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Take an in-depth look at this historically closed nation and the role media have played in its emerging democracy. Speak with local artists, filmmakers, students, and families about the power of storytelling in defending democracy and how the nation is changing as it opens to the world. Learn why unrestricted exchange of ideas and a free and fair press are central pillars in a representative government and discover how Myanmar’s road to democracy has been paved with protest and peril.

Components of a Critical Issues Program

  1. Deliberate Focus: Students explore specific global issues as they exist in communities around the world.
  2. Pre-Travel Engagement: Prior to their arrival in the program’s base country, students build an understanding of the issue their program focuses on through readings, film screenings, and various learning opportunities.
  3. Program Content and Discussion: Students progress through a curriculum comprised of activities, discussions, and debriefs designed to expand their understanding and exploration of key topics.
  4. Program Staff: Program Leaders on Critical Issues programs have intimate local knowledge and an academic or professional background in the focus area.

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.

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2018 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
July 10 July 27 Available

Program Profile


  • Day 1

    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 Airport Coordinator will help you get checked in to your international flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leaders who will escort you all the way to Myanmar! Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Singapore.

  • Day 2

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

  • Day 3

    Arrive in Yangon and meet your incredible local team at the airport. This week your local team will be comprised of Burmese staff from both central Myanmar and the ethnic minority states. Additionally, you’ll have non-local staff with a background in documentary work or journalism. This team will be with you all week and guide you develop your storytelling concept.

    From the airport, head directly to your hotel to get settled in. As you drive through the streets of Yangon, pass by teashops, noodle stalls, and marketplaces. Formerly one of the most closed nations in the world, Myanmar is slowly making strides to open itself up to the outside world. Admire the thanaka-daubed faces of Burmese women, the handy way the men knot their longyis, and the dignity of saffron-robed monks as they all pass each other on the streets.

    After settling into the hotel, head to the beautiful golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous religious site in the nation. Most Burmese, even those living in the furthest reaches of the country, will try to make a pilgrimage here at some point in their lives. Take in the beauty of this ancient pagoda and use this opportunity to hear the incredible stories the pilgrims bring with them.

    After sunset, head out for a traditional Burmese dinner before heading back to the hotel.

  • Day 4

    Rise early to the sound of monks chanting and the streets of Yangon coming alive. This morning, you’ll go through orientation to local culture and language. Spend the morning learning the subtle art of storytelling. Our experienced staff will help you develop your skills through a series of activities. After this morning, you’ll have both a story concept and some new skills for gathering that story.

    Enjoy a traditional Bamar lunch at one of the most famous restaurants in town and then head out into Yangon to put your new skills to practice. You’ll spend the afternoon getting to know life in Myanmar through the eyes of local Burmese. Explore the famous Bogyoke Market, strike up conversations at local teashops, and interview local University students. Today will be your first opportunity to dive into your storytelling concept.

  • Day 5

    Today you’ll have a chance to hear directly from Burmese storytellers themselves—including artists and documentary filmmakers. Rise early to visit a local monastery and give alms to monks. Almsgiving is an integral part of the Buddhist tradition and an important experience to help you understand Burmese culture. Heading back to the hotel to get ready for the day, stop at a local teashop for morning tea and snacks.

    After getting ready for the day, head over to one of the most famous local art galleries to get a taste of Burmese art. Prior to 2011, most artistic expression was either banned or highly censored. Hear directly from local artists about their experience creating art during this period and how their experience has changed over the past decade.

    After lunch, you’ll have an opportunity to meet with local Burmese filmmakers and screen some of their work. This is a unique opportunity to discuss the complexities of storytelling in an emerging democracy and learn the art of storytelling from local masters.

    Before the sun sets, head out to Inya Lake, a place where young Burmese enjoy relaxing with their friends. This is a great place to meet Burmese University students and young professionals and they have an entirely unique perspective on their rapidly developing country. Spend time striking up conversations and hearing stories before heading out to dinner at one of the most famous homes in Myanmar—the former office and residence of Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San.

  • Day 6

    Today you will catch a quick flight west to Heho, the gateway to the enchanting Shan State. Nestled high in the mountains, this is one of the more diversely populated areas of Myanmar. Upon arrival, you will take a short, gorgeous bus ride to Kalaw—a town that once served as a retreat for the British back in colonial times. This afternoon, you will tour the town and learn a bit about the fascinating history of Kalaw and its diverse population.

  • Day 7

    Today will be spent meeting various people from the wide variety of ethnic minority groups represented in Kalaw. Share parts of your cultures and languages—Burmese, Chan, English, Pah-Oh, Danu, and many more. People in this region have been dealing with issues including conservation, agriculture, human trafficking, and land disputes for a long time. Thinking back to the beginning of your adventure, by now many of the issues you have heard about will start sinking in a bit more as you see the reality of life in this part of the country.

  • Day 8 - 9

    Over the next two days, you will be trekking the famous route from Kalaw to Inle Lake, visiting villages and learning about life here in the Kalaw region. This is one of the hidden gems of the world – a stunningly beautiful trek through fields and over mountain passes.  Spend the night in a village guesthouse with simple amenities.

    On the second day, your hike will finish at the southern edge of the renowned Inle Lake. Relax on a boat ride past water buffalo, fishing dams, and traditional Intha leg-rowing fishermen. During the evening you will continue your conversations about all that you have seen over the past weeks and have some time to reflect as a group and work on your projects.

  • Day 10

    This morning you’ll head to the airport for a short one-hour flight to Mandalay, one of the most famous and intriguing cities in all of Southeast Asia. Mandalay is cooler, calmer, and much more colorful than Yangon. It is also home to seventy percent of all the Buddhist monks in Myanmar.

    After arriving in Mandalay, check into your hotel and head directly to lunch at a famous local Shan restaurant. After lunch, a tiny village at the end of U Bein Bridge is the home of our Myanmar Country Manager, Myint Zaw. This village provides a great opportunity to really begin to explore everyday life in Mandalay. You’ll have an opportunity to interview Myint Zaw’s family and learn about the complicated land rights issues playing out in Myanmar, an issue that has very deeply impacted Myint Zaw’s family. Late in the afternoon you’ll climb the steps of Mandalay Hill for a unique sunset from one of Mandalay’s most famous temples.

  • Day 11

    Rise early to visit a local monastery and give alms to monks. Almsgiving is an integral part of the Buddhist tradition and an important experience to help you understand Burmese culture.  Mandalay is the home of 70% of the buddhist monks in Myanmar.  

    Spend the rest of today on unique interviews meeting various journalists and learning about free press their efforts to share news and during times of strict military rule.

    In the late afternoon, you will walk along U Bein Bridge, believed to be the world’s oldest and longest teakwood bridge.  Many members of our team used to work here.  Learn about their stories as you take in the view from a private boat.

  • Day 12

    Rise very early today as you’ll be catching a boat for a unique journey on the infamous Irrawaddy River, floating from the urban heart of Mandalay to the dusty outpost of Bagan, the former capital of the Bagan empire. Take in the views of river banks lined with stupas and pagodas. Embrace the slow, tranquil pace of life as you pass villages along the way. The boat is scheduled to leave at 6:30 am, arriving at 4 pm.  Please note that each journey is different depending on the conditions and level of the river.

    The ancient temples of Bagan are stunning and wide-open to visitors. As you wander the dusty roads exploring the hundreds of temples that dot the landscape, you will be amazed at the ingenuity and skill of the ancient craftsmen who created these incredible structures. As the sun sets, you’ll head to the top of an isolated temple to watch the sunset over the ancient ruins.

  • Day 13

    Your morning starts with a trip to the local market where you will help shop for the food that will become your dinner tonight. The local market is very colorful – like a Thai market many decades ago. While at the market, you’ll have an opportunity to observe firsthand the changes taking place in the market as Bagan develops. While the food you bought heads off by boat where it will be prepared for dinner, you head off to meet several local families who have been impacted by the development that tourism has brought to Myanmar. Spend time interviewing these families and hearing their perspective on how their country has changed.

    After lunch you will head out by chartered boat across the Irrawaddy River. Your destination is a small island in the middle of the river rarely visited by tourists–home to several of Rustic Pathways’ staff members and their extended families. This isolated village provides a glimpse of traditional life in Myanmar that tourists don’t have an opportunity to experience.

    You’ll spend the afternoon exploring this traditional village, meeting with teachers, elders, the head of the village, local housewives, and other teenagers. You’ll play soccer and cane ball, ride oxen, and share a traditional Burmese dinner in the home of one of our friends on the Island. You will cruise home to Bagan after dinner, catching an amazing view of the temples of Bagan that most tourists never see.

  • Day 14

    Today, you will set out to explore Bagan and get to know your new temporary home. Your first stop will be a lacquerware shop where local artisans are preserving the centuries-old practice of creating lacquered dishes and bowls. Some of the world’s finest lacquerware has been produced in Bagan and you’ll be amazed at how beautiful and complicated this ancient art is.

    After some refreshing Shan green tea, you will set out on a bus ride to Mount Popa. Spiritually one of the most significant places in the country for the Burmese, Mount Popa is home to the Nats, guardian spirits who look over the people in their daily lives. At Mount Popa you will climb to the top of the peak and pay your respects to the Nats. As you gaze out over the Bagan plain you will reflect on Mt. Popa’s fascinating blend of Animism and Buddhism. During the bus ride, stop to sample fresh sugar cane juice and palm sugar sweets at one of the many palm plantations that line the road to Bagan.

    After returning to Old Bagan, this afternoon you’ll have the chance to explore the trails and pagodas of Bagan by bicycle! Wander through the dusty paths and soon you’ll find that your group has an entire pagoda to itself. Soak in the views from a totally different angle. After the bike rides, freshen up at the hotel before one last refreshing dinner in Bagan.

  • Day 15

    This morning, you’ll have the chance to visit a local language center supporting Burmese teenagers, university students, and young professionals. Sit down with their volunteer teachers to learn about their initiatives for increased access to education and goals for their students.  Spend an hour of conversation and interview time with local students in a unique cultural exchange.

    Heading back to your hotel in the early afternoon, you’ll have an evening flight back to Yangon.

  • Day 16

    Today is focused on wrapping up your project and showcasing your work. Compile all your interview notes, footage, sound bites and all the other gems you collected on this journey. Work together with your group and program leaders to encapsulate everything you’ve been striving towards these past two weeks.

    After a closing feast, tonight you and your group will reflect back on this unique program and the bonds you’ve formed. Finally, wrap it all up in Rustic Pathways’ closing ceremony.

  • Day 17

    With sad goodbyes, it is time for the journey to end. Grab some snacks and souvenirs before you head to the airport and say goodbye to the friends and program leaders you’ve traveled with for the past two weeks.

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.

“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 burma@rusticpathways.com

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.


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

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

Checked Luggage

A 25-35 Liter duffel bag or backpack is recommended due to the amount of traveling.


  • Socks (2-4)
  • Underwear (7)
  • Pants/capris (1-2, lightweight)
  • Knee-length shorts (3-4)
  • Athletic shorts/leggings (1-2)
  • T-shirts (4-6)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2, lightweight)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Fleece/hoodie
  • 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


  • Headlamp/flashlight with extra batteries
  • A bag for dirty clothes
  • Personal camera (video or photo)
  • Voice recording device (possible to use iPhone depending on storage capacity)
  • Tripod (optional, for video cameras only)
  • Journal for notes


  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Pictures of family and friends to share with your new friends in Thailand
  • 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!
  • You will have 2-3 chances to do laundry on this trip, please pack light!
  1. a

    Here is where your adventure will begin and you’ll spend the first few days getting acquainted with local culture and traditions.

  2. b
    Shan State

    Learn about the Shan State of Burma by exploring the region and meeting locals from various ethnic minority groups.

  3. c

    Explore one of the most famous and intriguing cities in all of Southeast Asia. Mandalay is home to seventy percent of all the Buddhist monks in Myanmar

  4. d

    Travel by boat to Bagan where you will visit the ancient temples, explore local markets, and visit a local language center.