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This program is designed to provide a thought-provoking look at the issues facing men and women in remote border areas of Thailand and Myanmar. Travel with knowledgeable guides as you learn about 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

  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 ongoing 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 Anxiety Escrow 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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2017 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
July 18 August 4 Available

Program Profile

Thailand, Myanmar
Community Service Component
Get to Know
The People
A Little Bit of Everything
Travel Component
On the Go!

  • 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 Leader who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Our Flight Leaders are most often school teachers 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!

  • 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

    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.

  • Day 4

    In the afternoon, you will continue to learn about the challenging and complicated history of Myanmar by visiting AAPP (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners) and interviewing former political prisoners from Myanmar who now reside in Mae Sot. Your group will explore the complex meaning of citizenship in this region.

  • Day 5

    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.

  • Day 6

    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 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.

  • Day 7

    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.

  • Day 8

    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.

  • Day 9 - 10

    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.

  • Day 11

    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.

  • Day 12

    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.

  • Day 13 - 14

    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 dinner before sleeping soundly after two long days of trekking.

  • Day 15

    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.

  • Day 16

    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.

  • Day 17

    With sad goodbyes, it is time for the journey to end. Wrap up some final loose ends on your project or grab some snacks and souvenirs. Head to the airport and say goodbye to the friends and program leaders you’ve traveled with for the past two weeks. You will be amazed at all that you have done and the experiences you have had will stay with you for the rest of your life.

    **All students on our group flights arrive home on Fridays, regardless of whether they return to JFK or LAX. **

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 thailand@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • We’ll stay at hotels, guest houses, and Rustic Pathways bases. Nice beds, Western toilets, and hot showers are available at each location. There will be one or two occasions such as the refugee camp visit in which we’ll sleep on mats and pads under mosquito nets, and showers will be bucket style.

  • There is amazingly little crime and violence in most of rural Asia. These are small, friendly communities where everyone knows each other, and they truly act in a communal fashion. Additionally, Rustic Pathways longtime aid and presence in these regions has earned a certain amount of respect within these communities and our visitors are welcomed with open arms. Many of our staff come from or have family in the villages we visit.

  • There will be days in which there is no internet, and phones are only available on an emergency basis. Phones and internet will be made available at least every few days, although we encourage our students to use the internet only for a limited time, and only for corresponding with their family and friends.

  • Yes. In addition to the conversations and learning that will take place, you can expect to partake in hands-on community service projects such as simple building projects and English teaching. If possible ways to help or solutions present themselves, we will not shy away from getting our hands dirty.

  • We’ll have opportunities to wash clothes every few days.

  • There are mosquitoes. They’re usually not too bad, but you will want to bring a light, long sleeve shirt and light, long pants for some evenings. Also bring a small bottle of insect repellent containing DEET.

  • Markets and local crafts are huge part of SE Asian culture and a great way to support the local community, so there will be opportunities for shopping in most of the places we visit. You also may want to donate some things along our trip- these things can be bought in Thailand. 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’s hot, and humid in the day and a little cooler at night. Daily downpours are short and give way to sunny skies. Be prepared for heat and dampness. Synthetic fiber clothes are great because they dry fast and don’t get as mildewy as cotton can.

  • Each trip is staffed by a combination of western (American) and Burmese leaders, and in most cases each team will include a nationally licensed guide, a western man and a western woman. We never have fewer than one staff member for every five students.

  • During this trip we will be eating at local restaurants, shops and hotels. We will be eating a variety of local food as well as some western food. We will be able to cater for almost all diets. Vegetarians welcome!

  • We will be drinking all bottled water. Bottled water is safe and readily available.

  • Tribal Issues is appropriate for students of most physical activity levels. Students should be prepared for short hikes that may require moderate physical activity. The true strain can be emotional, as you can expect to hear stories unlike anything you have ever heard before.

  • Many of our staff are trained in emergency medicine care and many places we visit will have a reputable hospital within minutes. For those places without reliable medical care nearby our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare depending on the severity of the situation.

  • Because safety is our number one priority, all of our programs have staff that is certified with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.

  • Rustic Pathways does not make recommendations regarding immunizations. We strongly suggest that you consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for medical recommendations based on the area where the student will be traveling (Thailand, Burma, Laos). You can also check the Center for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov for more information.

  • This decision is best made by you, your family, and your family physician. For up to date information to help your decision please visit the World Health Organization website (http://www.who.int/en), the Center for Disease Control website, and consult your physician.

  • All flights departing from and returning to the United States will have flight leaders. In the event a student is connecting from another country, they may or may not have a flight leader. In such instances, we generally have coordinated with the airlines to escort the students from check-in through customs, and delivered to a verified Rustic Pathways staff member.

  • All of our programs within Asia connect seamlessly. All trips begin and end on Thursday, thus allowing for easy connectivity and convenience.

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


  • 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
    Mae Sot, Thailand

    Hello Thailand! You’ve reached the largest town along the remote border between Thailand and Myanmar. Visit with local NGOs and schools that enroll migrant students.

  2. b
    Mywaddy, Myanmar

    Walk across the bridge and over the Moei River and into Myanmar. Mywaddy is a little border town and a gateway into Myanmar. Visit markets, sit down with locals at a tea shop, and enjoy some people watching.

  3. c
    Chiang Rai, Thailand

    After a two short flights, you will find yourself in the northern tip of Thailand near the infamous Golden Triangle; where Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar all share one border.

  4. d
    Kengtung, Myanmar

    Crossing again into the country of Myanmar, travel several hours to the mountainous areas of Kengtung. 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 En tribes.

  5. e
    Kalaw, Myanmar

    Board a short flight to Heho and travel to the enchanting town of Kalaw, known as the gateway to the Shan State. From here you will hike into the mountains and visit with remote villages on a home-stay excursion.

  6. f
    Inle Lake, Myanmar

    A freshwater lake located in the Shan State, it is the second largest lake in Myanmar and one of the highest at an elevation of 2,900 feet (880 m). Take a boat ride and learn about how people lives their lives on these waters.

  7. g
    Yangon, Myanmar

    The former capital of Yangon and the country’s largest city with a population of over 5 million.