Discover a fascinating new land, immerse yourself in diverse cultures, and develop a connection with some of the friendliest pachyderms on the planet. Elephants and Amazing Thailand is our most popular program combination in the world - and it is the perfect way to experience the Kingdom of Thailand for the first time. Earn your junior mahout (elephant trainer) certification, spend a night in the jungle with your elephant, experience a real Hill Tribe home-stay, shop at some of the region's coolest markets, take a long-tail boat ride to a long-neck Karen village, and explore the world-famous highlights of Bangkok. Since most students do these programs as a combination, expect the vast majority of the group to be there with you for both weeks, allowing for some lasting friendships to develop.
The first week of the program will be spent at the magnificent Royal Elephant Reserve, which is one of the finest elephant study and management facilities in the world. Your enthusiastic participation here will help to ensure a strong future for Asian elephants.
You will attend classes and gain hands-on experience with elephants and their mahouts at a renowned training facility that is set in the picturesque hills of a large reserve. Learn basic Thai commands for communicating with your elephant, as you ride through the conservation; bathe your elephant in nearby lakes and help care for injured elephants in the elephant hospital. You will live and experience the day-to-day lifestyle of a Thai mahout: weave a harness, dress in a traditional mahout outfit, sing the "elephant song" and carve dishes out of bamboo. Your contributions to these projects and heightened awareness about the challenges Asian elephants face will help ensure the well being of both the elephants and this great facility. At the conclusion of your program you will receive a formal certificate of participation from the Mahout School, as well as up to 36 community service hours.
After your awesome week in the jungle with the elephants, we'll pack up the vans and get ready for the Amazing Thailand Adventure. Starting in Chiang Mai, we'll head out of town to swim at cascading waterfalls, check out the sweeping views from atop Doi Suthep, and have the chance to get up-close and personal with real tigers at Tiger Kingdom. Practice your bargaining skills at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, learn the basic tenants of Buddhism at a 700 year-old temple, and sample the tasty local cuisine. This is Amazing Thailand!!
Hopping in our VIP vans, the journey continues north as we wind through lush mountains and terraced rice fields. As we arrive at the Pai valley, explore the bustling afternoon market and peruse the funky shops here for unique handicraft souvenirs. Next, we'll head further up the mountain just outside of town to our Base House, where you will spend a night in a real Lisu village. Accommodations here will be simple but fine, and the view from your front porch is breathtaking. In the morning, the adventure continues as you ride a bamboo raft ride through some of the longest caves in Asia and experience the tiny capital of Thailand's most diverse province - Mae Hong Son. Ride a long-tail boat to a remote outpost that is home to the long-neck Karen people. Breathe in the wonderful fresh air while you can, because tomorrow you will be in the heart of modern Thailand - Bangkok.
The trip will wrap up in Bangkok, where you will tour the city's rivers and canals by long-tail boat, explore the King's Palace, eat at a floating restaurant, and relax during a one-hour traditional Thai foot massage. You will also tour Wat Po, feed fish for good luck, see the Royal Barges, and visit the Temple of the Reclining Buddha! By the end of this two-week adventure, expect to have a new place in your heart for the diverse wonders of Thailand, and a new crew of friends for life.
Want to continue your summer adventure? This program connects to our other great programs in Southeast Asia, China and India.
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, luggage tags and country books, airline tickets, and important contact information.
Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Flight Liaison will help you get checked in for your international flight. Working with our Flight Liaison will be your Flight Leader, who will escort you all the way to Thailand! Our 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!
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 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.
In the mid-afternoon, you’ll hop on a quick one-hour flight up to Chiang Mai, where your program begins. You’ll have a chance to freshen up, rest, or take a dip in the hotel pool. After dinner, we’ll head back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep and to recharge our batteries for our busy week ahead!
We’ll depart for the elephant camp by 8:30 a.m. From Chiang Mai, it’s just over an hour's drive through the mountains outside Lampang to your new home for the next week.
Once you arrive at the camp, you will meet the entire staff – including the elephants – and then the senior camp officials will offer an opening prayer ceremony, which is performed for good luck and to show the commitment of the group to the task at hand. With the ceremony finished, the program will be officially underway, and you will waste no time in getting down to business.
Your first order of business will be to look the part – so everyone will receive a custom mahout (or elephant trainer) suit. Once you are comfortable in your fashionable new attire, you will be assigned to an elephant. Depending on the size of the group, there will be between one or two students assigned to each elephant. The first things you will need to learn will be the basic mahout commands and how to interpret and communicate with these amazing animals. Before you know it, you'll be riding your elephant into the jungle, learning its personality, and communicating with it – it’s all part of your new job as a mahout!
In the evening, you will settle in to jungle life, with plenty of time to relax and share stories or maybe have an early night, ready for a dawn start with the elephants tomorrow!
The morning is truly a special time in the jungles of northern Thailand. The birds bring the forest to life and the sun cuts bright rays through the lingering mist. Rising early, you'll walk down to greet and bathe your elephant at 7 a.m. Once your elephant is fed and cared for, you will head back to the camp for breakfast.
After you are well fed, you will hop on your elephant and ride down to the elephant show. The show is a fundraising event for the camp and a great way to show the public these amazing creatures’ intelligence and potential. As a member of the mahout training camp, you will get a unique insider’s perspective on the show.
Congratulate the elephants’ talents with a few bushels of sugarcane before you head to the elephant-dung paper factory, where you'll get your hands dirty learning how this useful product is made. Then ride your elephant back to the camp base and return them to the jungle for some rest while you join your mahout in some traditional Thai games. Say goodbye to the cheerful mahouts for the evening and head into the nearest town of Lampang for dinner and a stroll through the Saturday Walking Street Market.
Rising early, you will once again take your elephant down to the river for its morning bath. Then, after breakfast, you will begin the day’s lesson – the life and practices of a mahout. Many people don't realize that being a mahout is a life-long career. Although they don't make much money and it is not a glamorous profession, mahouts are essential for the survival of elephants in the world today, and they are very respected in Thai culture.
You'll learn about the special relationship that develops between the mahout and the elephant, the tools and skills involved, and how they communicate with one another. Then practice the training commands with your elephant, learn how to weave rope for a saddle, and find out how to strap cargo on comfortably. You will have gone a long way in developing your own relationship with your elephant by the time you release it back into the jungle in the afternoon.
Once our elephant’s harness is complete, take a refreshing dip in a nearby swimming hole before lunch. In the afternoon, join the senior director of the school and a good friend of Rustic Pathways, Danger, for a discussion about the king’s royal white elephants and the dangers of working with an aggressive elephant.
After dinner, join the staff to learn some songs in Thai that will help bring you closer to you mahout on your journey into the jungle tomorrow. This lesson always turns into a tabletop dance party, so bring your best moves to teach the local staff!
After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, you will use the skills you learned yesterday to load up your elephant with everything you will need for a night in the jungle. Then climb aboard and head toward the jungle camp, which is about an hour’s ride away.
Once you reach the camp, you will give your elephants a chance to rest while you enjoy a jungle-style lunch cooked over an open fire. After taking a rest and maybe a dip in a nearby river pool – depending on that week’s rains – to cool off in the day’s heat, you’ll head into the jungle with the mahouts in search of bamboo. You will craft what you find into several different kinds of products, including cups and dishes, with the help of the mahouts.
As evening falls, you will throw on warmer clothes, eat a jungle feast, and play some Thai campfire games while singing and dancing the night away. For many students, this night is the highlight of the whole trip!
The sun will wake you up early this morning, and you will help your mahout bring your elephant in from the jungle where it spent the night. Then, after taking the elephants on a short walk to an area where they can munch on fresh greens for breakfast, before our hike back to the main camp. After a well-deserved shower and hearty lunch, you’ll learn to make a typical Thai dessert and head to a nearby market to try the local fare and grab some souvenirs. On your return, help us reforest the jungle by planting trees that will eventually help shelter our pachyderm pals in their home. On our last night at the Conservation, we’ll eat dinner family-style and reflect on our amazing week with the elephants.
After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, you will head to the elephant hospital for a tour. Learn about the elephants’ lifespan and how injured elephants are treated and cared for here. You will also learn about the many elephants the camp has rescued from abusive situations and how they are rehabilitated. This will be your last chance to ask any lingering questions you have about these gentle giants before you head home, so don’t be afraid to speak up!
It will now be time to say good-bye to your elephant, your gracious hosts, and the camp. At the closing ceremony, you'll receive a certificate of completion for the program. In the afternoon, you will depart for Chiang Mai and check in to the hotel for some down time by the pool. After a nice rest, head into town for a traditional Thai massage before dinner, and take in some souvenir shopping at the world-famous Night Bazaar.
Today, you’ll have the chance to explore a couple of Chiang Mai’s many sites of interest while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive in the late afternoon. Options may include learning the art of Thai massage at a school near town, catching one of the latest movies in a state-of-the-art movie theater, or visiting some awesome waterfalls nearby. Whichever activity the group chooses, our staff will gladly show you a great time!
By late afternoon, you’ll meet up with your new friends joining you for the second leg of the trip. You’ll have a chance mix and mingle, rest, and take a dip in the hotel pool before heading to dinner. Be sure to share with the newest members of your group all the amazing things you learned about elephants in the week prior!
After breakfast, the adventure begins as you take a short morning hike up Doi Kham, where you will learn a bit about Buddhism and take in the scenery from this seldom-visited temple. Then, we will head north out of the city to Tiger Kingdom, where you will have the chance to spend a few minutes with some adorable young tigers!
Next, it’s off to one of the most impressive orchid farms in the area located in the Mae Sa Valley followed by a trip every traveler to Chiang Mai should take up the big mountain on the edge of town to the most famous temple in the region, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. Listen closely to the amazing story of how an elephant marked the spot for the temple to be built – then head up the dragon-guarded staircase to check it out for yourself. After being blessed by a monk, ringing bells, and burning incense for good luck, you’ll take in the incredible view over the Chiang Mai Valley. After a short break back at the hotel, you’ll spend the evening taking in some of the best shopping in Thailand, at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar.
You will rise early today and set out into the stunning mountains of Northern Thailand. This is the most diverse region of the country, and the area you’ll pass through is home to over a dozen Hill Tribe minorities, each with their own distinct language, history, and culture. Just as you’re entering the mountains, you’ll stop at the beautiful Mok Fa waterfall to cool off and enjoy some of the fresh jungle air and a nice lunch before heading higher into the mountains. Your drivers will pull the van over often for refreshments and stunning views, and at each stop you’ll be reminded of the beauty of this incredible region of the world. Through lush jungles and mountaintop markets, the drive will bring you to some of the most scenic and isolated parts of the country before finally reaching the Pai Valley. After settling into the hotel and enjoying a swim in its stunning infinity pool, you’ll journey up the mountain to the town’s temple to watch the sun sink into the valley. Take a stroll through the town’s walking street market before we head off to bed to get rested for another day in the mountains tomorrow.
Today you’ll wake up to fresh mountain air as you enjoy breakfast at the hotel. As soon as we hit the road again, you’ll notice that you’re again winding through the picturesque hills of the north. Enjoy sweeping views of the mountains along the Thai-Burma border all along the way to Sop-pong where you’ll explore some of the longest caves in all of Asia. Hop onto a bamboo raft and get ready to literally ride your raft into the mountain, where you will begin your voyage deep into the lamp-lit caverns of Lod Cave.
After the cave adventure, we’ll continue on toward Mae Hong Son, stopping at a natural spa to enjoy some healing mud facials along the way. Finally you will arrive in Mae Hong Son, the capital of Thailand’s most diverse province. Stroll the city as the afternoon wanes, exploring the many mountaintop temples and get a feel for this chilled out town before settling in for a hearty Thai feast. Tomorrow is a busy day, so we’ll be sure to get plenty of rest to prepare for the morning.
This morning, our elephant veterans will have a chance to sleep in, while those who’ve not yet met our pachyderm friends will take an early-morning ride. We’ll all meet at our chartered long-tail boats to enjoy a cruise up-river toward the Burmese border, deep into the jungle, completely isolated. Out of the hills, will emerge one of the most isolated and unique villages, home to one of the rarest tribes in Asia, the longneck Karen. Once we arrive, we’ll spend some time chatting with our friends in this village who will offer you a special glimpse into what life is like here for these people. Rustic has been visiting this village for nearly a decade, and they are always excited to share stories with our students. After an enlightening visit and plenty of and a delicious lunch, we’ll head back to the hotel for some relaxing Thai massages. In the evening, we’ll stroll around the center of Mae Hong Son and catch dinner before bed.
After a delicious buffet breakfast at the hotel you’ll catch a short, 25-minute flight over the mountains back to Chiang Mai and connect directly down to Bangkok, the last stop on the trip. Drop your bags off at the hotel in Bangkok before heading out of town to see Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient capital, and some of the most extensive ruins in the country. Then, you’ll hop on a boat to enjoy dinner as you cruise through this historic city, before heading back to Bangkok. 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! We’ll hop on the bus and start working our way towards 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. After taking you past some of the city’s most famous sights, the boat will pull up at a floating restaurant, where you’ll grab some lunch.
After lunch, you’ll continue up river to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Gaew, the King’s official residence and the home of the famed Emerald Buddha. You will have some time to wander the beautiful grounds here before heading upstream again – this time to Wat Pho, another of Bangkok’s most famous temples and home of the ‘Reclining Buddha,’ the largest such Buddha in the world. With your new souvenirs, photos, and budding friendships in tow, you’ll return to the hotel feeling like you’ve become a part of this bustling city. Catch an evening swim with your new friends to talk about all that you’ve seen on this memorable trip.
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 chok dee!
Students on our Escorted Group flights will arrive home on Friday. Have a great rest of the summer, and we’ll see you next year!
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.
To Help You Come Prepared...
You’re about to embark on a great adventure through the jungles and cities of Thailand. The packing list below is designed to help you prepare for your trip, making sure you’ve got everything you need and nothing you don’t.
This list covers the things you’ll need for both the Thai Elephant Conservation Project and the Amazing Thailand Adventure. Please make sure you read the notes for every program you are participating in which can be found on each specific program’s webpage. Students who are participating in multiple programs should pack the contents of the general Thailand packing list, plus any special items listed for their specific programs.
A small backpack is the best carry-on bag
Make sure everything you pack in your carry-on complies with the new carry-on regulations of the TSA.
A medium sized duffel bag or large backpack work best. Wheeled bags are OK as long as they are medium sized and can easily be carried like a duffle over rough terrain.
Please bring at least a few outfits that will dry quickly and get dirty or destroyed for bathing elephants. Students generally wear sport shorts and a swimming top under their mahout suit for this activity, which is done twice daily.
Please pack all items that could leak in a PLASTIC or ZIPLOCK bag
Shortly before you leave, you will receive a small book about Thailand from Rustic Pathways. Within you will find information about how to understand and respect Thai culture, as well as a few helpful Thai phrases and some background on the work you’ll be doing here.
There is no difference between these programs. The Amazing Thailand program and the Elephant Conservation Camp are two programs that are popular to combine, so we've gone ahead and combined them for you at a lower cost than signing up individually for the two programs. The program runs in the order of the Thai Elephant Conservation Project followed by the Amazing Thailand Adventure!
During the week of Elephant Conservation, we’ll stay in basic accommodations at the Mahout Training School within the Center. As reward for a week in the jungle, those continuing on to the Amazing Thailand Adventure will enjoy a few of the most beautiful four-star hotels Thailand has to offer.
Yes. Please note that each program is about a week in length, with international travel times on each end, making it 18 days total outside of the United States.
At the start and end of the Elephant Conservation Project, you’ll stay in a 4-star hotel in Chiang Mai – the same as you’ll stay for your first day on the Amazing Thailand Adventure, but the rest of the week will be at the Elephant Conservation Camp itself. At the Center, we'll be in simple rooms with hot-water showers, air conditioning, and western-style beds. During Amazing Thailand, you’ll enjoy some of Thailand’s finest four-star hotels.
Laundry will be available to students once during the week on each program. During the time at the Conservation Center, you’ll be provided with a special Mahout suit that you’ll wear most days. Your ‘mahout suit’ is made of denim, which over the week will absorb your scent making it easier for your elephant to get to know and trust you.
There are mosquitoes. They’re usually not too bad, but you will want to have a long sleeve shirt and long pants in the evenings. Be sure to bring insect repellent containing DEET, which wards off mosquitoes, ticks, and most other insects.
Check with your doctor that all of your routine immunizations are up to date. Your doctor will also be able to give you the best advice about what precautions to take when traveling to the forests of northern Thailand.
You will want money to buy handmade crafts at local shops and at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. There will be all kinds of souvenirs and fun stuff to buy, so budget accordingly. Markets and local crafts are huge part of Thai culture and a great way to support the local community. Here are some approximate, sample prices (listed in US dollars) that should help you prepare a budget: hand-woven scarf = $3; hand-woven shoulder bag = $6; T-shirt = $6; small wood carving = $5; soccer ball = $10
Rustic Pathways will cover all tips for guides and activities during the program, but we do ask students to budget about 1,200 Thai Baht (200 for each day of the program) as tip for their mahout at the end of the Thai Elephant Conservation Project. This is a recommended amount only, and students are welcome to leave as much or as little as they feel appropriate. Students usually also choose to leave a small gift indicative of their hometown as a gift for their mahout, who they grow quite close with during the week. The mahouts love to learn where you’re from, and a small trinket from America is a valued treasure here!
It is hot and humid in the day and a little cooler in the mountains 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 fast and don’t get as mildewy as cotton can.
Rural Thailand is still quite conservative, and Rustic Pathways expects our students to be upstanding ambassadors of our home countries. As a blanket rule at the Conservation, we ask that shorts are at least fingertip-length and any tank-top straps are at least the width of three fingers. During Amazing Thailand, there will be several days of “temple attire,” which requires your shoulders and knees to be covered.
Students will always have access to a phone, though we’d like to limit use of cell phones while at the Center. Internet will be available at the beginning and end of the Elephant Conservation Project, but will be available daily on the Amazing Thailand Adventure.
Each trip is staffed by a combination of western (American) and Thai leaders, and in most cases each team will include a nationally licensed guide, a western man and a western woman. We never have fewer than one staff member for every five students.
We will eat a wide variety of Thai and ethnic food, as well as the occasional Western meal. Thailand is famous for its food, and this trip will awaken your tastes to flavors you didn’t even know existed. Almost all dietary concerns can be accommodated, but please alert us of any relevant restrictions beforehand just to make sure. Vegetarians welcome!
We will be drinking all bottled water. Bottled water is safe and readily available.
The Conservation Center is under an hour from Chiang Mai’s world-class hospitals. While on Amazing Thailand, every city we visit 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 farther from top-quality medical care, our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare depending on the severity of the situation.
Safety is a top priority at Rustic Pathways, and for that reason we ensure that all of our staff is certified at the very least with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.
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. You can also check the Center for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov for more information.
This decision is best made by you, your family, and your family physician. For up-to-date information to help your decision please visit the World Health Organization website (http://www.who.int/en), the Center for Disease Control website, and consult your physician. The programs visit Chiang Mai, Lampang, Mae Hong Song, Pai and Bangkok. Most of these areas are largely considered to be malaria-free.
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.
All of our programs within Asia connect seamlessly. All trips begin and end on Thursday, thus allowing for easy connectivity and convenience.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elephants and Amazing Thailand combines well with the following programs.
Ages: 14 to 18 years old
Length: 18 days from the USA
Hours: Up to 28 hours awarded
$390 Internal Airfare
International airfare is not included in the above cost. Check our Travel Desk for airfare pricing.
|Departs Tue||Returns Fri||Availability|
|10 Jun||27 Jun||Available|
|17 Jun||4 Jul||Sold Out|
|24 Jun||11 Jul||Sold Out|
|1 Jul||18 Jul||Sold Out|
|8 Jul||25 Jul||Sold Out|
|15 Jul||1 Aug||Sold Out|
|22 Jul||8 Aug||Available|
|29 Jul||15 Aug||Available|
Dates shown are inclusive of travel time from the United States. Most Rustic Pathways trips interconnect, allowing you to design your own perfect summer program.Apply Now
You can use the tool below to search for your perfect experience. For a full listing of our programs visit our Programs page.