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Designed especially for college students, this two-week program will expose you to elephant conservation efforts and allow you to bond with these majestic animals. Connect with your mahout, a Thai elephant keeper, as you bathe, feed, and care for your elephant. Ride into the jungle for an overnight camp and volunteer at the elephant hospital. Leave with a better understanding about the importance of the elephant in Thai history and culture, as well as what you can do to conserve this wise and loving species.

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

Starts Ends Availability
May 18 June 1 Available

Program Profile

Country
Thailand
Community Service Component
Next Level
Community Service Focus
Environment
Get to Know
Nature
Lifestyle
Settle in at the Base
Travel Component
Stationary Program

  • Day 1

    Welcome to Chiang Mai

    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.

    Arriving in Chiang Mai you will meet our team of staff. Unwind and meet new friends who have arrived on different flights or are connecting from different programs.

    In the mid-afternoon, hop on a quick one-hour flight up to Chiang Mai, where your program begins. This ancient and graceful capital is a fascinating mishmash of Northern Thai style, hill tribe cultures, and a vibrant community of non-profit workers. Almost immediately, you’ll start to notice signs of the importance of elephants in Thai culture. You’ll spot these magnificent animals making appearances in the décor, architecture, even on T-shirts, most likely before you even arrive in your hotel room. Freshen up, rest, or take a dip in the hotel pool. After dinner, we’ll head back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep and to recharge our batteries for our busy week ahead!

  • Day 2

    Into the Jungle

    Depart for the elephant camp by 8:30 a.m. From Chiang Mai, it’s a little more than an hour’s drive through the scenic mountains to the city of Lampang – your home for the next week.

    Once you arrive at the camp, meet the entire staff – including the elephants – and then the senior camp officials will offer an opening prayer ceremony, which is performed for good luck and to show the commitment of the group to the task at hand. With the ceremony finished, the program will be officially underway, and you will waste no time in getting down to business.

    Your first order of business will be to look the part – so everyone will receive an official mahout suit. Once you are comfortable in your fashionable new attire, you will be assigned to an elephant. Depending on the size of the group, there will be one or two students assigned to each elephant. First, master the basic mahout commands and how to interpret and communicate with these amazing animals. Before you know it, you’ll be riding your elephant into the jungle, learning its personality, and communicating with it – it’s all part of your new job as a mahout!

    In the evening, settle in to jungle life, with plenty of time to relax and share stories or maybe have an early night, ready for a dawn start with the elephants tomorrow!?

  • Day 3

    Getting into the Groove

    The morning is truly a special time in the jungles of northern Thailand. The birds bring the forest to life and the sun cuts bright rays through the lingering mist. Rising early, walk down to greet and bathe your elephant at 7 a.m. Once your elephant is fed and cared for, head back to the camp for breakfast yourself.

    After you are well fed, hop on your elephant and ride down to the elephant show, which is designed to showcase the elephants’ skills to tourists. The show is a fundraising event for the camp and a great way to show the public these amazing creatures’ intelligence and potential. As a member of the mahout training camp, you will get a unique insider’s perspective on the show.

    Congratulate the elephants’ talents with a few bushels of sugarcane before you head to the elephant dung paper factory, where you’ll get your hands dirty learning how this useful product is made. Then ride your elephant back to the camp base and return them to the jungle for some rest while you join your mahout in some traditional Thai games. Say goodbye to the cheerful mahouts for the evening and head into the nearest town of Lampang for dinner and a stroll through the Saturday Walking Street Market.

  • Day 4

    The Way of the Mahout

    Rising early, take your elephant down to the river again for its morning bath. Then, after breakfast, you will begin the day’s lesson – the life and practices of a mahout. Many people don’t realize that being a mahout is a life-long career. Although they don’t make much money and it is not a glamorous profession, mahouts are essential for the survival of elephants in the world today, and they are very respected in Thai culture.

    Learn about the special relationship that develops between the mahout and the elephant, the tools and skills involved, and how they communicate with one another. Then practice the training commands with your elephant, learn how to weave rope for a saddle, and find out how to strap cargo on comfortably. You will have gone a long way in developing your own relationship with your elephant by the time you release it back into the jungle in the afternoon.

    Once your elephant’s harness is complete, take a refreshing dip in a nearby swimming hole before lunch. In the afternoon, join the senior director of the school and a good friend of Rustic Pathways, Danger, for a discussion about the king’s royal white elephants and the dangers of working with an aggressive elephant.

    After dinner, join the staff to learn some songs in Thai that will help bring you closer to your mahout on your journey into the jungle tomorrow. This lesson always turns into a dance party, so bring your best moves to teach the local staff!

  • Day 5

    Overnight in the Jungle

    After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, use the skills you learned yesterday to load up your elephant with everything you will need for a night in the jungle. Then climb aboard and head toward the jungle camp, which is about an hour’s ride away.

    Once you reach the camp, give your elephant a chance to rest while you enjoy a jungle-style lunch cooked over an open fire. After taking a rest and maybe a dip in a nearby river pool – depending on that week’s rains – to cool off in the day’s heat, head into the jungle with the mahouts in search of bamboo. Craft what you find into several different kinds of products, including cups and dishes, with the help of the mahouts.

    As evening falls, throw on warmer clothes, eat a jungle feast, and play some Thai campfire games while singing and dancing the night away. For many students, this night is the highlight of the whole trip!

  • Day 6

    Back to the Camp

    The sun will wake you up early this morning, and you will help your mahout bring your elephant in from the jungle where it spent the night. Then, after taking the elephants on a short walk to an area where they can munch on fresh greens for breakfast, hike back to the main camp. After a well-deserved shower and hearty lunch, learn to make a typical Thai dessert and head to a nearby market to try the local fare and grab some souvenirs. On your return, help reforest the jungle by planting trees that will eventually help shelter our pachyderm pals in their home. On your last night at the Conservation, eat dinner family-style and reflect on your amazing week with the elephants.

  • Day 7

    Goodbye to Your Pacheyderm Pals

    After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, head to the elephant hospital for a tour. Learn about the elephants’ lifespan and how injured elephants are treated and cared for here. Learn about the many elephants the camp has rescued from abusive situations and how they are rehabilitated. This will be your last chance to ask any lingering questions you have about these gentle giants before you head home, so don’t be afraid to speak up!

    It will now be time to say goodbye to your elephant, your gracious hosts, and the camp. At the closing ceremony, receive a certificate of completion for the program. In the afternoon, depart for Chiang Mai and check in to the hotel for some down time by the pool. After a nice rest, head into town for a traditional Thai massage before dinner, and take in some souvenir shopping at the world-famous Night Bazaar.

  • Day 8

    Introduction to Muay Thai or Delve into Yoga

    Today, you’ll have the chance to delve into local culture with your choice of activity – learn about self-defense and composure with a Muay Thai kickboxing lesson, or opt for a more relaxing yoga class instead. You’ll also have some time to rest after your time in the jungle – it will be a busy week ahead!

  • Day 9

    Chiang Mai

    Today will start with a trip to some of the oldest temples the center of the Old City. You’ll visit Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, Wat Mun, and the beautiful Wat Chedi Luang, which was once the largest structure in the Lanna Kingdom before a large section was knocked down in an earthquake several hundred years ago. Take your chances on the temple’s slot-machine fortuneteller or hang a golden silk banner for good luck before sitting down to chat with a local monk.

    Chiang Mai is home to a thriving artist community, and while in town you will have the chance to learn about many traditional handicrafts that this region has become famous for. After breakfast, you’ll see some of the city’s modern art as well with a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s newest attractions, the Art in Paradise 3D museum. Then, you will head into the rolling mountains to Northern Thailand’s Holiest site, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. With panoramic views of the lush Chiang Mai valley below, learn about the unique religious traditions of the area, a fusion of Buddhist, Hindu and animist traditions. Hear the Legend of the White Elephant that marked this sacred spot as the location for the temple, and climb the dragon-guarded staircase to into the shrine itself. Once inside, be blessed by a monk for a happy and healthy trip before making offerings and getting your fortune read (spoiler alert!).

    Coming down from the mountain, you will stop at a bustling market in front of Chiang Mai University where you will feel the buzz of student life at one of Thailand’s largest universities. The last stop of the day will be the Night Bazaar, where you will shop the night away while practicing your bargaining skills (hint: Don’t be shy!).

  • Day 10

    Heading for the Hills of the North

    Rise early today and set out into the stunning mountains of Northern Thailand. This is the most diverse region of the country, home to more than a dozen hill tribe minorities, each with its own distinct language, history, and culture. Following the Ping River, wind through the mountains to the Chiang Mai area’s most unique waterfall, Nam Dok Bua Thong. Sourced by a mineral spring, this waterfall runs through a forest and over limestone, making it ideal for exploring on a hot day.

    Next, the journey continues into the Chiang Dao Valley, famous for the magnificent mountain that towers over the landscape. The Doi Luang Chiang Dao Mountain is one of the tallest peaks in Thailand and easily the most impressive, with sheer limestone cliffs ascending to the top.

    Settle in for the night at a country eco-resort and take in the view of mountains and rice fields as the sun goes down beyond the mountains. By evening, enjoy a traditional khantoke cultural dance performance while you enjoy a delicious meal.

  • Day 11

    Exploring Chiang Dao

    Enjoy the fresh mountain air as you wake up early to give alms to village monks. Those of you who did not participate in the Thai Elephant Conservation Project will then have the chance to visit a small, locally owned elephant camp to get up close and personal with Asian Elephants. Then, we will begin exploring Chiang Dao by foot and by bicycle. This area is a treasure trove for botanists and biologists, and walking through the lush forest you will see why. Explore a meditation retreat set at the foot of the towering peak of Doi Luang, and then enter the Chiang Dao cave at the foot of the mountain. Local guides will lead you by lantern-light to explore the many hidden passageways. This cave is an important spiritual center filled with flower-laden Buddha statues and the occasional hermit. Next, you will head out into rice fields in a surrounding village to observe the rice-growing process and take some photos of the greenest greens that you will ever see.

    Once you have worked up a proper appetite, we will stop at the Chiang Dao Nest, one of the finest restaurants in the region, for some delicious international cuisine in an idyllic setting. In the evening, you will return to the resort to take a Thai cooking class and sing some karaoke with your new friends.

  • Day 12

    Chiang Rai and the White Temple

    After breakfast, we will depart for Chiang Rai. Here, we will visit two of the most unique structures in Thailand, created by two of the country’s most renowned artists. First, the White Temple, an intricate frosting-like edifice takes visitors on a journey through heaven and hell showing the karmic path away from temptation. Next we will head to the White Temple’s darker twin, the Black House. This complex contains massive teak halls where snakes and skeletons abound. Wander through the forested grounds and inside unique buildings, a fusion of Thai, Balinese and Burmese styles laden with modern paintings and ancient relics.

    In the late afternoon, we will check into the hotel and enjoy some poolside relaxing time before heading out to explore the town. Walking through the back alleys and fresh markets of this charming and sleepy city, you will see what a “real” Thai town looks like.

  • Day 13

    Muay Thai in the Big Mango

    Today, you will catch a mid-day flight down to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. You will check in you your hotel, get refreshed, and get ready to head out for a night of excitement in the city. Tonight, you will experience a championship Muay Thai (Thai kick-boxing) fight at the most prestigious stadium in Thailand, Lumpini Stadium. Muay Thai is an ancient art and a huge source of pride for Thai people, and experiencing a match in person is quite an experience. Later, we’ll return to the hotel to get some rest for a bg day exploring Bangkok tomorrow!

  • Day 14

    The Highlights of Bangkok

    After a nice breakfast at the hotel, get ready to see it all in a day here in Bangkok! You’ll start the day with a refreshing traditional Thai massage to get in the right state of mind. After that, you will hop on the bus and start working your way towards the the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the King’s most official residence and the home of the famed Emerald Buddha. You will have some time to wander the beautiful grounds here before heading around the corner to Wat Pho, another of Bangkok’s most famous temples and home of the ‘Reclining Buddha,’ the largest such Buddha in the world. Next, you will walk out to the banks of the Chao Phraya River, or the ‘River of Kings.’ Here you’ll hop on a long-tail boat and go for a cruise upstream. Viewing Bangkok from the river – away from the busy streets and with a cool breeze on your face – is truly the best way to see it. Finally, you will cap off your final day with an evening dinner through the heart of modern Bangkok. This will be an awesome way to talking about all that you’ve seen on this memorable trip, and enjoy your final evening with your new friends.

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

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.

Carry-On

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

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

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal. A wheeled bag is acceptable only if it can be carried like a duffel bag over rough terrain.

Clothes

  • Socks (2-4)
  • Underwear (5-6)
  • Pants/capris (1-2, lightweight)
  • Knee-length shorts (2-3)
  • Athletic shorts/leggings (1-2)
  • T-shirts (4-5)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2, lightweight)
  • Fleece/hoodie
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • 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

Miscellaneous

  • Headlamp/flashlight with extra batteries
  • A bag for dirty clothes

Optional

  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Pictures of family and friends
  • 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!
  1. a
    Chiang Mai, Thailand

    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. Students will explore ancient temples and shop at the famous Night Bazaar.

  2. b
    Lampang, Thailand

    Welcome to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. Students will spend their days learning about conservation practices, elephant care and management all while learning the skills of being a mahout.