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Go beyond China’s busy city life into Yunnan, one of the country’s most diverse provinces, where you will be introduced to unique cultures and breathtaking landscapes. Lead enrichment activities with children in an incredible 600-year-old village, travel by horseback to help a rural community (where outsiders are rare) on the Southern Silk Road,work with the NGO that helps to protect their land, and hike ancient trails along one of the deepest, and most stunning, natural gorges in the world.

Program Profile

Community Service Component
Next Level
Community Service Focus
Get to Know
The People
Travel Component
Moderate Travel Involved

2017 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
June 28 July 12 Available

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

    Los Angeles

    After meeting and greeting your flight leader and the other students joining the programs in China, you’re off to Beijing! An easy nonstop ride across the Pacific, most students—after dinner and a movie—manage to doze off to sleep for a while.

  • Day 2


    Arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport, where you will meet up with your program managers. Catch a chartered bus through downtown. 
Take in your first glimpses of China as you’re carried through the streets, especially Beijing’s distinctive old-meets-new architectural character. This multicultural metropolis is home to some 20 million people – one of the largest cities in the world. While Mandarin Chinese is the official national language here, nearly 300 other distinct languages are also spoken throughout the country’s 23 provinces. Welcome to China!

  • Day 3


    Rising early, enjoy a traditional Chinese breakfast before your flight to Kunming, capital of Yunnan province. Notice how the skyscrapers of Shanghai fade into the towering peaks of the Hengduan range. This region is home to many of China’s ethnic minority groups, including Yi, Bai, Hani, Dai and Miao, some of whom you’ll meet as you explore their lands.

    Next we will travel to the quaint, countryside village of Da He Chuan, your service base for the next two days. Your guesthouse was established in 2011 as a sustainable social enterprise, directing all profits to fund local NGOs—including the one you’re volunteering with— and to preserve local architecture. With authentic styles yet modern amenities, you’ll enjoy the feel of a traditional Bai house while appreciating all the comforts of home.

    Once you have settled into your room, we will wander out and explore the original 600-year-old village of Da He Chuan, learning the history of the Yi ethnic minority to better understand the ancestors of our host village.

  • Day 4 - 5


    After traditional Chinese breakfast, we walk into town to meet migrant children with whom you’ll be leading enrichment activities over the next two days. Children of Chinese migrant laborers often move around as their parents seek work. Constantly uprooted and with no place in any particular society, these children often fall behind in their studies. Heart 2 Heart Foundation, a community center in Da He Village, provides these children with a library, adults to help them learn to read, and a safe space. We will give these children individual attention and organize fun educational games for them while their parents are away working.

    You will also have the opportunity to learn from these students and enjoy a scavenger hunt around their town, during which the children can show you their favorite places, like the market. Their English and our Mandarin may be poor-or non-existent-but laughter is a universal language.

    Following a day of assessing the children’s abilities, we will plan a “Fun Fair” day so that the children can be engaged and enjoy learning while their parents are off working. Later, the children will join us back at the guesthouse for cooking classes. After a last night meal, we will take turns at the guesthouse amphitheater sharing what we have all learned.

  • Day 6


    After breakfast, jump on our private bus and weave through minority villages dotting the Hengduan Mountains towards the historic town of Dali, former capital of the ancient Bai kingdom. Settle into your hotel in the afternoon and freshen up. Spend the evening eating dinner and exploring the shops on the narrow alleys of the historic old town district, known as Gucheng.

  • Day 7


    Rise early and sip Yunnan coffee as the sun climbs over Malong mountain. After breakfast, get back on your private bus and cross over the Cang Shan mountain range into the Shaxi Valley, your base for the next three days.

    Descend into the calm Shaxi Valley and watch as rural Chinese life begins to play out before you. Shaxi—nearly impossible to find on a tourist map—was an important stop on the historic Southern Silk Road, the trade route that linked the tea-producing region of Yunnan to Burma and India across the Tibetan Plateau. Even today, you’ll feel history’s influence on the religion and culture of Shaxi.

    When you arrive in Shaxi, locals will teach you local crafts- traditional candy pulling and paper cutting. Settle in, freshen up and have some dinner before an evening spent strolling the lantern-lit streets and speaking with locals.

  • Day 8


    Enjoy today exploring Shibaoshan, a national heritage site off most tourists’ radar, but frequently visited by the locals. Enjoy getting up and away from Shaxi into nature. We explore grotto carvings of Buddha and other figures. If we are lucky, we may get to see a monkey on our hike up to Baoxing Temple.

  • Day 9


    After breakfast, pack a bag for our overnight horseback trip to the remote Bai village of Ma Ping Guan, once a thriving tax stop on the Southern Silk Road. Few outsiders ever visit this village, but tonight you’ll have that rare opportunity.

    Once we have arrived and eaten lunch, we will help the small community of locals with their various needs, which could be anything from cleaning their Temple or herding their livestock. We will learn how local villagers make their living—picking rare mushrooms and tending to cattle—then explore the local village before watching the sun set over the Shaxi Valley from our mountaintop vantage. After dark, we will enjoy a barbecue and bonfire with the local community, enjoy some great food and relax to the sounds of the villagers’ traditional songs.

  • Day 10


    After breakfast in Ma Ping Guan, spend time with the locals learning how they make their living and spend their time. After lunch bid farewell to your host family and hike the four hours back down the mountain to Shaxi. Think about the local students that make that hike every week to get to school.

  • Day 11

    Leaping Tiger Gorge

    Rising early, jump in the bus for a beautiful hour drive north to Leaping Tiger Gorge, one of the deepest natural gorges in the world. The Jinsha River, one of the upper tributaries of the famed Yangtze River, carved the deep gorge with centuries of glacier melt. Take a four hour hike on an ancient Naxi trail along the down to the Jinsha River to get stunning views of the gorge. After a late lunch, make your way back to guesthouse so that you can continue to enjoy the view all evening.

  • Day 12


    After two weeks on the go and volunteering, we will head into Lijiang to enjoy the town and shopping. We will have the afternoon to appreciate the handmade local art and wander the beautiful Old Town streets. Tonight, if it is good weather, we will have a traditional BBQ with our local guesthouse owners.

  • Day 13


    We get to enjoy a late morning before heading to a local Yunnan show for the early afternoon. After lunch, we will head to the airport to head back to Beijing. Say goodbye to the beautiful Province of Yunnan!

  • Day 14

    Great Wall

    Get up early and head to a remote section of the Great Wall- away from the tourists and the cities. Enjoy hiking along this picturesque section of the Great Wall and your final evening in a local guesthouse.

  • Day 15

    Beijing and Home

    Today is your final day in China and your last opportunity to say goodbye to this amazing country. Grab some last minute gifts and snap some group photos of your last day in China. Grab your bags and head to the airport for final goodbyes and sharing of memories of this incredible journey through China.

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 china@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • The direct flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai is approximately 13 hours. The return flight to Los Angeles is a bit faster, taking 12 hours.

  • Yes. All flights between Shanghai and the USA will have a flight leader starting when the students meet their flight leader in the LAX (Los Angeles) airport.

  • China requires a visa for US citizens which students must obtain themselves before departure. Information about obtaining your visa is provided with your acceptance letter. If your stay in China is longer than 30 days, please contact our office for information regarding additional visa requirements. Students who are not traveling on a US passport should check online for their visa requirements.

  • The city of Shanghai is within the Shanghai Provincial Region of the People’s Republic of China. It is on the Eastern Coast of the Country and is the largest city by population in the country. We will head to the Yunnan Province for this program in the heart of China.

  • 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 (as listed above). You can also check the Center for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov for more information.

  • Throughout mainland Asia, Thursdays are our travel days. This allows you to connect to other programs in China or other countries in mainland Asia easily, quickly, and safely. While students’ flights between programs are unescorted, they will be dropped off at the airport by their previous program leader and met at the arrival airport by their new program leader.

  • The Yunnan Province does not have a huge distinction between the four seasons. The average temperatures range from 54 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest days are in July average 72 degrees. The rainy season starts in June, so make sure to bring a raincoat!

    Shanghai can also have high humidity and reach high temperatures in the summer. Make sure to pack at least one set of clothes for temperatures that can reach 98 degrees.

  • Yes! This program has you interacting with many locals throughout the Yunnan Province. If you know Mandarin, you should definitely come practice. If you don’t, do not worry, your program leaders will teach you basic phrases and show you the ropes.

  • This program works with with the Heart 2 Heart Foundation in the De He

  • This trip is not physically exerting. There are a host of optional activities that we encourage you to take part in but if you are not physically able to it will not detract from your trip.

  • The majority of costs associated with the program are included on this trip. Students should have extra allowance money if they wish to buy souvenirs, artwork or handicrafts from local artisans, want to purchase additional snacks or sodas from the local grocery stores, or for personal expenses like laundry or phone calls home.

  • There may be the opportunity for small groups of students to go out and get a foot massage or participate in special activities happening in the city that aren’t mentioned in the itinerary. This would include something such as a festival or music performance that is happening as a unique opportunity to students on a specific week of the program where there are enough students that wish to go and are accompanied by a Rustic Pathways staff member.

  • Since Rustic Pathways program costs include all meals, we prefer to stay with a strictly Chinese food diet. This is often not a hard compromise since it offers some of the best food in the world and each province offer amazing diversity for flavors and cooking methods. In addition, by sticking with the local diet, your body becomes adapted to traveling in a foreign country much easier; however, should a student really crave fast food or some sweets, we allow ample time for students to use their own money to quench this hunger.

  • Contrary to belief, China is not just about rice. In fact, often Chinese people will ask you “Do you prefer noodles or rice?” Better yet, the Chinese cuisine is one of the most suitable for vegetarians. China’s vegetable dishes are plentiful and savory and spiciness can be increased or left out all together at a simple request. One thing we do ask is that students are forthright about their food allergies, often China will use a lot of cooking oil and home spices, thus it’s important for us to know what you can and can not eat. This will not mean you go a day without food; rather the simple ingredient is asked to be left off.

  • With all of your meals and activities in China, Rustic Pathways buys bottled water for the students. Drinking tea made with boiled water presents no problems and the students can use tap water

  • Accommodation will vary in different locations. In Kunming and Shaxi, students will be in multi-person dorm rooms (girls with girls/boys with boys). When visiting Shanghai and Lijiang students will be partnered into pairs for their stays in hotels. A Rustic Pathways staff member will be staying on the same floor with them in the hotel.

  • Public toilets in China can be a bit unclean, and If you can avoid going to bathrooms at gas stations or in heavily trafficked locations, there are often no problems. At the dormitory all toilets will be Western-style and when eating in restaurants, the “squatters” are often clean and well-maintained. The bathroom issue is a sensitive one in China since most Chinese people prefer the squatters, believing less contact offers cleaner situations; however, we understand our students’ concerns and often can find suitable toilets throughout the day, especially in metropolitan Shanghai.

  • We expect a good mix between genders, however the exact numbers vary from week to week and usually lean to the side of more girls than boys.

  • Rustic Pathways generally strives to maintain a ratio of approximately 1 guide for every 7 students. There will be a maximum of 4 guides on this program and may vary due to group size; however, there will always be one Mainland Chinese bi-lingual staff and one Western staff with CPR/First Aid Training supervising (In addition, each group will have at least one male and one female leader.) Lastly, our guides go through a rigorous selection process including interviews with our program managers and a full background check.

  • Because we take safety incredibly seriously, 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.

  • Students should pack reasonably for this program (more than one outfit and less than twenty). The laundry is available in the dorms for about $2 per load.

  • Students will have access to internet throughout the program, although we may take special trips to cafes or places that have wireless access for students. In addition, there are phones everywhere in China (most small, road-side shops have an International-ready line) to call home.

 Parents please remember that we will always send you safe arrival e-mails and should you have any further questions or ask that your child sends an update, please let us know and we’ll be happy to pass on a friendly reminder.


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

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


You will be moving around a lot on this trip. Less is more because you will be responsible for carrying your own bags. A duffel bag or backpack is ideal. A wheeled bag is suitable if it can be carried like a duffel bag over rough terrain or if it is incredible sturdy.

Clothing Items

  • Underwear (12-14)
  • Socks (7)
  • T-Shirts with sleeves (7-10)
  • Long Sleeve Shirts (2-3)
  • Lightweight jacket (1)
  • Long Shorts (3-4)
  • Pants/Jeans (1-2)
  • Lightweight, waterproof rain jacket
  • Pajamas (1)
  • Sneakers
  • Flip-Flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • 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 (to use as toilet paper)
  • Razor/shaving cream


  • Flashlight/Headlamp w/ Extra Batteries
  • Watch or Clock with an Alarm
  • Bag for dirty clothes

Optional Items

  • Chinese phrasebook
  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • Frisbee, Aerobee, football, etc.
  1. a

    Here is where you’ll start and end your adventures in China!

  2. b

    This region is home to many of China’s ethnic minority groups, including Yi, Bai, Hani, Dai and Miao, some of whom you’ll meet as you explore their lands.

  3. c

    Shaxi—nearly impossible to find on a tourist map—was an important stop on the historic Southern Silk Road, the trade route that linked the tea-producing region of Yunnan to Burma and India across the Tibetan Plateau. Even today, you’ll feel history’s influence on the religion and culture of Shaxi.

  4. d

    After two weeks on the go and volunteering, we will head into Lijiang to enjoy the town and shopping.