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 and Baan Pong schools.
Live with students from Karen hill tribe villages at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home in northwestern Thailand. You’ll form close bonds with these students as you tutor them in English and learn about their lives. Teach English at the elementary school down the street where you will find the students eager to learn. In your free time, ride bikes through the rice paddies, try new Thai snacks at the market in town, or just relax and take in this gorgeous setting.
Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Prior to your departure, you will have received your pre-departure packet, which will include your Rustic T-shirts, airline tickets, and important contact information.
Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Airport Coordinator will help you get checked in to your international flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leader who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Our Flight Leaders are most often school teachers or good friends of our organization who happily fill this role for us each year. Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Thailand!
Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.
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 is affectionately nicknamed the ‘Land of Smiles.’
As you exit the arrival hall with your friendly flight leader, you will meet our team of staff. They have been anxiously awaiting your arrival and will lead you up to the fourth floor of the airport, where you’ll have a relatively quiet place to unwind and meet new friends who have arrived on different flights or are connecting from different programs.
We’ll have ample space for you to relax, as well as a nice assortment of food and refreshments for you to enjoy. This may be your first chance to have truly authentic pad thai (you’ll like it, trust us) or one of the other traditional dishes (including vegetarian options) we have to offer. You can also expect to try a few delicious Thai fruits that you’ve probably never seen before but that you may quickly grow to love.
As soon as all of the incoming students have arrived at the airport, it will be time to get ready for your connecting flight. You will be on the same flight up to Chiang Mai as all students connecting to programs based in 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, and their warm energy will hit you right away – this really is a special group of people.
Once everyone has their bags, it will be time to hop in our VIP touring vans and begin the trek 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, this diverse town is a central hub for education and employment for hill tribe villagers from the surrounding mountains. You’ll come to recognize hill tribe members 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 be there before you know it!
Once you arrive in Mae Sariang, you’ll be greeted by the students who are doing multiple weeks at the project, as well as 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.
Wake to a whole new world that the darkness of the previous night hid from you. Looking out from the facility, admire the lush rice paddies and a swift river adjoining the property. A rolling range of mountains dotted with temple tops and pagodas will form the perfect backdrop to the scene.
At breakfast, the 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 house with breathtaking views, where your leaders will bring you up to speed on the family which you have now become a part of. Here you will learn about the background of this Base, a great introduction into the people you will meet, projects you will aid, and the powerful effects you and your peers can yield 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 with an education, 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 us to the home of our long-time director, Yutthana, where his mother will teach you traditional Karen weaving as it has been passed down 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 and its impact on 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 children returning home your heart will fully understand too. After greeting the children, the games begin! Cultural barriers fall as you and your Karen teammates will join hands in activities. Before dinner begins you will be linked up with a “Thai buddy” who you will have the opportunity to get to know throughout the week.
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.
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. While it may not seem that impressive or exciting to you, 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.
After lunch at the Children’s Home, we are off on the ROAD. This is our Rural Outreach and Development program. This ambitious project was established 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 2011, Rustic students built a library in Baan Rai Lor village; in 2012, they built a kindergarten in Baan Mae Ga Nai village, and in 2013, they completed a library in Baan Mae Lai village.
After a satisfying day of service and play, you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep!
Wake up to the delicious smells of breakfast and the proud sights of your previous day’s work. After working up an appetite through a few hours of service, we’ll return to Mae Sariang for lunch where a pad thai feast will await you. In the afternoon, you’ll enjoy the comforts, beauty, and people of the Children’s Home. Share stories, play pick-up soccer, grab a guitar, exchange games and songs, and be present to your surroundings. Sunday afternoons are spent tutoring and teaching English to your Thai buddies to practice your skills for Monday’s teaching assignment.
With Monday morning around the corner, it’ll be time to start your lesson planning for your service teaching English in our local partner schools. Don’t worry; we have lots of experience with this! We’ll begin with everyone sharing experiences, techniques, and then our staff and two-week 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.
After dinner lead some reading lessons or help some of the children with their homework before settling down for our debriefing on the service project and a mid-trip reflection.
After breakfast and a quick review of your lesson plan, head off to teach! This will begin as an exercise in speaking very slowly and carefully. 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, return to the Children’s Home for a bit of down time before you head out to the farm and rice fields in the afternoon. Learn traditional ways of landscaping the rice paddies, planting rice, and tending to the vegetables. It’s hard work but you’ll definitely gain a greater appreciation for your locally grown dinner.
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 before preparing for Tuesday’s teaching. Once again, our staff will be sure to help you along the way!
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 return to the school to facilitate an outdoor English camp. 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.
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 with our talented chef, a Muay Thai training session with a Rustic staff member who is also a legendary boxing champion, meditation at a local monastery, market explorations, or a bicycle ride through the idyllic countryside.
Dinner will be eaten on the veranda of the big house. We will eat family style on Thai mats while watching the sunset. Our final meal may even include a pig roast or a pizza party. Last meals are always full of surprises!
After dinner, get excited for the festivities. For those only staying one week at the Children’s Home, this will be your last night in Mae Sariang and we always go out with a bang. 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 week and share your memories with the friends you’ve made throughout the week.
If you are going home or connecting to another Rustic Pathways program, you will leave the Children’s Home today. Wake up early and say your warm goodbyes to your new Karen friends, you will be heading back to Chiang Mai after lunch.
After a breakfast spent reflecting on the wonderful friends and memories of the week, we’ll take you up to a temple that’s been carved from a cave and protected by massive, overlooking 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.
With good luck in hand and peace of mind, we’ll return to the Children’s Home to pack for Chiang Mai, take any final photos of your new home in Mae Sariang, and leave a note in our ‘Friendship Book’ for your Karen friends to read when they return home.
Tonight, you’ll have the chance to shop at the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and enjoy a traditional northern Thai feast before heading back to our accommodation for the night.
Students going back home or connecting to selected programs will fly to Bangkok first thing in the morning. Students connecting to a program that begins in Chiang Mai will participate in a day activity. All students doing another week at the Hill Tribe Support Project will remain in Mae Sariang and customize an itinerary at the Children’s Home or elect to go on the Refugee Camp side-trip.
**All students on our group flights arrive home on Fridays, regardless of whether they return to JFK or LAX. **
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.
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The Rustic Pathways’ Children Home is one of Rustic Pathways’ most ambitious global projects and one of our students’ most beloved destinations. Spending a week at RPCH is your chance to dive into the warmth of Karen culture and give back to the 31 students who will welcome you with open arms into their gorgeous home.
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.
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.
Rustic Pathways plays a large role in supporting the local school, Baan Rai. We have supported various projects, and continuously help them in the classroom. A large part of your service, and realistically some of the most meaningful service anyone can do abroad, is teach English. English is an incredibly valuable asset for these children. English exposure and practice will without a doubt open opportunities for them. Back at RPCH, it’s a good time to sit down with a student and continue their ongoing English lessons or just have a chat. Additionally, we will venture out on the ROAD, our Rural Outreach and Development project, aimed at aiding some of the Karen Hill Tribe villages in which our students come from.
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. 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 one-night village stay, you can expect to sleep on a thin mattress on the floor 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, 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. If you are staying for more than one week on any of our programs, you can have your laundry sent out to town 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 The Hill Tribe Support and Refugee Camp Experience and The Elephant Training and Hill Tribe Experience also call RPCH home for 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 at http://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.
Believe us when we say that you will definitely not want to leave after just one week! Plus, the trip over is the hard part, so you might as well stay as long as you can 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. Staff and former students tend to think this program connects especially well with Elephants and the Amazing Thailand Adventure, Sticky Rice Service Adventure and The Hill Tribes of the Golden Triangle, but the possibilities are endless!
There is no greener green in the world than the rice paddies of Mae Sariang. Don’t believe us? See them in person!
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.
A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.
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.
(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)
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 and Baan Pong schools.
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.
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.