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Join the family while living at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home, teaching in a local public school, and tutoring the students who call this magical place home. Immerse yourself in the Karen culture during a homestay in a nearby village where you’ll work on development projects and spend time with locals. Educate yourself about refugee issues during an overnight visit to a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border.

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
June 13 June 30 Limited
July 25 August 11 Limited

Program Profile

Community Service Component
Next Level
Community Service Focus
Education, Infrastructure, Economic Development
Get to Know
The People
Settle in at the Base
Travel Component
Stationary Program

Connecting Programs

Schedule two or more programs in a row to create your ideal Rustic Pathways experience.

This program connects especially well with:

  • Day 1

    Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Before traveling you will receive your pre-departure packet, which includes your Rustic T-shirts, luggage tags, country books, airline tickets, and important contact information.

    Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Airport Coordinator will help you check-in for your flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leader who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Rustic Pathways’ 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

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

  • Day 3

    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 the United States. Thailand is known as one of the most welcoming countries in the world and has deservedly earned the nicknamed the Land of Smiles.

    As you clear customs and enter the arrival hall with your friendly Flight Leader, you will meet our team of staff. As soon as all of the incoming students have arrived at the airport, it will be time to get ready for your connecting flight to Chiang Mai. The flight will take about one hour, and you will land in Chiang Mai around 5 p.m.

    As soon as you step off the plane in this fascinating northern city, you’ll notice that everything is different from Bangkok. The air is a bit cooler (though still sticky!), and the tiny airport is adorned with live orchids. After grabbing your bag, you’ll be met in the reception hall by our smiling Northern Thailand team of staff! These are some of the people who will be your hosts at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home.

    Once everyone has their bags, it will be time to hop in our VIP vans and begin the voyage out to Mae Sariang. Although it will have been a rather long day for most of you, this final leg of the journey is an exciting time for everyone. This is the first time that you’ll see rural Thailand, and the beauty of this area is sure to take your breath away. As you’ll learn in the days to come, Mae Sariang is a diverse town and a central hub for education and employment for hill tribe villagers from the surrounding mountains. You’ll come to recognize the various ethnic groups by their distinctive cultural dress. By the end of your stay, you may even be sporting a traditional handwoven shirt, longyi, or shoulder bag yourself!

    The drive out to the Children’s Home is just a little under four hours. You will break up the trip with a nice dinner, and you’ll be there before you know it!

    Once you arrive at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home (RPCH), you’ll be greeted by the students who live at this facility and the rest of our team of staff. Sit down for a snack, take in your new surroundings, and enjoy a shower before bed.

  • Day 4

    Wake to a whole new world that the darkness of the night hid from you. Looking out from the main house, admire the lush rice paddies and a swift river adjoining the property. A rolling range of mountains dotted with temple tops and pagodas form the perfect scenic backdrop.

    At breakfast, program orientation will begin, and you’ll meet the full team while enjoying some of the resident chef’s legendary cooking for the first time. After breakfast we’ll reconvene in the Big House, a gorgeous semi-open teak structure with breathtaking views, where your leaders will bring you up to speed on the family you are now part of. Here you will learn about the background of this Base, and get a great introduction to the people you will meet, projects you will aid, and the powerful effect you and your peers can have through your positive energy and willingness to help.

    Tour the property of the Children’s Home and learn about our relationship with Baan Rai School just up the road where more than 300 Karen students study every day. Most of our Karen students at The Base attend Baan Rai School, but many of their classmates live in meager accommodations on the school grounds. Government funding provides them tuition, basic uniforms, and lunch at school.

    This afternoon will be your first opportunity to jump into Karen and Thai culture. A short ride in our songthaews will bring you to the home of our long-time director, Yuttana, where his mother will teach you traditional Karen weaving as it has been practiced through generations. Even today, most Karen women learn to weave as little girls, and you’ll experience this tradition firsthand as you give weaving your best shot. After leaving your mark on a shoulder bag, visit a Buddhist temple to learn about Buddhism its integral place in Thai culture. After our afternoon programming we’ll head back to the Children’s Home just in time to greet the students returning from school.

    The morning orientation explains why this project exists, and when you see the students returning home your heart will fully understand, too. After greeting the students, the games begin! Cultural barriers fall as you and your Karen teammates join hands in activities. Dinner provides more opportunities to learn about your peers on the other side of the world, and you may even be elected to participate in our dinner presentations, a chance for our Karen students to practice public speaking. After dinner you’ll lead some name-games to set the tone for a great week ahead!

    In the evening, enjoy the sunset across the river, go for a run, play pick-up soccer, grab a guitar, or write in your journal.

  • Day 5

    Although you’ve just arrived, today is the start of the weekend! Rising early, you will review the plans for the weekend at breakfast. First on the agenda will be a trip to the Saturday market, just a short distance from the Children’s Home.

    Only held on Saturdays, this market is one of the major weekly events in Mae Sariang. The festive atmosphere is contagious, and you’ll soon find yourself having a great time interacting with the local people and perusing random items with your new friends. A little money goes a long way here, and our local staff will help you find the best deals and the tastiest snacks like nothing you’ve tried before. The Saturday market is the perfect place if you need to pick up any last minute items before heading out of Mae Sariang for the weekend.

    After lunch at the Children’s Home, we are off to our village service project. These projects are designed to address some of the issues facing the Karen villages where our full-time students live with their families when they aren’t at The Base. Here you may meet with village leaders, visit residents in their bamboo homes, and coordinate camps for children who may have never seen foreigners before. Get your hands dirty working to help alongside the betel-nut stained smiles of the locals. In 2012, Rustic students built a kindergarten in Baan Mae Ga Nai village, and in 2013, they completed a library in Baan Mae Lai village. We accomplished a lot at the Doy Liam Village school in 2014 including a playground for the kindergarteners and a brand new library.

    After a satisfying day of service and play, you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep!

  • Day 6

    Wake up to the delicious smells of breakfast and the proud sights of your previous day’s work. In the morning we’ll continue working on the project and have lunch at the site before returning to the Base.  In the afternoon, you’ll enjoy the comforts, beauty, and people of the Children’s Home. Share stories, try your hand (or foot!) at the Thai sport takraw, exchange games and songs, and simply be present in your surroundings. Sunday afternoons are spent tutoring and teaching English to the local students to hone your skills for Monday’s teaching assignment.

    With Monday morning around the corner, it’ll be time to start your lesson-planning for your Education Enrichment activities in our local partner schools. Don’t worry; we have lots of experience with this! We’ll begin with everyone sharing ideas and techniques, and then our staff and veteran Rustic students will tell you what to expect in the classroom. Learn how to make a lesson plan, a few tricks that will help break the ice and get things off to a good start, and some classic classroom activities. Our staff will be around to make sure you are ready for the day ahead.

  • Day 7

    After breakfast and a quick review of your lesson plan, it’s time to teach! You will quickly learn that in an ESL classroom, speaking very slowly and clearly is your greatest asset. If you’re careful and energetic enough, you just might find that they’re hanging on your every word after just a few minutes! As this is likely your first attempt at really teaching a class (though you will be part of a team of a few students teaching together), don’t expect it to go perfectly. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will become. After teaching in the morning and afternoon, it’s time for Thai massages!  Your muscles are most likely soar from the weekend’s service work and this will be a good time to relax.

    In the evening, it’ll seem like you’ve learned a lifetime of lessons about teaching, so we’ll be sure to reflect and build on those for future teaching service.  Tonight you will have more opportunities to tutor and hang out with your new Thai friends.

  • Day 8

    This morning, you will have another chance to work on your teaching skills. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve improved after only one day. Walking away from a great class is one of the best feelings in the world!

    After lunch you’ll be visiting with local organizations who have been working along the Thai-Myanmar border for years.  Participate in discussions with these field experts who will answer questions regarding humanitarian work, development initiatives and community driven rehabilitation.   

    Return to the Children’s Home and choose from one of many activities or and/or side trips to the areas around Mae Sariang the leaders have planned. These may include a Thai cooking lesson, meditation at a local monastery, market explorations, or a bicycle ride through the idyllic countryside. After dinner lead some reading lessons or help some of the children with their homework before settling down for our debriefing and a mid-trip reflection.

  • Day 9

    After several days of hard work it’s time to explore the mountains of Mae Sariang. This relaxed day is a fantastic opportunity to soak up the town’s atmosphere and gear up for another week of service. After enjoying breakfast, you’ll set out on a day of adventure. You may explore the Mae Sawan Noi waterfall and enjoy a Thai-style picnic along the riverbank, or hop on a bicycle and ride through Mae Sariang, stopping at noodle shops and roadside stalls.

    In the afternoon return to the Children’s Home and Embrace the Base. Journal, read a book or just sit and enjoy the view.  Enjoy a smoothie and ice cream at the 6˚ Cafe, a startup project by a former Rustic Pathways student who earned a grant to generate money to build this cafe.  The cafe is designed to build skills for the local residents students of RPCH in learning accounting, business management and leadership. All proceeds go to benefit the education of these Thai students who live at RPCH.

    Before dinner spend time teaching and tutoring the Thai students to improve their English skills. After dinner, we’ll delve deep into a crash course in Burmese history, Karen refugees, and the upcoming camp experience. This is a very exciting time to be working with Myanmar people, as the nation is just beginning to emerge from decades of isolation under a military regime.

  • Day 10

    Today, you will embark on a journey to the remote mountains along the Thai-Myanmar border.  This excursion will combine two nights in a remote Karen village and the Mae Ra Ma Luang Refugee Camp.  The roads are quite rugged, but our 4×4 trucks are up to the task. Grab a hold and get ready to snap some pictures – the views are fantastic!

    Arriving at the first village, we’ll visit the school and meet with the teachers and principal.  We’ll join the students for lunch and then settle in for afternoon English activities.  You’ll quickly remember the lessons learned from your previous experiences and you’ll feel right at home in front of these enthusiastic students.

    In the evening, settle into a home-stay, meet your host families and enjoy the laid back atmosphere of village life.  After dinner, you’ll have discussions with local residents to learn about daily life of the Karen people.

  • Day 11

    Rising early to the sound of roosters crowing, today you will live a full day of village life. An early breakfast will get things started, and then you will shadow your host families as they go about their daily tasks. Help your hosts work in the fields, learning some agricultural techniques, and follow them to the shady spots when it is time for a break. You’ll be surprised how long each day feels while you are here, and also how much you can accomplish as a group in an honest day’s work. Sleep well after a nice dinner and a discussion about life in this corner of the world.

  • Day 12 - 13

    Rising early to the sounds of village life enjoy breakfast before journeying on to the Mae Ra Ma Luang refugee camp.  These people were forced to flee their homeland in the Karen state due to violence, authoritarian rule, and lack of educational opportunities. Some of the students you will meet have grown up entirely in the refugee camp, while others have only recently arrived. The camp itself is stunningly beautiful – bamboo huts sprawled along hillsides and riverbanks, papaya trees lining mud paths, wood bridges spanning the river running through the heart of the camp, and smiles framed with beautiful thanaka (a natural cosmetic and sunblock made from tree bark). Within this gorgeous setting, however, are 13,000 Karen refugees whose options in life are extremely limited.

    After arriving at the camp you’ll get settled at the refugee camp guesthouse. A handful of our friends will be anxiously awaiting your arrival, excited for the rare opportunity to practice their English. We’ll chow down on some boxed lunches while continuing to discuss the issues with each other and with your new Karen friends.

    After lunch and orientation discussions, we’ll visit with the local schools and a vocational training facility.  Our service within the camp will focus on education enrichment at Mae Ra Ma Junior College, school improvements and agricultural projects to increase food production for students living in the dormitories.

    Evenings will be spent spent at the boarding house – this house supports more than 40 students, most living in the camp without parents. Sing songs, play games, and enjoy some relaxing time with your new friends here.

  • Day 14

    Rising to the sounds and smells of the camp, we’ll start the day off right with more of Thailand’s famous fruits for breakfast. Re-energized, we’ll take the long walk through the camp to visit Mae Ra Ma Junior College. This college touts some very impressive individuals and is a training ground for the Karen’s future leaders. Today’s actual activities can vary based on the school’s schedule and your creativity. These students speak excellent English, and this is a great opportunity to ask questions and learn about their lives. They’ll have plenty of questions for you too.

    Believe it or not, you may be able to do some shopping here in the camp! Earning an income while living in the camp is near impossible, so you can feel very good about any purchases you make – not to mention you’ll find some amazing goods for sale. Traditional Karen longyis (sarongs), shirts, bamboo baskets, and shoulder bags, all made by hand from the men and women inside the camp are for sale, and their handiwork is very impressive.

    With the long drive ahead, hop back into the 4×4 trucks and begin the journey back to Mae Sariang.  Arriving back at the Children’s Home you’ll find friends and fresh food waiting. This is a very cool time to hang out with the Karen students for a few hours in a more low-key and casual setting. Tonight you will reflect upon your nights spent in the village and inside the refugee camp.

  • Day 15

    This morning you will visit with The Center for the Development of People with Disabilities, a local organization that provides services for children and youth with disabilities and their families. Services include therapy, special education, preparation for and promotion of education for children with special needs, vocational training, income generation, and community awareness through teaching and radio programs. The center’s main objective is to develop the potential of children and youth with disabilities so that they may live independently.  Be sure to visit the handicraft shop to purchase souvenirs with proceeds going to support this cause.

    Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant and join in with other students at the Base to conduct an English camp at a local school.  This is one of the most exciting activities for the students, who will be given a chance to play games while using their newly learned English skills. As you walk out of the school for the last time you’ll be paraded with dozens of wai’s, handshakes, high-fives, and hugs.

    This evening will be your final night at the Children’s Home.  After dinner, get excited for the festivities. Dancing, karaoke, slideshows, bonfires, piñatas, you name it! The night will end with our Rustic Ties ceremony which will give you a chance to reflect upon your two weeks and share your memories with the friends you’ve made throughout your stay at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home.v

  • Day 16

    All students who are heading home at the conclusion of this program or connecting to another Rustic Pathways adventure will leave the Children’s Home today. After a breakfast spent reflecting on the wonderful friends and memories of the week, we’ll take you up to an exquisite temple that’s been carved from a cave and is protected by massive statues of the Buddha. Your program leaders will explain about temple etiquette and some of the symbolism that you can find in Theravada Buddhism and temples. A monk will conduct a sacred string ceremony wishing you safe travels and good luck, and you’ll have the opportunity to learn meditation directly from the temple’s abbot. After lunch, it’s time for your final goodbyes to your Karen friends as you will be departing for Chiang Mai.

    After checking in at the hotel, you’ll have the chance to shop at the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and enjoy a final traditional northern Thai feast.

  • Day 17

    Students going back home or connecting to other programs will fly to Bangkok first thing in the morning. Students connecting to the Elephant Conservation Project; Come With Nothing; Intro to Community Service; or Ricefields, Monks, and Smiling Children will be able to sleep-in and enjoy a day of touring in Chiang Mai while waiting for the other students to arrive. Safe travels, and we hope to see you again very soon!

    **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

  • This is perhaps Rustic Pathways most ambitious global project, in which we have now supported over 35 Karen Hill Tribe children access education with many more on the way. In this quintessential humanitarian service project, this is your opportunity to make real relationships with real people in a real place and do some real service, and while having a really good time.

  • Our students typically love this program and come back year after year because of the relationships they build with their peers from across the world, especially their “Thai buddies.” Students are often inspired and empowered by the opportunity to teach in a real classroom and venture into Karen hill tribe villages for service. All of this happens in one of the most pristine and breathtaking places in the world. Finally, this is a rare opportunity to experience life at a refugee camp. RP students make connections with their peers growing up in the camp who face daily challenges and have a very different worldview.

  • To answer this question would be a massive generalization. That being said, the Karen strike most people as very hard-working, fun-loving, genuine, and caring.  Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles” and Karen people are no exception—they pass their time in the rice paddies exchanging stories and jokes.  It is a great privilege to soak in the subtle wisdom and ways of the Karen. The majority of the students at RPCH are Karen.

    The Karen (pronounced Kah-REN) are a distinct ethnic group who have settled primarily along the Thai-Burmese border. There are an estimated 4-7 million Karen people in the world today, with perhaps 300,000 in the mountains of western Thailand, making them the largest hill tribe in Thailand. Here, they have long been marginalized by Thai society, and most Karen villages still lack basic services, including schools. Citizens of neither Burma nor Thailand, some Karen people are in the precarious and terrifying position of statelessness, without any legal form of identification. Karen youth are growing up in quite a different world than the one their ancestors knew. The new generation faces great challenges as they are tasked with maintaining their traditional heritage and identity while also assimilating into rapidly modernizing Thailand.

  • You will have a number of service opportunities during your stay at RPCH. Rustic Pathways supports Baan Rai and Baan Pong schools where our Thai students attend school in Mae Sariang. In the past, Rustic Pathways students have contributed to a number of improvement projects at these schools and we continue to provide English teachers to their classrooms. A large part of your service, and realistically some of the most meaningful service anyone can do abroad, is teaching English. English is an incredibly valuable asset for these children. English exposure and practice will without a doubt open opportunities for them. Continue tutoring our Thai students, playing English games, or just have a chat once you’re back at RPCH in the evenings. Over the weekend, you will have the chance to work on improvement projects in the villages with which we partner. In the past, these projects have included painting, gardening, and the construction of libraries and playgrounds. During your second week, you will have the opportunity to teach in Mae Lai village school—a very rewarding experience, as students here are extremely eager to learn! Rustic students also earn their keep (and service hours!) at RPCH by helping with rice planting or tending to our vegetable garden. Your hard work will pay off when our students are eating the fruits (literally!) of your labor.

  • Yes, and it will make a difference in these students’ lives. Our staff will help you with the fundamentals of making a lesson plan, organizing activities, and creating games to break the ice. Ultimately, teaching English begins as an exercise in speaking very slowly and carefully. If you’re careful and energetic enough, you just might find that your students hanging on your every word after just a few minutes! Remember to go SLOW – repeat yourself often and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly. Once you have their attention, students learn very quickly! As this is likely your first attempt at really teaching a class (though you will be part of a team of a few students teaching together), don’t expect it to go perfectly. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will become.

  • Everyone at RPCH sleeps in traditional, Karen-style bamboo houses. The houses are stilted amongst emerald rice paddies and have wrap-around balconies overlooking rivers and mountains. There are houses for boys and male staff and separate houses for girls and female staff. Rustic Pathways students sleep separately from the Thai students who live at RPCH. Karen people almost never sleep in a room alone, so expect to share a room with at least one other person. You may find yourself in a dorm-style room with as many as ten new friends. Cushy sleeping pads, pillows, blankets, and mosquito nets are provided. You will be comfortable, but don’t expect a hotel’s ambience or amenities—the natural bamboo and teak structures are part of the appeal of the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home! When you leave RPCH for your village stay and refugee camp experience, you can expect to sleep on a thin mattress under a mosquito net.

  • Bathrooms at RPCH are shared and equipped with western toilets and hot water showers. When you leave RPCH to stay overnight in the village and refugee camp, you can expect squat toilets and cold-water bucket showers (a refreshing way to end your day!).

  • Doing a quick load of hand-wash laundry is a great way to start the day- the weather’s cool, it will get your blood flowing, and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment before most people have their coffee. But, if you need those extra fifteen minutes of Zzz’s, we have two washing machines on the grounds as well. Barring any downpours, your clothes will be dry by noon. On Sundays, staff and multi-week students can send their laundry out of RPCH. Your grubby service clothes will come back smelling fresh for a small fee.

  • There are mosquitoes and other insects in rural Thailand. They are usually not too much of a nuisance, but you will want to have a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and long pants for the evenings because The Big House, where we spend most of our time, is open to the outside air. Please be sure to bring insect repellent containing DEET. In addition, all sleeping areas at RPCH are covered by mosquito nets.

  • You’ll want money with you to buy handmade crafts in the villages and souvenirs at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. You may fall victim to the Thai habit of constantly buying ‘ka-nom’ – little snacks or sweets. You may also want to donate some school supplies, sports equipment, or clothes to the kids at the Children’s Home and the school (all of which can be bought in Thailand). Rustic Pathways recommends students bring between $100-$150 per week they are traveling.

  • Mae Sariang is hot and humid during the day, but the mountain air cools down a little bit 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 quickly and don’t attract mildew.

  • Don’t expect to tweet your every move! Phones and email will be accessible daily, although we encourage our students to unplug in order to engage more deeply with each other, the Thai students who live at RPCH, and their surroundings. Students will not be allowed to use their phones during group activities, nor at any other time where it is disruptive to the group dynamic.

  • Each Rustic Pathways trip is staffed by a combination of western (usually, but not exclusively, American) and local leaders. In addition to our Thai staff, we are lucky to have a number of our Burmese staff working at the Children’s Home. Some of our local and western staff live in Mae Sariang year-around to ensure our commitment to the community. Depending on the week, the size of the group at RPCH will vary along with the number of staff on hand. We never have less than one staff member for every seven students.

  • Students on Rustic Pathways Children’s Home and The Elephant Training and Hill Tribe Experience also call RPCH home for at least a portion of their program. You will have time to make friends with these students as we do many activities together and share meals, but there is time for bonding with students on your program as well. Depending on the week, the size of the group at RPCH will vary. You may find yourself in a smaller, cozier setting or part of a big high-energy crew. You’ll feel part of the RPCH family no matter its size!

  • Thailand is famous for its food, and this trip will awaken your taste buds to flavors you didn’t even know existed. You will eat a wide variety of Thai food, as well as a good deal of Western food, especially at breakfast when you can expect pancakes, eggs, or cereal. Almost all dietary concerns can be accommodated, but please alert us of any relevant restrictions beforehand just to make sure. Vegetarians are welcome!

  • You will be drinking only bottled water on this trip, and bringing a reusable water bottle is highly recommended. Bottled water is safe and readily available in Thailand.

  • Mae Sariang has a hospital with reliable medical care that caters to hundreds of Westerners every year. For the short time we will be in more rural areas, our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare facility in case of emergency. Learn more about our Safety and Risk Management strategy here.

  • Safety is a top priority, and all of our programs have staff certified with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or lifeguards.

  • Rustic Pathways does not make recommendations regarding immunizations. You will need to visit your local travel clinic and discuss your specific itinerary with a physician so that they can make medical recommendations for you. For general information about travel around the world, please see the Center for Disease Control website athttp://www.cdc.gov

  • 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 who will be waiting for them at the baggage claim..

  • All Rustic students fly in to Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. From there, students heading to northern Thailand take a short one-hour flight up to Chiang Mai, where this program begins.

  • The Rustic Pathways Children’s Home is located in Mae Sariang in northwest Thailand. The trip begins and ends in Chiang Mai, with students traveling by VIP vans to and from the RPCH.

  • “A person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.” – 1951 Refugee Convention

  • Mae Ra Ma Luang is one of nine major refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border where those fleeing Burma can shelter. Mae Ra Ma Luang is located 4 km from the Burmese border deep in the mountains. Bamboo houses topped with leaf roofs crowd the steep hills near the river that rushes through the middle of the valley. The land is stunning, but the Thai government has deemed it too inaccessible for tourism and too harsh for farming, and so it has be appropriated for refugee camps. This camp is home to approximately 16,000 refugees. NGOs have stepped in to provide services including food, shelter, health and sanitation services, reproductive health, primary and secondary education, nursery schools, special education, social services, rehabilitation, libraries, and protection. As you can see, the refugee camps are not merely scattered shacks, but functional communities. However, what this community lacks is freedom of movement around Thailand. Those who are granted refugee status are required to stay within the camp confines at ALL times. This means some of the students you will meet have never left the refugee camp their whole lives!

  • The refugees at Mae Ra Ma Luang camp come across the Thai border from Burma. Since achieving independence from the British in 1948, Burma has been economically stagnant and marred in violence, controversy, and corruption. There are eight major ethnic groups (and hundreds more minority groups) native to Burma. All those who have challenged the regime have been targeted, but those in the most precarious position are the ethnic minorities, particularly the Karen in eastern Burma. Since 1948 the Karen have been engaged in a battle for autonomy, making this conflict the longest running civil war on earth today. For more than half a century, the Burmese military government has carried out a deliberate, brutal campaign of violence, terror, rape, forced-labor, displacement, and murder while isolating the Karen from contact with the outside world. For over twenty years the Karen have been fleeing to Thailand seeking shelter from the ongoing abuses in the their native lands. There are over 150,000 people currently living in nine major refugee camps along the border.

  • Today, the official name of the country is Myanmar. The ruling military junta changed the name from Burma in 1989, as an attempt to avert international attention from civil uprisings in reaction to the genocide of thousands of Burmese ethnic minorities. Many countries, including the United States, refuse to recognize the name change.

  • We will be out of phone service for the time we are at the camp; however, there is a satellite phone that can be accessed for emergencies. Students will not have internet access while at the camp.

  • Yes. It is operated by a highly respected NGO.

  • Remember, it is a refugee camp in a remote location of the world. That being said, the accommodation is actually quite nice. Blankets and mosquito nets are provided. Extra blankets and woven mats are available to make a slim mattress. Additional bedding can be brought with us for special circumstances.

  • Believe us when we say you won’t be ready to leave after just two weeks! You’ve done the hard part on the journey over, so you may as well enjoy your time in Asia for as long as possible once you’ve made the trek! All of our programs within Asia connect seamlessly. All trips start and end on Thursday, thus allowing for easy connectivity and convenience.

  • The former leader of Burma once made a decision to change the country’s currency based on advice from his spiritual advisor.

    Contact Us: For more information about The Hill Tribe Support and Refugee Camp Experience you can 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.


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


  • Socks (2-4)
  • Underwear (7)
  • Pants/capris (1-2, lightweight)
  • Knee-length shorts (4)
  • Athletic shorts/leggings (1-2)
  • T-shirts (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


(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 Sariang

    Welcome to Thailand! Mae Sariang is a quaint little mountain town that is home to the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home. Students will facilitate English conversation classes at Baan Rai, Baan Pong and Mae Lai schools.

  2. b
    Rural Village

    Overnight stay at a remote village. This will be home to the Rural Outreach and Development program where students will participate in an on-going service initiative aimed to improve the infrastructure of the local community and school.

  3. c
    Mae Ra Moe Luang Refugee Camp

    This is 4×4 off-road excursion to one of the most remote places that any RP program visits. Mae Ra Moe Luang Camp is home to 16,000 Karen refugees and the group will spend one night inside the camp.

  4. d
    Chiang Mai

    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. Rustic Pathways Thailand has a Base House, an office and serves as the headquarters for almost all programs that operate in Thailand. On the final night students will shop at the famous Night Bazaar.