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Explore Laos and all the wonders it has to offer—visit ancient Buddhist caves, hike to the top of a waterfall, and participate in a traditional Lao cooking class! Spend a few days at the Lao Elephant Conservation Center where you’ll learn all about these magnificent creatures including their diets, how to asses their health, and proper communication techniques. End the trip with a scavenger hunt in Luang Prabang and a final dinner in Bangkok, Thailand!

Dates listed reflect travel time departing from and returning to the USA. International clients click here.

You must enroll in a program at least 8 days prior to the scheduled departure date. For help choosing an alternate date or location, please contact us to speak with a program expert.

With our No-Stress Travel Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.

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Program Profile

Laos, Thailand

  • 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

    Sabai dee and welcome to Southeast Asia! Hop a final short flight from Bangkok up to Luang Prabang, Laos, where ancient temples, colonial architecture, rich history, and unmatched beauty have earned the entire town UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The Laos team will meet you at the airport and drive you directly to the Rustic Pathways Base House on the Mekong River to relax after your journey.

  • Day 4

    After breakfast, hop on a boat up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou caves. These ancient Buddhist caves date back almost six hundred years, and over that time, pilgrims have left more than 4,000 images of the Buddha in the area.  Along the way, you will get the opportunity to visit a weaving village settled in the valley of the Mekhong river more than 400 years. As you float along watch fisherman casting their nets from their small boats and take in the incredible green 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 Kuangsi waterfalls just outside of Luang Prabang. These falls measure over 250 feet high and are famous for their bright aqua color, beautiful surroundings, and Free the Bears’ rescue center. Jump in and swim in the many levels of refreshing pools. Take a short hike to the top of the falls and enjoy the mountain’s sweeping vista across the valley of Luang Prabang.

    After you get dried off and back in the vans, drive to Phousi Mountain and walk up the hundreds of steps to the beautiful mountaintop temple. Up here you’ll have another amazing view of the whole town and watch the sunset over the Mekong River. Then walk down the steps of the temple to the foot of the night market. Here you’ll have a chance to purchase souvenirs to take back home with you as gifts for friends and family.

  • Day 5

    Wake up with the sun to give alms to the monks who wander the town with their traditional bowls collecting offerings. This morning you will leave the bustle of town behind as you bike into the countryside around Luang Prabang. Following the sleepy paths along the river, you will stop at a few temples along the way to learn more about the integral part Buddhism plays in Lao life.   Chat with the monk, learning about his dedication to a life of buddhism and receive a orange string on your wrists which symbolizes good luck, blessings and the moral teachings of buddhism.

    This afternoon, dive deeper into Lao culture with a traditional cooking class! Whip up some stir-fry, try your hand at rolling spring rolls, and learn about the ingredients that make Lao cuisine unique and delicious.

    Early this afternoon, relax in style with a Lao massage before dinner. This evening after dinner, have some Lao-style fun at the local bowling alley!

  • Day 6

    After your morning coffee and croissant in Luang Prabang – leftovers from the French colonization – set out for the Lao Elephant Conservation Center. A couple of hours by VIP van over craggy mountain passes on misty jungle roads, followed by a boat ride over a stunning lake will bring you to this remote elephant sanctuary in Xayaboury Province.

    Once you arrive at the camp, meet the entire staff – including the elephants. The senior staff will give you a hearty welcome over traditional pho soup and introduce the plan for the next few days.

    The Lao Elephant Conservation Center takes a completely different approach to many other camps in the area when it comes to conservation. With their small herd of elephants and a very concentrated focus on conservation practices, basic veterinary training, and responsible elephant handling, you will NOT be riding the elephants. Instead, you will be learning how to care for them and helping this amazing species to thrive in Southeast Asia.

    You will be assigned an elephant to work with for the next few days.  Every afternoon, the elephants are taken to bathe in Namtien Lake, where the center is located. You will be delighted at how playful and fun they are in the water! Then, it is time to trek the herd into the forest, where they sleep for the night and forage in their natural habitat.

    Heading back to the camp on jungle paths, arrive in time to take a swim, relax with your friends and get ready for dinner.  In the evening, you are invited to help the kitchen staff and learn some Lao cooking skills while preparing delicious fresh meals with locally grown tropical fruits, vegetables, and rice.

    After dinner, you can relax and get to know your group better before falling asleep in your bungalow.

  • Day 7

    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.

  • Day 8

    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.

  • Day 9

    To grasp the best of Luang Prabang on your final morning, you’ll explore the city on a scavenger hunt!  Navigate by bicycle or in tuk tuks, a three-wheeled vehicle powered by motorcycle.  Follow the clues to gather great photos, snacks and souvenirs along the way.

    Finally, in the afternoon you’ll head to the airport to say goodbye to idyllic Luang Prabang and fly back to Thailand. All Laos programs finish with a night in Bangkok. Celebrate at dinner with your group, sharing memories and photos on your last night together.

  • Day 10

    Laos programs connect easily with all other Southeast Asia programs, so consider staying a week or longer to explore more of this incredible part of the world!

    Heading home? You will transfer to Bangkok airport to meet up with your Flight Leader who will lead our escorted group flight back to the US.

    Whatever is next for you, we hope that you always keep the warm memories of Laos with you!

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 laos@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
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Passport photos
  • Wallet/money/ATM card
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pens (2)
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Ear buds
  • Change of clothes
  • Water bottle
  • Medications
  • Visa documentation
  • Outlet adaptor
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts


A 25-35 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.


  • Socks (2-3)
  • Underwear (7)
  • Lightweight pants/capris (2)
  • Jeans (1)
  • Knee-length shorts (3-4)
  • T-shirts (7-8)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2)
  • Fleece/hoodie (lightweight)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket/windbreaker
  • Flip-flops
  • Strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat


(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contact lens solution
  • Personal medicinal needs
  • Deodorant
  • Wet Wipes
  • Quick dry towel


  • Sleeping bag liner (Optional! Bedding is provided.  Best if liner is lightweight and breathable)
  • Headlamp


  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Photos from home

Important Luggage Weight Restrictions

Airlines in Southeast Asia have weight restrictions for checked and carry on luggage. Please limit your checked luggage to no more than 33lbs (15kg) and your carry on luggage to 15lbs (7kg).

  1. a
    Luang Prabang

    The home to our Rustic Pathways Base House. Also where ancient temples, colonial architecture, rich history, and unmatched beauty have earned the entire town UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

  2. b
    The Lao Elephant Conservation Center

    Enjoy a few days spending time with and caring for elephants at the Lao Elephant Conservation Center.

  3. c

    All Laos programs finish with a night in Bangkok. Celebrate a wonderful trip with a fun group dinner!