hand (or foot!) at the Thai sport takraw, exchange games and songs, and simply be present in your surroundings. Before going out for dinner at a local restaurant we’ll gather together for a debrief on the service project and a mid trip reflection.
With Monday morning around the corner, it’ll be time to start your lesson planning for your English activities in our local partner schools. Don’t worry; we have lots of experience with this! We’ll begin with everyone sharing ideas and techniques, and then our staff and veteran Rustic students will tell you what to expect in the classroom. Learn how to make a lesson plan, a few tricks that will help break the ice and get things off to a good start, and some classic classroom activities. Our staff will be around to make sure you are ready for the day ahead.
After breakfast and a quick review of your lesson plan, it’s time to facilitate the lessons! You will quickly learn that in an ESL classroom, speaking very slowly and clearly is your greatest asset. If you’re careful and energetic enough, you just might find that they’re hanging on your every word after just a few minutes! As this is likely your first attempt at really teaching a class (though you will be part of a team of a few students teaching together), don’t expect it to go perfectly. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will become. After teaching in the morning and afternoon, return to the Children’s Home for some downtime before heading out for a Traditional Thai massage.
In the evening, it’ll seem like you’ve learned a lifetime of lessons about teaching, so we’ll be sure to reflect and build on those before preparing for Tuesday’s teaching. Once again, our staff will be sure to help you along the way!
This morning, you will have another chance to work on your teaching skills. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve improved after only one day. Walking away from a great class is one of the best feelings in the world! After lunch return to the school to facilitate an outdoor English camp. This is one of the most exciting activities for the students, who will be given a chance to play games while using their newly learned English skills. As you walk out of the school for the last time you’ll be paraded with dozens of wai’s, handshakes, high-fives, and hugs.
Return to the Children’s Home and choose from one of many activities or and/or side trips to the areas around Mae Sariang the leaders have planned. These may include a Thai cooking lesson with our talented chef, meditation at a local monastery, market explorations, or a bicycle ride through the idyllic countryside.
After dinner, get excited for the festivities. For those only staying one week at the Children’s Home, this will be your last night in Mae Sariang and we always go out with a bang. Dancing, talent shows, slideshows, you name it! The night will end with our Rustic Ties ceremony which will give you a chance to reflect upon your week and share your memories with the friends you’ve made throughout the week.
After breakfast and some heartfelt goodbyes to your new friends at the RPCH, it is time for the next chapter of your experience. The first stop on the journey will be in the shadows of Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon, as you stop for a cool down at a towering waterfall. After snapping some photos and enjoying lunch in this natural setting, we’ll continue on to Chiang Mai. Upon arrival, you will venture up to Wat Doi Kham for some fantastic views from one of Chiang Mai’s most unique temples. At this famous Thai landmark, make offerings to bless your trip, before heading into town. After checking in to the hotel, we’ll have some time to relax before heading out for a nice dinner in town. .
Today, you will start your day with a visit to the Elephant Parade House to learn about this international organization that was created to help elephants all around the world. Next, you’ll head up to the top of Chiang Mai–Wat Prathet Doi Suthep–to see the city’s most iconic monument and some of the best views of the town below. Be sure to check out the monument to the white elephant which legend holds came to rest–while carrying a relic of the Buddha–at this very spot many centuries ago. After some time to freshen up, you will then enjoy a traditional khantoke dinner before perusing Chiang Mai Night Bazaar to bargain for souvenirs for your friends and family back home.
After breakfast, hop into vans and head south through verdant valleys and mountain passes on the five-hour drive to Phitsanulok, stopping at some villages known for their traditional craftwork along the way. As you leave Northern Thailand and enter the central provinces, notice the subtle change in culture and climate. Phitsanulok is located in a broad river valley that was home to the original Thai kingdoms before Burmese invasions forced Thailand to move its capital South.
Arriving at the Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary, we will check into our rooms and have some time to explore the expansive grounds. Take a dip in the Sanctuary’s sparkling pool and relax before enjoying dinner.
Enjoy breakfast at the Sappraiwan Center and jump right into your program. Meet the staff and learn about the goals of this unique conservation project. Due to Sappraiwan’s approach to elephant care, it is important to note that you will not be riding the elephants here at the sanctuary, but rather you will be learning all about how to care for these magnificent giants. You will engage in discussions of the immense benefits this method of conservation has for the elephants throughout the week, and by the end of our time here, you’ll understand these elephants’ lives the way a true conservationist does.
Don your traditional (yet fashionable!) “mahout suits”, and make offerings to the elephant god, Ganesh. Then make your way to meet the majestic herd of elephants.
Offering squash and sugar cane to help with the introductions, you will meet each elephant and learn its personality and position in the herd. Elephants have an
incredible sense of smell, so don’t be surprised by any wandering trunks for looking for extra treats in your pockets. You will be partnered with a mahout, and together, you will walk your elephant into the forest for their morning buffet of leaves, branches, tree bark, roots, and other treats found in their forest home.
Take the elephants down to the lake for a soak, one of their favorite activities. Slowly the elephants will become more comfortable with you as you become a part of their routine and member of the extended herd. You’ll then lead your new “ele-friends” to their stables, where they will rest while their mahouts have lunch. After lunch take the elephants to their training center and learn about the “target training” method used by Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary. This new method uses positive reinforcement, in the form of sweet fruits, to teach the elephants to present different parts of their body for inspection. Should an elephant ever require medical care, training the elephants using positive reinforcement will make examination and treatment safe and stress-free for everyone involved.
Getting an early start this morning, you’ll have the unique opportunity to work as a true conservationist by weeding and
harvesting in the Sappraiwan Center’s own extensive garden. The Center grows much of its own food for the elephants onsite, and you will see firsthand the immense task it is to feed these massive vegetarians. In the true way of a mahout, you’ll get an early start this morning and make an impact by helping your mahout collect banana trees, pineapple leaves, tall grass, and other food to add extra nutrition and variety to your elephant’s diet.
In the afternoon, help your mahout create an enrichment activity for your elephant. Stand back and watch the herd play with car tires, rope bags, and other toys that will keep the elephants engaged and stimulated. There will still be time to join in a set of traditional Thai games before bringing the herd into the jungle for the night. Let the staff teach you popular Thai children’s songs featuring elephants and chickens, as you learn the dance moves that go with them!
Today you will go on an excursion through the countryside to Pha Tat Pa Son Kaew Temple. The unique architecture and stunning views from this temple have made it a destination for people across Thailand. At the temple you will learn about the important role Buddhism plays in Thai culture, and you can even make an offering to the Buddha yourself. Explore the nearby forest on a short hike (if weather/conditions allow) and then make your way back through the verdant countryside to Sappraiwan. Upon your return, gather as a group for a discussion of the future that Asian elephants face in Thailand, and what you can actively do to sustain their numbers and ensure the survival of this majestic species. Then, watch a movie about elephant conservation that will help put everything that you have been doing into perspective.
After trekking out to gather the elephants in the morning, enjoy breakfast before learning some traditional mahout skills. In the past, mahouts spent their entire lives in the jungle caring for elephants, and they’ve got several tricks up their sleeves to share with you about jungle life. You will have a chance to help make utensils and cooking pots out of bamboo before you cook up a traditional Thai lunch over a fire in true forest fashion.
Though they are massive animals, elephants are surprisingly sensitive to a variety of ailments and require constant care to treat infections and wounds that are inevitable as they forage through the thick foliage. You’ll follow your mahouts into the forest as they show you the different grasses, roots, and herbs that are used as herbal remedies to help the elephants with health issues. You’ll even learn which species of plants can treat human wounds or sicknesses too! Observe the elephants interacting naturally with their sisters, brothers, mothers, and best friends before they dive trunk first into the lake for an afternoon swim. In the evening, you’ll head to a local market to shop for some souvenirs before returning to the camp for the night.
Rising early, today you will feed and take your elephants to the jungle for the last time. Once that work is done, you will have a chance to experience a one of a kind piece of Thai culture, Muay Thai kickboxing. This ancient form of martial arts is now popular all of the world as an effective form of self defense with deep cultural significance in SE Asian. Learn the different strike and blocking forms with local teachers and then put your new skills to work with progressive bag and pad training.
Back at Sappraiwan, you will spend the afternoon working with the herd and getting ready for a final night campfire with your new mahout friends. At a special ceremony you will receive your certificate for completion of your program and then have time for an emotional goodbye to you new four-legged family.
In the morning fly to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport where you can connect to other programs or fly home. Chok dee, and come back to visit us in the Land of Smiles!
**All students on our group flights arrive home on Fridays, regardless of whether they return to JFK or LAX. **
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.
“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.
“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This program offers students the best of two worlds – the chance to spend time with the amazing community at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home, then also spend time helping out at one of Thailand’s most unique elephant sanctuaries. It would be a shame to come all the way to Thailand and miss out on making friends with our friends at the Children’s Home or the chance to spend time with elephants, and this program helps ensure that won’t happen for you. After spending time in these two special places, you will come away with a real appreciation for the wonderful people and the fascinating pachyderms that call this place home.
While spending time with elephants is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, most students return home feeling very connected to the students at the Children’s Home. Since the children are mostly 12 -17 years old and they speak English, you can expect to get to know them on a personal level while learning about their lives.
The Children’s Home and Elephant Sanctuary spends the first week immersing you in life outside of Mae Sariang in western Thailand. The accommodations here are simple but comfortable, with four to eight students per room. Additionally you will spend one night in a local village while working on an ongoing infrastructure service project. Students will then spend two nights at a hotel in Chiang Mai before making their way to Phitsanulok, home of the Sappraiwan Elephant Conservation Center, a resort located on 300 acres of forest and home to the happiest herd of elephants in Thailand. Accommodations at the camp are quite comfortable, and students should expect to sleep two to a room.
The Children’s Home is a facility that was built in 2007 to help support the many students from all around Mae Hong Son Province who live away from their parents to attend the Baan Rai School. Rustic Pathways has supported scores of students over the years, many of whom who have gone on to graduate from well-respected universities all around the country. While here you will have the opportunity to make real connections with the community here while helping the young people here on their journey to great things, all while having a really good time.
The Rustic Pathways Children’s Home has been recently renovated and is a stunning teak structure with rooms and verandas overlooking the lush rice fields and river below. Bathrooms have western toilets and hot water and you will be sleeping on simple, comfortable mattresses with mosquito nets. In the village accommodations are more basic as bathrooms feauture squat toilets and no hot water. But fear not! Most students really enjoy the chance to sleep overnight in a traditional village.
Accommodations in Chiang Mai and at Sappraiwan have standard hotel amenities, a pool and lots of forests and gardens to explore.
Rustic Pathways plays a large role in supporting several local schools near the Children’s Home. We have supported various projects throughout the years in the area, and thanks to the work of our students, this district has become one of the top performing districts in northern Thailand! Every Monday and Tuesday you will focus on education enrichment activities which are designed to supplement the education of local students. Rustic staff will show you the basics of lesson planning and help you design engaging, team-taught classes that plug directly in to their ongoing curriculum.
During the evenings at the RPCH, you will join conversationally focused activities to help the residents gain confidence in using their English. Each weekend, you will venture out on the Rural Outreach and Development project at Mae Lai village, where you will put in some solid hours working on a physically engaging infrastructure project. In short, you will have the chance to do a variety of different projects each week!
There are many approaches to working with elephants, and the Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary does not allow elephant riding. If you are seeking a more hands-on experience with elephants that includes riding, you should consider the Thai Elephant Conservation Project, which can also be connected with the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home for a two week experience.
Your work at the sanctuary will focus on learning all about the herd and how each elephant fits in to the hierarchy. You will also learn how mahouts care for their elephants, what the daily routine looks like, and help create “target training” activities designed to create an enriching environment for the elephants to enjoy.
Elephants are one of the most social, intelligent and personable creatures on the planet. Elephants in the wild can be dangerous, particularly males who are in “musth”. However all the elephants taking part in our program have been working with students for many years and have proven extremely friendly. Students are trained from day one on how to interact with elephants, approach them properly and safely. Each Elephant has its own full time Mahout who is always present when students are with their elephants. Rustic Pathways has never had a major incident involving an elephant and student.
Laundry will be available to students once every few days. During the time at the Sappraiwan Center, you’ll be provided with two mahout suits that you’ll wear while working with the elephants. Your mahout suit is made of thick cotton, which over the week will absorb your scent making it easier for your elephant to get to know and trust you.
There are mosquitoes–and other fascinating, harmless bugs–around, as you are in the lush mountains of Southeast Asia!
However they are really not too bothersome, just be prepared to use insect repellant regularly each day. We also recommend bringing
lightweight pants and long sleeves to wear at dinnertime when mosquitos are most active.
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 northern Thailand.For up-to-date information to help your decision please visit the International SOS website and use the membership login information provided to you in your Acceptance Letter to access the fantastic resources that they have available. This program visits Chiang Mai, Mae Sariang, and Phitsalulok.
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
It can be quite hot some days, but it’s almost always humid during the daytime, getting slightly cooler in the mountains at night. Short, daily downpours
happen most days–usually about a half hour or so–but they usually provide a welcome break from the heat.
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 Children’s Home, we ask that shorts are at least fingertip-length and any tank-top straps are at least the width of three fingers. You’ll see more detailed guidelines in the Packing List.
We challenge students to strictly limit the amount of time they spend on their phones each day, but internet is available as needed.
Each trip is staffed by a combination of international and Thai leaders, and in most cases each team will include a nationally licensed guide, along with male and female international staff. We never have fewer than one staff member for every seven students.
We will eat a wide variety of Thai and ethnic food, as well as the occasional
international 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 throughout your trip. The local tap water is safe to brush your teeth and bathe in.
For the first week students nearest hospital will be down the road in Mae Sariang. There are several international hospitals in Chiang Mai for serious emergencies. While at the Sappraiwan Center, the nearest international hospital is in Phitsanulok, For the short time we will be in more rural areas farther from top-quality medical care, we will have Wildreness First Responder certified staff and clear Risk Management and evacuations plans.
Here is a detailed packing list for your trip to Southeast Asia this summer. Remember that you will be responsible for carrying your belongings everywhere you go, so PACK LIGHT! We recommend using a medium-sized wheeled duffel bag or a backpacking backpack as your checked luggage. If your bag weigh more than 35 pounds you have probably over-packed!
Weather in Southeast Asia
The summer time is known as the “rainy season” or the “green season” in Southeast Asia–days are generally hot and humid, with brief and refreshing showers that keep everything lush and green. Temperatures cool off once the sun goes down making for pleasant evenings. Because of the heat, you will need to drink a lot more water than you are used to drinking to stay hydrated!
When visiting temples you will need to dress appropriately. Wearing clean, modest clothes that cover the knees and shoulders is a must. Being respectful is the name of the game!
A Note to Females About Attire in Rural Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian cultures are 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 we work with, we strongly urge you to dress respectfully. Students and staff must realize that when they dress improperly, they are embarrassing everyone around them. If you are not wearing proper attire, you may need to change your clothes or abstain from the service project of the day.
To dress respectfully in Southeast Asia, please don’t wear short shorts, low cut tops, or tank tops while out in public areas. In most cases, shorts that cover just above the knees are fine. As mentioned above, yoga pants and leggings are not appropriate.
Access to laundry can vary, but you will have access to laundry at least once a week while on the program. Expect to pay between $8-$22 per load.
A school backpack or daypack is ideal as it will be used for hiking/ day trips.
A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.
Most general toiletries are available throughout the region. We suggest packing all items that could leak in a plastic or ziploc bag
Additional and Optional Items:
Welcome to Thailand! Mae Sariang is a quaint little mountain town that is home to the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home.
The largest and most populated city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna. Its history dates back over 700 years. Rustic Pathways Thailand has a Base House, an office and serves as the headquarters for almost all programs that operate in Thailand. Enjoy some shopping a the famous Night Bazaar.
Welcome to the Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary. Here students will spend the majority of their time learning about elephant conservation and care.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site of the former Sukhothai Kingdom of the 13th and 14th century, there are 193 ruins on 70 square km of land. Explore the ruins and learn about the history of this great kingdom.