Elephants and Amazing Thailand

See the best of Thailand, spend a week working with Elephants, and make friends for life!

What More Could You Want?

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, 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.

Your Time at the Royal Thai Elephant Conservation Center

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.

Elephants have long been revered as a national symbol to Thai people for centuries. The kings of Siam rode into battle on the backs of elephants and measured their power in how many elephants lived on their land.

Aside from battle, elephants were long used in Thailand for forestry work. Though smaller than their African counterparts, Asian elephants are actually stronger, and their more gentle nature makes working alongside humans possible. A male Asian elephant, or a bull, can uproot a three-ton tree from the forest and load it onto a truck for logging. Today, however, a mechanical tractor can do the same, but more efficiently. Tractors require much less care than an elephant (and much less food) and as a result, the role of Thai elephants in the human world has greatly diminished.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were nearly 100,000 wild and domesticated elephants in Thailand. Today, there are only about 3,000 living on conservations and about 3,000 more living wild in national parks. As their natural habitat decreases in a rapidly developing world and the demand for ivory in Asia skyrockets, elephants are facing a harder road than ever, and their only hope for survival in Asia is through the hard work of responsible, sustainable conservation and tourism venues.

In 1969, the King of Thailand founded the Royal Thai Elephant Conservation Center and designated March 13 as Thailand's National Elephant Day. The Thai Elephant Conservation Center is the only royally sanctioned conservation, and is funded entirely by the Thai government. A king's power is still measured by the number of elephants in his kingdom, most importantly the rare white elephants, and six of the King’s ten white elephants live happily at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, among more than nearly 100 other Asian elephant friends and their mahouts.

The Center's hospital also provides free veterinary care to all Thai elephants, wherever they may be. Sick or injured elephants can either be brought in for treatment free of charge, or the country's first mobile clinic will go to them.

Elephants have very few human cheerleaders to ensure their future. At the Thai Elephant Conservation Project, you'll learn to join that team. The key to conservation is awareness, and as you learn more about elephants, you'll be better equipped to protect them and their future generations.

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. 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.

Cool Mountain Cultures, Tiger Kingdom, and Night Markets Galore!

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 tenets of Buddhism at a 700-year-old temple, and sample the tasty local cuisine. This is Amazing Thailand!

Road Trip Rustic Style!

Hopping in our VIP vans, the journey continues north as we wind through lush mountains and terraced rice fields. As you arrive in the Chiang Dao Valley, explore the endless subterranean caverns of the Chiang Dao Cave and soak in the hot mineral springs.  In the morning the adventure continues as you drive to Chiang Rai and explore the Golden Triangle region.  Add a few extra stamps to your passport as we make forays into Burma and Laos.  Breathe in the wonderful fresh air while you can, because tomorrow you will be drinking a fruit shake and lounging on the white sand beaches of Phuket.

Phuket, Thailand’s Beach Paradise

The trip will wrap up in Phuket, one of the world’s premier beach destinations.  You will enjoy the southern Thai cuisine, great for seafood lovers, relax on the beautiful white sand beaches and soak in the warm ocean water.  Take a day trip to Phang-Nga and boat ride through some of the coolest islands in the world, that rise as towering limestone cliffs out of the brilliant aqua-marine water.  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? Consider combining this program with Island Hopping and Diving for a perfect service-meets-adventure experience. This program also connects to all our other great programs in Southeast Asia, China and India.


Day 1 (Tuesday)

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!

Day 2 (Wednesday)

Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.

Day 3 (Thursday)

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, hop on a quick one-hour flight up to Chiang Mai, where your program begins. This ancient and graceful capital is a fascinating mishmash of Northern Thai style, hill tribe cultures, and a vibrant community of non-profit workers. Almost immediately, you’ll start to notice signs of the importance of elephants in Thai culture. You’ll spot these magnificent animals making appearances in the décor, architecture, even on T-shirts, most likely before you even arrive in your hotel room. On the mountain overlooking the city from the west, you may catch a glimpse of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most famous temple – according to the legends, the temple’s building site was chosen by the trumpeting of a sacred white elephant.

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!

Day 4 (Friday)

Depart for the elephant camp by 8:30 a.m. From Chiang Mai, it’s a little more than an hour's drive through the scenic mountains to the city of Lampang – your home for the next week.Once you arrive at the camp, 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 an official mahout 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 one or two students assigned to each elephant. First, master 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, 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!

Day 5 (Saturday)

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, walk down to greet and bathe your elephant at 7 a.m. Once your elephant is fed and cared for, head back to the camp for breakfast yourself.

After you are well fed, hop on your elephant and ride down to the elephant show, which is designed to showcase the elephants’ skills to tourists. 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.

Day 6 (Sunday)

Rising early, take your elephant down to the river again 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.

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 your 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 your mahout on your journey into the jungle tomorrow. This lesson always turns into a dance party, so bring your best moves to teach the local staff!

Day 7 (Monday)

After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, 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, give your elephant 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, head into the jungle with the mahouts in search of bamboo. Craft what you find into several different kinds of products, including cups and dishes, with the help of the mahouts.

As evening falls, 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!

Day 8 (Tuesday)

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, hike back to the main camp. After a well-deserved shower and hearty lunch, 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 reforest the jungle by planting trees that will eventually help shelter our pachyderm pals in their home. On your last night at the Conservation, eat dinner family-style and reflect on your amazing week with the elephants.

Day 9 (Wednesday)

After the morning elephant bath and breakfast, head to the elephant hospital for a tour. Learn about the elephants’ lifespan and how injured elephants are treated and cared for here. 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, receive a certificate of completion for the program. In the afternoon, 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, 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 with 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, head north out of the city to Tiger Kingdom, where you will have the chance to spend a little time with some adorable young tigers! Next, it’s off to one of the most impressive orchid farms in the area, 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 Phra That 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, 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 country’s best shopping – and practicing your bargaining skills – at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar.

Day 10 (Thursday)

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! After a fun-filled dinner, head back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep – it will be a busy week ahead!

Day 11 (Friday): Chiang Mai

After breakfast, the adventure begins with drive up to into the misty mountain forest to Northern Thailand’s Holiest of Holies, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple. 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 the sacred spot as the location for the temple and climb the dragon-guarded staircase to into the temple itself. Once inside, get blessed by a monk for a happy and healthy trip before making offerings and get your fortune read (spoiler alert!). Then, head north out of the city to Tiger Kingdom, where you will have the chance to spend a little time with some adorable young tigers!
Next, it’s off to one of the most impressive orchid farms in the area, where you will learn about these amazing epiphytes and their importance to the forests ecosystems. As the sun fade, head to Huay Tung Tao, a popular swimming hole for Thais. Here go for a swim, throw the Frisbee, or lounge in one of the many lakeside salas, enjoying Thai snacks as the sunsets over the verdant mountains.

After a short break back at the hotel, spend the evening taking in some of the country’s best shopping – and practicing your bargaining skills – at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar.

Day 12 (Saturday): Into the Mountains to the Pai Valley

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 more than a dozen hill tribe minorities, each with its own distinct language, history, and culture. Following the Ping River, wind through the mountains and into the Chiang Dao Valley, famous for the magnificent mountain that towers over the landscape. The Doi Luang Chiang Dao Mountain is one of the tallest peaks in Thailand and easily the most impressive with sheer limestone cliffs ascending to the top. Entering the Chiang Dao cave at the foot of the mountain, you will have to use lanterns and local guides to explore the many hidden passageways. This cave is an important spiritual center and flower-laden statues of Buddhas and hermits can be found throughout.

Eat lunch at the famous Nest restaurant to digest a little and get a sense of the natural bounty that Thailand boasts. This area has been a treasure trove for botanists and biologists and walking through the lush forest you will see why. Heading out of the mountains, stop at one of the many thermal mineral springs in the area and you can soak in the therapeutic water to your heart’s content. Settle in for the night at a country eco-resort and take in the view of mountains and ricefields as the sun sets.

Day 13 (Sunday): Onward to Chiang Rai

Wake up to fresh mountain air as you enjoy breakfast. Winding along the country roads you will have a chance to take in the picturesque hills of the north. Enjoy sweeping views of the mountains along the Thai-Burma border all along the way to Chiang Rai. Along the way, stop at scenic points and you will get to taste the fresh tea that this area is famous for.

Arriving in Chiang Rai, we will visit two of the most unique temples in Thailand created by two of the country’s most renowned artists. First, the White Temple looks like something out of Candyland, with an intricate frosting-like edifice, the design is a 3D metaphor, taking visitors on a journey through heaven and hell and showing the kharmic path over temptation. Next we will head to the White Temple’s darker twin, the Black House. This temple complex contains massive teak halls with snakes and skeletons abounding. Wander through the forested grounds and inside unique buildings, a fusion of Thai, Balinese and Burmese styles laden with modern paintings and ancient relics,.

After these two polar opposite temples we will check into the hotel and get the chance to shower and freshen up at the hotel before heading out to explore the town. Walking through the back alleys and fresh markets of this charming and sleepy city you will see what a “real” Thai town looks like. Enjoy a Thai massage and the chance to shop at the Night Bazaar. Use your newly acquired bargaining skills to get amazing deals on hilltribe bags, “elephant pants,” knockoff beats and all other manner of cool souvenirs.

Day 14 (Monday): Thailand, Burma and Laos, the Golden Triangle

Today have a nice big breakfast for there is a lot of ground to cover and by the end of the day you will have visited 2 new countries! We will start by heading north out of Chiang Rai to Mae Sai on the border with Burma. This bustling border town is a modern day bazaar as goods of all sorts travel from China through Burma and arrive here in Thailand. As you cross the bridge and enter the Burmese town of Techilek on the other side you will notice the local dress distinctly change as the men wear traditional longyi sarangs, and chew beetle nut. While getting your passport stamped you will notice your immersion in the fast, melodic sounds of Burmese and see the beautiful flowing script of the written language all around you.

Vans waiting on the other side of the border will take us on a short drive to visit a Long Neck Karen village. This is one of the most distinctive hilltribe groups, as the women wear traditional brass rings around their elongated necks in a fascinating but dying tradition. You will have a chance to pick up a few souvenirs in the market or sample Burmese sweet tea and snacks along the border, before we cross back into Thailand and head to the Golden Triangle.

This geographic confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers makes a natural three-way border between Thailand, Laos, and Burma. In the past this region was infamous for the opium-gold trade that flourished and provided a lucrative income for regional warlords. Nowadays, walking along the sleepy riverbank it is hard to imagine the volatile history of this region. Learn about the unique history of the Golden Triangle at the Opium Museum, before hopping aboard a chartered long-tail boat ride which will take you between the three countries of Thailand, Laos, and Burma. After a brief stop at on the Burmese side (your second visit in a day), we will set sail for an island on the Laos side. Listen to the distinctly different dialect, and take some photos to prove you've made it this far as you explore the local market. As you head back to Chiang Rai in the evening, you'll certainly feel like you've accomplished something, three different countries in a day!

Day 15 (Tuesday): The Beach Finale

After a delicious buffet breakfast at the hotel, catch a flight down to Phuket for the last leg of your journey exploring the stunning coastline of Southern Thailand. The large island of Phuket famous around the world for its beautiful white sand beaches, blue sky, cool breezes and delicious sea food. After landing and collecting our bags, we will settle into the hotel for an afternoon swimming in the warm water or collecting sea shells while exploring the beach. As the sun sets we will have a delicious seafood dinner with the gentle sound of breaking waves in the background.

Day 16 (Wednesday): Islands Ahoy!

After breakfast we will head out north to the mainland province of Pha Nga to hope on a boat and explore magnificent Andaman coast. The limestone cliffs, caves and islands makes for a spectacular geography in this area. Our first stop will be at Wat Suwankuha or the “Monkey Temple”, where we will explore the monuments and caves set amongst this cave-laden mountain. However, the big attraction here is the scores of rambunctious monkeys that abound and are a constant course of comedy. Next we will set sail in our chartered boats to visit some of the most spectacular features of this marine landscape. Landing on Panyee Island we will see a floating village of sea gypsies who have made a living off of the ocean since time immemorial. We will get lunch and take the sites of their unique way of life which under threat as marine resource dwindle and these communities are pressured to settle into permanent habitations. Hopping back into the boats we will set sail to Talu Island to paddle through some of the spectacular aquatic caves. Our final stop will be the famous and “James Bond Island” names after its prominent cameo as the bad-guy secret lair in the 1974 film, “The Man With the Golden Gun”. This needle-like spire rises impressively out of the blue green ocean and is a site to see, don’t worry James Bond has deactivated with the super secret ray gun housed inside. Heading back to the pier and then the hotel, we will enjoy one final farewell dinner on the beach and a chance to reflect on our Amazing trip.

Day 17 (Thursday): Pool Time, Goodbyes, and head home!

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 chokdee!

Day 18 (Friday)

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.

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.

Packing List

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.

Good to know…

  • Thailand is warm, tropical, and sunny where days will be in the high-80s to mid-90s and humid. The Elephant Conservation Center lies mostly under jungle cover, so you shouldn’t worry too much about sun exposure there, but be prepared for some afternoon rain showers. Your time on Amazing Thailand may see quite a bit of sun, so come prepared!
  • Dressing respectfully is very important in Thailand. Please don’t bring short shorts and low-cut tops. This includes cropped tops, off-the-shoulder, or bra-reavealing tops. As a blanket rule, shorts should be at least fingertip length and tank tops straps should be at least three fingers in width.
  • Leave your ball gowns at home. During our time with the elephants, we’ll stay pretty casual. Even our few times in town are no call for great attire. Plus, climbing on and off an elephant in a ball gown could prove a real challenge. While on Amazing Thailand, though, feel free to dress for nice hotels – though remember we are staying very active during the day.
  • Bring with you any medications that you will need while you are away. You will need to tell staff what medications you have brought during your orientation period. This is done privately, but it is essential that you disclose to your staff all medications you are carrying.
  • Pack lightly for your journey! Thai Airways will not allow a checked bag weighing more than 15 kilos, so please pack accordingly. Your carry-on bag must also be under 7 kilos. You must be able to carry and load your own luggage, and space in the vehicles is limited.
  • If you’re deciding whether or not to bring something, leave it. You are really going to want to leave room in your suitcase for the new clothes and souvenirs you will collect on your trip.
  • You are not going to the Moon! If you forget something on the list, you can always buy it once you get here, for a lot less money than you would pay at home.
  • Laundry is available once during your time at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center and once again during your time on the Amazing Thailand Adventure.

Carry-On Luggage

A small backpack is the best carry-on bag

  • Passport - you can not get on the plane without this!
  • Airline tickets - you can not get on the plane without these either!
  • Wallet - with about $100 emergency money
  • 2 Photo copies of your Passport - 2 additional copies should be kept in your checked luggage.
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothpaste (under 3 oz.)
  • Toothbrush
  • Medications - Must alert staff, but keep these with you in case of lost luggage!
  • Journal and pens
  • Refillable, durable - but empty - water bottle. Stay hydrated on the plane and help us use as few plastic water bottles at the Conservation Center as possible
  • Snacks
  • Books - Suggested reading: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse & The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Cameras - Don't forget to bring your chargers, batteries and memory cards! You can also bring your USB cords for downloading pics for emails.

Make sure everything you pack in your carry-on complies with the new carry-on regulations of the TSA.

Checked Luggage

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.


  • Long Pants (1-2, something lightweight)
  • Underwear (7-10)
  • Socks (7)
  • Swimsuit
  • T-Shirts with sleeves (4-6)
  • Tank Tops (2-3)
  • Long Sleeve T-shirt (1-2)
  • Lightweight, waterproof rain jacket
  • Shorts (3-4) - not too short or tight, as this is offensive in Thai culture.
  • Pajamas (1)
  • Tennis Shoes (1)
  • Sandals that are strapped (Chacos or Tevas or similar are recommended) - Thais live in sandals, and you will too at the elephant center.
  • Flip-Flops (1) - really cheap, lightweight ones you can slip on and off easily


Please pack all items that could leak in a PLASTIC or ZIPLOCK bag

  • Soap or body wash
  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Contact lenses and solution, in a plastic bag
  • Sunscreen (lots of strong Sunscreen)
  • Lipbalm
  • Sunburn cream or aloe
  • Insect Repellant - bring one that is heavy in DEET and one that is natural Citronella - 2 cans or bottles minimum. Remember that the mosquito is your enemy wherever you travel in the world.
  • Hand Sanitizer (1-2 small bottles per week) - Always keep this with you!
  • Wet-wipes or towelettes – a travelers’ best friend
  • Small packs of Kleenex Tissues – Toilets in our accommodations are Western-style and offer toilet paper, but you may run into several while in town that don’t!


  • Flashlight/Headlamp w/ Extra Batteries (to read at night or in the case of power outages)
  • Watch or Clock with an Alarm
  • Heavy-duty garbage bags (2) - for packing wet and dirty clothes/shoes
  • Large (one gallon) Ziplock© Freezer Bags (4)
  • Small Personal First Aid Kit (our guides will always have a comprehensive kit on hand, but having a personal kit is always helpful)
  • Band-aids
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment
  • Anti-itch Cream (1 Benadryl Anti-itch Gel works great)
  • Medical Tape
  • Moleskin or preferred blister care
  • Preferred Mild Pain Reliever
  • Antihistamine (Benedryl or preferred type)
  • 2 Non-adherent, sterile dressing
  • 2 Gauze dressing
  • 5-8 Sterile wipes


  • Thai phrasebook - Lonely Planet makes a great pocket-sized edition
  • Pictures of mom, dad, boyfriend/girlfriend, dog, pet rock, etc. Thais love to see what your life looks like back home!
  • Deck of cards, Frisbee, hacky sack, football, soccer ball or other things that are fun and easy to carry!
  • It’s customary to give your mahout a small gift at the end of your week at the Elephant Conservation Center as a thank you for their time and help. There will be opportunity to get these in Thailand, but they’d love a little something from your home! Also recommended and addressed in the FAQs, is a tip of about 200 Thai Baht per day for your mahout, totaling about 1,200 Thai Baht for the week.
  • PLEASE NOTE – Rustic Pathways will not be responsible for ANY lost or stolen items. During travel it is common for items to be lost or stolen so please bring only items you are prepared to part with.

Extra Information

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Elephants and Amazing Thailand, and just combining the Elephant Conservation Camp and the Amazing Thailand program?

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!

Where will we stay?

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.

Does 18 days include international travel time?

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.

What are the accommodations at the Elephant Conservation Center like?

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.

How often can I do laundry on each program?

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.

Are the mosquitoes a problem?

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.

What kind of immunizations do I need?

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.

What will I need to spend my allowance money on?

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

Will I need to tip guides along the way?

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!

What is the weather like?

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.

What should I wear?

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.

How often will I have access to email and phones?

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.

Who will the staff members be on the trip? How many staff members will there be?

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.

What kind of food will I eat? What if I have certain dietary restrictions?

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!

What water will we be drinking?

We will be drinking all bottled water. Bottled water is safe and readily available.

Where is the nearest healthcare?

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.

Is your staff certified in First Aid?

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.

What immunizations do we need to get for the trip?

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.

Should I be taking malaria medication?

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.

Will there be a flight leader to this country?

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.

How does this program connect to other programs?

All of our programs within Asia connect seamlessly. All trips begin and end on Thursday, thus allowing for easy connectivity and convenience.

Contact Us: For more information about The Thai Elephant Conservation Project you can email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Merge the Amazing Thailand Adventure with the Thai Elephants Conservation Project and experience the diversity of Thailand and the power of rewarding community service.
  • Work with elephants under the guidance and supervision of professional handlers, skilled Rustic Pathways leaders, and trained mahouts at a world-renowned facility under the patronage of Thailand's royal family.
  • Learn to feed, bathe, and care for elephants and return home with a certificate attesting to your experience and achievements.
  • Explore Thailand from the beautiful beaches of Phuket to chilled-out Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the northern hill tribe regions.
  • Head home having seen the fascinating diversity of Thailand - from Phuket’a pristine beaches to the colorful hill tribes of the north - and with a new appreciation for the brilliance of elephants and the struggles they face in today's world.

Ages: 14 to 18 years old

Length: 18 days from the USA

Hours: Up to 28 hours awarded

Cost: $3,695

Additional Costs:
$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 Unavailable
17 Jun 4 Jul Unavailable
24 Jun 11 Jul Unavailable
1 Jul 18 Jul Unavailable
8 Jul 25 Jul Unavailable
15 Jul 1 Aug Unavailable
22 Jul 8 Aug Unavailable
29 Jul 15 Aug Unavailable

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.

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