Ultimate Asia is an epic three week exploration of Asia’s most incredible countries. Travel with a group of Rustic Pathways alumni through China, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, exploring world-renowned cultural sites and experiencing a variety of cultures and landscapes. Walk along the Great Wall of China, volunteer with pandas and elephants, explore the 12th century ruins of Angkor Wat, stroll through the bustling markets of Bangkok and the quaint side streets in Luang Prabang, and get to know the incredible hill tribe communities along the mountainous border between Thailand and Myanmar. Most people only dream of being able to experience Asia’s most renowned cultural gems, but you’ll get to explore them all and dive into the unique cultures you come across along the way.
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.Read More
After meeting and greeting your flight leader and the other students joining the programs in China, you’re off to Beijing! This is an easy, non-stop ride across the Pacific – and most students find that after dinner and a movie, they’re able to manage dozing off to sleep for a while. So sit back, have a chat with your new friends, and enjoy the flight!
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!
After breakfast, start your action-packed day in the capital city of China! First, head to the biggest square in China, Tiananmen Square, followed by a visit to the Forbidden City, which was home to a royal family from the Qing Dynasty. Enjoy a taste of the famous dish of the region, Peking duck. After a delicious dinner on the town, feast your eyes on an acrobatics show. Marvel as these masters flip, juggle, and dance the night away.
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 Beijing in a local guesthouse.
Rise early, grab your bags and catch a short flight to Chengdu. Welcome to Southwest China! Hop on a private bus that will take you to the Wolong Conservation and Education Center in Dujiangyan, less than two hours away. Once you arrive, you’ll check into your guesthouse and enjoy a traditional Chinese lunch.
Meals here are served family style, so each day you’ll get to sample different Chinese dishes. This evening, we will head into Dujiangyan to explore the town and see the beautiful squares lit up at night.
It’s time to meet the pandas! Your guides will tour you around the facility, which is home to 50 to 70 pandas (depending on the time of the year). You will learn the background of this project and the goals of the conservation center.
Each group will be paired with specific pandas and researchers for your morning service work. A typical schedule might look like this:
After breakfast, you will check out and head to the airport to catch the flight to Luang Prabang, via Bangkok. Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful old towns in all of Southeast Asia. Named by The New York Times a few years ago as the Destination of the Year, Luang Prabang is charming, peaceful, welcoming, and addictive. Landing in Luang Prabang, you will meet a number of Rustic Pathways’ Lao program leaders and country managers who will be traveling with you while in Laos. It’s a short trip from the airport to your hotel where you will have a swim and then head out to Phu Si Mountain to catch the sunset, before enjoying a beautiful meal at Lao Lao Garden, one of the best restaurants in town. Then, you will head to the Night Market. This market is unique in Southeast Asia and a great place to shop for handmade crafts created by tribal women from the ethnic minority groups that surround Luang Prabang. Students bargain for funky slippers, cool bracelets, sweet t-shirts, handmade jewelry, and hand-stitched blankets made by local Hmong and Khmu ladies.
After breakfast, hop on a private slow-boat down the Mekong River to the Pak Ou caves. These ancient Buddhist caves date back almost six hundred years, and over that time, pilgrims to the site have left more than 4,000 images of the Buddha in the area. As you float along watch fisherman casting their nets off the riverbank, excited children plunging from rocks into the chilly waters, and women paddling boats to their villages carrying vegetables for the day. This is also a wonderful place to view the incredible landscape of Laos. Relax while the river carries you downstream where life has remained almost completely unchanged by outside influences for generations.
After grabbing lunch in town, head to the beautiful Kuang XI waterfalls, just outside of Luang Prabang. These falls are famous for their bright aqua color, beautiful surroundings, and Free the Bears’ rescue center along the river. Climb up to the top of the falls for a breathtaking view or rope swing into the bright blue lagoon. Dinner tonight is at a funky local restaurant renowned for its great Lao food and groovy music. You will enjoy sampling Lao dishes, listening to tunes, and watching the vibe of this chilled-out town. Then it’s back to your beautiful hotel where you will enjoy stunning mountain views and a peaceful night’s sleep.
The morning is truly a special time in the jungle of northern Laos. The birds bring the forest to life and the sun cuts bright rays through the fresh morning air. Rising very early, head deep into the forest to retrieve the elephants from their sleeping area. Once they are fed and cared for, you will head back to the camp for a satisfying meal of your own.
In the afternoon, meet to the veterinary care team and learn the role they play in the evolving relationship Laotians have with elephants. Meet the Center’s on-site veterinarian who will give you a brief tour of the hospital. Begin your training with the hospital’s veterinarians by learning to develop a diet plan, how to assess your elephant’s health, and how to understand and communicate with your elephant.
This afternoon you will also get the opportunity to visit the nursery, where a mother elephant and her baby are cared for. This baby elephant, Ngoi, is absolutely adorable- you may have already watched him try to bath in the lake, or feed himself awkwardly with his trunk! You will work with the Center’s staff to prepare a routine health check of the nursery, discussing the specifics of reproduction, artificial insemination, pregnancy, and neonatal care.
Many people don’t know that elephants are a matriarchal species. Male elephants will stay with their mothers until they are at least 16 years old, and females will stay with mom their entire lives, even as they raise their own young. Today, discuss the implications of poaching on this close-knit society and how the Center is acting to combat it.
This afternoon you’ll say goodbye to your new friends of mahouts, vets and elephants. Hop in the van and return to the base house in Luang Prabang.
Today you set off for an action packed morning of adventure! Start off with some chilled out, introductory kayaking down the river. Shortly after you’ll make a pit stop at Tad Sae waterfall! This gorgeous tiered waterfall is a great spot for swimming and exploring the multiple pools. After a relaxing dip, head back into the kayaks. Take in the surrounding mountain views as you glide down the Nam Khan river.
Eat lunch in town and clean up from your morning adventures. This afternoon is free for different options depending on the mood of your group.
Tonight you’ll get a chance to take in some local entertainment. Options include either traditional storytelling of Laos legendary folk tales or dinner combined with a local fashion show and dancing.
On your last morning in Laos, wake up on the early side to take part in an amazing daily ritual for people in this part of the world. It will be well worth your while to participate as the monks walk around town just past sunrise collecting alms from the local people for good merit. Afterwards, get a look into real Laos living by visiting the morning market. Then, you will head back to your hotel for a final swim before heading to the airport to fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Your first introduction to Cambodia will be Phare, the Cambodian Circus, where you will enjoy special on-site dinner and a close-up VIP look at the show.
Today you will explore not only world-famous, breathtaking Angkor Wat, but also equally impressive temples that are very different from Angkor. This is an awesome day for getting some great photos, and learning about the history of this famous World Heritage Site. In the morning, you’ll see renowned Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. You’ll check out Bayon Temple, made even more famous when it featured prominently in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We’ll have lunch at a trendy restaurant in Siem Reap town before continuing our temple adventures in the afternoon. A quick photo op at sandstone Ta Keo can’t be missed as we make our way to Ta Prohm famous for the trees growing literally out of the temple.
After all of the temple visits, you’ll be hungry for an awesome dinner and time to explore the night markets. After a full day you’ll be ready to sleep in style at the Sofitel Angkor.
Today you will visit a Cambodian cultural village as well as a traditional silk farm to learn a bit about local life and industry in this region. You’ll get to see the process of creating Cambodia’s beautiful textiles from start to finish, and this will shed a lot of light into what village life is like here. After that, it’s time to embark on an exciting cruise through the floating village region of Cambodia aboard Rustic Pathways very own boat! This is an eye-opening journey through this fascinating corner of Cambodia where whole villages live in clusters of stilted houses and subsist with very few possessions. This day generally–and this excursion specifically–will certainly provide you with a unique perspective on just how different your life is from the people who were born in this area. In the evening, you will have the chance to reflect on what you have seen and learned so far, and the lessons that you will be taking home with you.
After your last breakfast in Cambodia, you land in Chiang Mai, Thailand after a brief stopover in Bangkok.
As soon as you step off the plane in this fascinating northern city, you’ll notice that everything is different from Siem Reap. 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.
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.
After breakfast your friends at the Children’s Home will take you to one of their favorite fishing spots, where you can test your angling skills. After lunch, you will begin the journey back to Chiang Mai, stopping at the impressive Mae Wachirathan and Mae Ya waterfalls on the way. Once in Chiang Mai, take time to freshen up before heading to the Night Bazaar to pick up some souvenirs for your friends and family back home.
Today will start with a trip to some of the oldest temples the center of the Old City. You’ll visit Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, Wat Mun, and the beautiful Wat Chedi Luang, which was once the largest structure in the Lanna Kingdom before a large section was knocked down in an earthquake several hundred years ago. Take your chances on the temple’s slot-machine fortune teller or hang a golden silk banner for good luck before sitting down to chat with a local monk.
Chiang Mai is home to a thriving artist community, and while in town you will have the chance to learn about many traditional handicrafts that this region has become famous for. After breakfast, you’ll see some of the city’s modern art as well with a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s newest attractions, the Art in Paradise 3D museum. Then, you will head into the rolling mountains to Northern Thailand’s Holiest site, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. With panoramic views of the lush Chiang Mai valley below, learn about the unique religious traditions of the area, a fusion of Buddhist, Hindu and animist traditions. Hear the Legend of the White Elephant that marked this sacred spot as the location for the temple, and climb the dragon-guarded staircase to into the shrine itself. Once inside, be blessed by a monk for a happy and healthy trip before making offerings and getting your fortune read (spoiler alert!).
Coming down from the mountain, you will stop at a bustling market in front of Chiang Mai University where you will feel the buzz of student life at one of Thailand’s largest universities. The last stop of the day will be the Night Bazaar, where you will shop the night away while practicing your bargaining skills (hint: Don’t be shy!).
Today, you will catch a mid-day flight down to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. You will check in you your hotel, get refreshed, and get ready to head out for a night of excitement in the city. Tonight, you will experience a championship Muay Thai (Thai kick-boxing) fight at the most prestigious stadium in Thailand, Lumpini Stadium. Muay Thai is an ancient art and a huge source of pride for Thai people, and experiencing a match in person is quite an experience. Later, we’ll return to the hotel to get some rest for a big day exploring Bangkok tomorrow!
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.
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!
**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.
For more information, email email@example.com
Students will begin and end this program at Bangkok International Airport. Staff members from their next trip will meet any student transferring to another program in Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia, at the Bangkok international Airport. Students transferring to China, Australia, Fiji, or New Zealand will fly out from BIA. Flight leaders for the trip home will meet students returning to the United States.
In order to come to China, you will need to apply for your visa 6 – 12 weeks before your departure. You cannot get a visa when you arrive in country.
Students from the United States will be issued a visa on arrival to every country this program visits. Please remember to bring multiple passport-sized photos (at least 3) with you when you travel for your visa on arrival in Laos and Cambodia. Students from all other countries should check with their consulate for visa information.
Yes. All flights between the USA, Beijing, and Bangkok will have flight leaders.
On the way to China from LAX, this flight takes approximately 13 hours. In flying back from Bangkok, we have a layover in Singapore. The total flight time Bangkok – Singapore – LAX is about 21 hours.
China, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand!
We will be flying from Beijing to Chengdu, Chengdu to Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to Chiang Mai, and Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
Each program will have leaders who are certified in First Aid and CPR. Some of our program leaders are also certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.
Rustic Pathways maintains a minimum of 1 Program Leader for every 7 students. Additionally, each program maintains at least 2 primary program leaders, one male and one female.
Students are allowed to bring phones on their Rustic Pathways program, but must abide by our cell phone policy. 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. If students are unable to abide by this policy, disciplinary action may be taken.
You will be staying at the best accommodations available in each of the regions of these countries. Keep in mind that you are traveling to some rural and underdeveloped regions and that accommodations may be a little different than the W Hotel in New York. However, you will always be comfortable and staying in the best place the region has to offer. Students love where we stay—in Bangkok, we stay at some of the top hotels in the world.
You will eat at a variety of establishments, including some of the nicest restaurants in each region. Please bring at least one outfit that is sutiable for nice dinner wear. We will also sample some local delicacies, and eat at a variety of levels of restaurants. You will be fed well. In big cities, we do try stop in and have some more Western food for a taste of home. If you are a vegetarian, prepare for a lot of rice, vegetables and fruit. If you have any nut allergies, please tell us so we can make sure that the food is prepared in a certain way for you.
This is a very fast paced trip and would recommend not banking on a laundry day.
Please consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for immunization and other medical recommendations, based on the area(s) where you will be traveling and on your own medical history. In addition to consulting with a medical professional, please visit the International SOS and Center for Disease Control websites for country specific information around immunizations and traveler’s health. Please let us know if you have specific questions.
International SOS is one of the world’s leading providers of medical evacuation and travel services. All participants traveling with Rustic Pathways will have access to International SOS’ benefits through Rustic Pathways’ membership.
As a member you will have access to International SOS’ extensive travel information database to help you make informed decisions prior to travel. Additionally, all travelers who travel outside their country of residence will have access to medical evacuation support during their program. For more information please visit our International SOS webpage.
Extra costs on this trip are any type of extra shopping, souvenirs, large amounts of snacks (i.e. if you cannot live without Red Bull and you drink six a day, that will be on you). Extra activities that may occasionally arise, like deluxe movies tickets and long karaoke sessions. Spa treatments, room service, and the like. Anything you charge in your room is your responsibility to pay for.
We tend to recommend $200 – $300 based on your penchant for souvenirs and snacks.
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.
Photocopy of passport
4 passport-sized photos for Visas
Book and/or journal
Change of clothes
Reusable water bottle (Nalgene sized)
Additional community service forms
Outlet power converter
Consent to Travel form
Rustic Pathways emergency contacts
A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal. A wheeled bag is acceptable only if it can be carried like a duffel bag over rough terrain.
(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)
Southeast 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!