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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-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

Starts Ends Availability
June 2 June 19 Available

Program Profile

Country
Thailand
Get to Know
Nature
Lifestyle
Settle in at the Base
Travel Component
Stationary Program

  • Day 1

    Depart from the USA

    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!

  • Day 2

    Travel Day

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

  • Day 3

    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 4

    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 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 and Onward to Chiang Mai

    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. 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 7

    Delve into Muay Thai and Thai Cuisine

    Today will begin with a Muay Thai (Thai Kick-Boxing) lesson! Learn about self-defense and composure while practicing this ancient art with professional instructors. In addition to being a great workout, it teaches you valuable self-defense skills and discipline that students really enjoy.
    After working up an appetite and showering up, you will have the chance to learn how to prepare tasty–and healthy–Thai cuisine all on your own! Begin the class with a visit to the local market where you will learn how to carefully select ingredients needed. Your instructors will also teach you how to easily substitute any items that maybe be difficult to find back home. You’re certain to learn some kitchen tricks that you can use to surprise and impress your friends and family back home. This evening you will visit a local market popular with students before returning to the hotel for some much-needed rest.

  • Day 8

    Chiang Mai

    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. Today will start with a visit to Baan Tawai, a village internationally known for it’s community of craftsmen and craftswomen. See some incredible work, and develop an appreciation for some of the ancient arts which are still practiced with great passion here.
    After lunch, 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 have some time to enjoy your hotel pool during the hot afternoon before heading 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. 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 9

    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. As you head out of town, you will stop to see an orchid farm that showcases some of the amazing orchids found locally before continuing on to Mok Fa Waterfall. Tonight you will be staying at the Tree House Resort – a rather simple (but very unique!) place to spend a couple of nights enjoying the ambiance of the rainforest.

    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 10

    Exploring Chiang Dao

    Today will begin with a trip to the Chiang Dao cave, a place that simply feels a bit magical. 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 explore a meditation retreat set at the foot of the towering peak of Doi Luang, before sitting down to a nice lunch at the Chiang Dao Nest. After lunch,you will begin exploring Chiang Dao by bicycle. This area is a treasure trove for botanists and biologists, and as you cruise through the lush forest you will see why. Finally, 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.

  • Day 11

    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.

    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 12

    Escape to Paradise

    Today you will depart Chiang Rai, and fly (via Bangkok) to Krabi, one of the most idyllic destinations in Southern Thailand. By late afternoon, you will be docking at Railay Beach, another one of Thailand’s most popular beach destinations and one of the top rock climbing destinations in the world. Railay Beach is actually part of mainland Thailand, but because of the imposing peaks, there is no way to get there by land. The only creatures who do manage to get there without a boat are monkeys, which can be seen in the trees near the beach. When you happen upon these curious primates feel free to take pictures and enjoy their playful nature, but beware – don’t get too close or get involved in their monkey games because they can be very unpredictable. Your staff will be there to reinforce this each day, but come prepared! After getting checked in, take a walking tour of the surrounding beaches to get the lay of the land, and begin scoping out some of the impressive rock formations that you will be climbing tomorrow.

  • Day 13

    Climbing at Krabi

    Today will be your chance to try rock-climbing the towering cliffs of Railay and Tonsai Beach! If you have never tried climbing before, this is one of the best places to learn. The countless routes available here offer something for every ability level. Before you begin, your expert guides will slowly bring you up to speed on the key safety points and all of the fundamentals you need to know. Your leaders will make sure you understand the equipment, how to belay, and all the basics of the sport.

    Once you’re ready to go, begin the ascent of the cliffs overlooking the clear water. Once you reach the top, take a break, look back, and enjoy the spectacular view. This is world-class rock climbing at its best, and you may just find that you’ve found a new sport that is right up your alley! In the evening, share photos from the day’s adventure while getting ready for another action-packed day tomorrow!

  • Day 14

    Island Hopping!

    Today you’ll leave Railay Beach behind as you embark on a private boat tour to nearby islands that dot the coast. Hop on and off the boat to swim, snorkel, and explore small deserted beaches. Southern Thailand is home to many fish and coral species, and the crystal blue water and stunning scenery will make for some amazing memories. After a full day, head back to the bungalows for dinner and chill time on the sand.

  • Day 15

    Muay Thai in the Big Mango

    Today you will say goodbye to Krabi and hop the ferry back to Krabi airport and fly 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 16

    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.

  • Day 17

    Chock Dee, and Safe Travels!

    Today, you’ll have time to relax at the pool before checking out and heading to the airport. Whatever is next for you, we hope that you always cherish the warm memories of Thailand you have made this week. Safe travels and chock dee!

  • Day 18

    Return Home!

    Head back to the US. We hope you had a great time in Thailand!

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

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!

Temple Visits
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.

Laundry
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.

Carry-On

A school backpack or daypack is ideal as it will be used for hiking/ day trips.

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Wallet/money/ATM card
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pens (2)
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Ear buds
  • Change of clothes
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • Medications
  • Additional community service forms
  • Visa documentation
  • Outlet power converter (for transit only! Thailand uses the same plugs as
  • the USA–just make sure all electronics are compatible with 220v)
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts
  • Extra t-shirt and underwear

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.

Clothing Items

  • 2-3 pairs of lightweight pants, jeans (hot!) or capris. Activewear/yoga pants are acceptable while being active (or while on the Base), but not suitable at the village, market, temple, etc. Many of our students and staff end up in “elephant pants” very soon after they arrive, so don’t fret if you need help in this area–inexpensive solutions await you in country!
  • 2-3 pairs of shorts/skirts Shorts and skirts for the women must go to the knees or longer!
  • 8-10 pairs of underwear – Quick-dry material is best
  • 3-4 pairs of socks – lightweight cotton or quick dry athletic socks are best.  
  • 5-7 tops (t-shirts and sports shirts)-they can be cotton, or quick dry shirts like capilene or polypropylene. Tank tops are generally not acceptable unless for time at the pool/beach. Keep in mind you will find cool T-shirts and clothes at markets you will be visiting throughout the summer, which can supplement the tops you bring over.
  • 2-3 light, long sleeve t-shirt–breathable is best for the sun and certain areas of the region can get buggy or chilly (if you’re lucky!) at night
  • 1 lightweight hoodie–most likely needed on flights, in movie theaters, and in airports. Most people will be fine without one.
  • 2 swimsuits –for females, two piece suits are fine but no skimpy bikinis please.
  • 1 Sarong/shawl/lightweight towel (not white!)–Many accommodations will have towels for you to use, but it is handy to have something of your own for sitting poolside or visiting a waterfall
  • A nice casual outfit–for special end of program dinners.

Important Items

  • Flashlight or headlamp (rechargeable batteries are preferable)
  • Ultra-lightweight rainproof jacket–fear not if you don’t have one, ponchos are widely available and do a better job!
  • Hat–for the sun
  • Comfortable flip-flops or crocs–Footwear that is easy to clean and easy to take on and off. You’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be taking on and off your shoes. Cheap flip-flops and crocs are widely available in Asia for a fraction of the cost.
  • Closed-toed athletic shoes – shoes that dry quickly, that you can hike short distances in and that protect your feet are best. Shoes will get muddy and dirty, so don’t get too attached to your footwear.
  • A color photocopy of your Passport.

Toiletries:
Most general toiletries are available throughout the region. We suggest packing all items that could leak in a plastic or ziploc bag

  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo and soap – you may want to bring biodegradable or natural soap and shampoo, but they are not required
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Insect repellent–we suggest a natural option or something with DEET
  • Hydrocortisone/anti-itch cream or after bite
  • Hand sanitizer -1 small bottles. We don’t want you getting sick this summer!
  • Contact lenses and solution (widely available and inexpensive in SE Asia)
  • Sunscreen + Aloe Vera (good quality sunscreen is not readily available in SE Asia and is expensive!)
  • Feminine hygiene supplies-tampons are not widely available in SE Asia. Past staff have suggested trying a diva cup. We recommend you bring what you think you will need for the duration of the summer.

Additional and Optional Items:

  • Phrasebook, guidebook
  • Lip balm
  • Deck of cards
  • Digital camera – Waterproof style shock resistant cameras are great for our trips.  Again, do not depend on your phone–we encourage our students to disconnect from their phones while on program.
  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.