This program is a deep dive into the complex global issues of migration, marginalized communities, and citizenship. It’s an exploration of the context of Myanmar and its displaced people, many of whom have found new lives in Thailand for decades. Begin the experience by exploring life in the dynamic border town of Mae Sot, where you will spend quality time at a school for refugee students from across Myanmar. Get acquainted with these inspiring students and hear their stories of perseverance while sharing your life experience with them. Learn about the complexities of being a displaced person, and about the dreams of someday returning home to a free nation. Sit down with representatives from mission-driven organizations throughout the program, learning about ongoing initiatives in remote areas. Cross the border into the Shan State of Myanmar, and examine the complex challenges facing the residents of this fascinating and rugged region. Practice responsible journalistic techniques as you conduct in-depth interviews with these people about their lives, hopes, and dreams. You’ll be forever changed by this experience.
Components of a Critical Issues Program
Sawatdee, Mingalaba, and welcome to Mae Sot, the largest town along the remote border between Thailand and Myanmar. Earlier in the day you transferred through the glass and steel of Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, meeting new friends and trying new foods before hopping on the one-hour flight north. Now, as the sun sets, you are eating your first northern Thai dinner and taking in the rich atmosphere with your new Rustic crew. You will meet, greet, orient yourself, and begin to delve into the issues, people, and places that you will be encountering in the coming weeks. The hills of Northern Thailand border the Karen and Shan highlands in Myanmar and northern Laos. For hundreds of years these verdant mountains have been a place of refuge and a migration destination of ethnic groups from all over Asia. The settlement of these remote, isolated valleys by hill tribe groups has created an amazing fabric of ethnic diversity that is unique in the world. It is here that you will begin your expedition of the issues that these communities face in a rapidly changing world.
In the afternoon, you will continue to learn about the challenging and complicated history of Burma (Myanmar) by visiting AAPP (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners) and interviewing former political prisoners from Burma (Myanmar) who now reside in Mae Sot.
Today you will be spending the majority of your time working with students at the Minmahaw School, a unique place for students who come from Myanmar and have otherwise very limited access to an education. Minmahaw is an English intensive school that draws its student body from ethnic groups and villages all over Myanmar. Over the years, Rustic Pathways’ students have developed strong ties with this community, and the students here will help provide you with invaluable context about what it is like to grow up in this corner of the world. Every individual’s story is a bit different, and discovering just how much many of these students have overcome in their young lives is sure to be a humbling experience.
For our last full day in region you will take time to learn about and explore Mae Sot, visiting clinics and speaking with local leaders about the issues facing the town and its constituents. Many ethnic minorities cross over the border into Thailand to escape fighting in their country or simply to find a better opportunity for work and education. You will talk with a number of Karen people who comprise the vast majority of refugees in Thailand. You’ll also visit the Borderline Café, where you will meet and interview artists from around Burma (Myanmar). Tonight will also be our final night in Mae Sot, so you can expect a delicious dinner and a fun night of festivities with all of your new friends from the Minmahaw School.
This morning, you will catch a flight back down to Bangkok then connect up to Chiang Rai in the far north of Thailand. Chiang Rai is located on the historic overland trade route between China and India, and it is also in the heart of the Golden Triangle, where opium warlords controlled the surrounding mountains until the mid 1990’s. You will hear from locals about Chiang Rai’s infamous past and learn about issues arising from the construction of a new highway that will soon link Chiang Rai with southern China. Here, you will stop as a group for a reflection on what you have seen thus far in Thailand before you begin the next chapter in the Shan State.
Today you will begin your excursion into the Shan State of Myanmr, several hundred miles from the border near Mae Sot. You will wake up early and travel to the hustle-and-bustle border town of Mae Sai. After walking across the bridge into Myanmar, you will get some lunch and board a private bus on the scenic ride back in time to the beautiful Kyiang Tung valley. Our legendary Burmese staff will take you to a local school to interview students and teachers to learn about life in this part of the country.
Because of the remoteness of this area, village visits will require some hiking through stunning terrain as you visit Hill Tribe communities including the Aki, the Akha, and the An tribes.
As you begin to explore the area surrounding Kyiang Tung, many of the issues that you learned about from your friends back in Mae Sot will begin to take on new meaning. You will see communities living with very limited resources throughout the region, and it will quickly become the norm to be interviewing people who have grown up with virtually no access to health care or modern amenities. It will also become apparent why the students at the refugee school are so excited to take advantage of the education they can get there, given that children in much of the Shan State have no such opportunities beyond primary school. Over these days you’ll also explore colorful markets and visit the homes of some of our staff members.
This morning, 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. At night, you will spend time at a home for children in the region. You will help them with their homework, play games, and learn about the incredible organization (RDS: Rural Development Society) that runs the home and also coordinates projects to build clean water sources and libraries throughout the region.
Today you will spend more time with the children at RDS. In the morning you will meet up with your new friends to practice English through songs and games. All these students are either orphans or come from very low income families. You will see what an incredible difference a stable home and a solid education makes in their lives—RDS is a truly remarkable and moving place.
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. You will interview people from various ethnic groups as well as activists who have been dealing with issues including conservation, agriculture, human trafficking, and land disputes in this region for a long time. Thinking back to the beginning of your adventure, by now many of the issues you have heard about since the start will start sinking in a bit more as you see the reality of life in this part of the country.
The hike will finish at the southern edge of Inle Lake. After a quick lunch, you will take a boat to the northern part of the lake to the town of Intha, where you will shower, recoup, and eventually eat a delicious traditional Burmese dinner before sleeping soundly after two long days of trekking.
For your last full day in Shan State you will explore the incredible area around Inle Lake, visiting the homes of some of our staff members, enjoying spicy and rich Burmese curries, visiting the stunning Inn Dain temple, and relaxing 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.
Flying down to Yangon in the morning, today will be your last full day on the program. At the beginning of your trip, you and your fellow travelers will decide together on the format of a group documentary project that you will produce throughout your two weeks together. All students will be required to keep a journal throughout the trip, and you will be taking notes during your interviews as well. These notes, combined with you and your traveling mates’ perspectives, are incredibly valuable. When you complete your group documentary project, you’ll be reminded of the power of firsthand storytelling, and the value of each individual on your team. There are several incarnations this project can take, and it will be up to you as a team to choose how you will proceed. Any photos or video footage taken during the trip may also be used in your project, if you decide you would like to include visual elements. A crucial part of this project will be a plan of action. As your trip draws to a close, you will discuss as a team a concrete way for you to take home the knowledge you’ve gained. These final days will be yours to work through your project and see it to completion. You will also have time to enjoy the best of Yangon and process all that you have seen with your group. On the final night, you will have the chance to present your work, and there will be a special celebration to commemorate the journey that you have all been through together.
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.
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