Located 190 kilometres southwest of Chiang Mai, the village of Mae Sariang is surrounded by rolling mountains that are home to numerous ethnic minorities known as Hill Tribe people. Rustic Pathways began operations in Mae Sariang in 1999, and in 2001, we began developing our relationship with the Baan Rai School. For 14 years, we have been funding educational initiatives, donating supplies, and leading tutoring programs at the school. To create a lasting impact in this community, we built a year-round home for the students who have been orphaned, separated from their parents, or who are without financial support. The Children’s Home will also be your home during your stay in Thailand.
The longer you stay, the deeper you will be touched by the warmth and camaraderie at the Children’s Home. Service initiatives here often take place either at the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home or at the Baan Rai School which is located just a short walk up the road. We also have service initiatives in several of the surrounding Karen communities as part of our tribal outreach program. Lead English classes and art camps for these children and help them grow their own food in the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home gardens. Join service excursions to temples and Hill Tribe villages as we bring help to more remote communities. For a deeper immersion into the Karen culture, consider joining our Hill Tribe Support and Refugee Camp Experience (please refer to our website for details).
The Rustic Pathways’ Children Home is one of Rustic Pathways’ most ambitious global projects and one of our students’ most beloved destinations. Spending a week at RPCH is your chance to dive into the warmth of Karen culture and give back to the 31 students who will welcome you with open arms into their gorgeous home.
Our students typically love this program and come back year after year because of the relationships they build with their peers from across the world, especially their “Thai buddies.” Students are often inspired and empowered by the opportunity to teach in a real classroom and venture into Karen hill tribe villages for service. All of this happens in one of the most pristine and breathtaking places in the world.
To answer this question would be a massive generalization. That being said, the Karen strike most people as very hard-working, fun-loving, genuine, and caring. Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles” and Karen people are no exception—they pass their time in the rice paddies exchanging stories and jokes. It is a great privilege to soak in the subtle wisdom and ways of the Karen. The majority of the students at RPCH are Karen.
The Karen (pronounced Kah-REN) are a distinct ethnic group who have settled primarily along the Thai-Burmese border. There are an estimated 4-7 million Karen people in the world today, with perhaps 300,000 in the mountains of western Thailand, making them the largest hill tribe in Thailand. Here, they have long been marginalized by Thai society, and most Karen villages still lack basic services, including schools. Citizens of neither Burma nor Thailand, some Karen people are in the precarious and terrifying position of statelessness, without any legal form of identification. Karen youth are growing up in quite a different world than the one their ancestors knew. The new generation faces great challenges as they are tasked with maintaining their traditional heritage and identity while also assimilating into rapidly modernizing Thailand.
Rustic Pathways plays a large role in supporting the local school, Baan Rai. We have supported various projects, and continuously help them in the classroom. A large part of your service, and realistically some of the most meaningful service anyone can do abroad, is teach English. English is an incredibly valuable asset for these children. English exposure and practice will without a doubt open opportunities for them. Back at RPCH, it’s a good time to sit down with a student and continue their ongoing English lessons or just have a chat. Additionally, we will venture out on the ROAD, our Rural Outreach and Development project, aimed at aiding some of the Karen Hill Tribe villages in which our students come from.
Yes, and it will make a difference in these students’ lives. Our staff will help you with the fundamentals of making a lesson plan, organizing activities, and creating games to break the ice. Ultimately, teaching English begins as an exercise in speaking very slowly and carefully. If you’re careful and energetic enough, you just might find that your students hanging on your every word after just a few minutes! Remember to go SLOW – repeat yourself often and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly. Once you have their attention, students learn very quickly! As this is likely your first attempt at really teaching a class (though you will be part of a team of a few students teaching together), don’t expect it to go perfectly. As with everything else, the more you practice, the better you will become.
Everyone at RPCH sleeps in traditional, Karen-style bamboo houses. The houses are stilted amongst emerald rice paddies and have wrap-around balconies overlooking rivers and mountains. There are houses for boys and male staff and separate houses for girls and female staff. Karen people almost never sleep in a room alone, so expect to share a room with at least one other person. You may find yourself in a dorm-style room with as many as ten new friends. Cushy sleeping pads, pillows, blankets, and mosquito nets are provided. You will be comfortable, but don’t expect a hotel’s ambience or amenities—the natural bamboo and teak structures are part of the appeal of the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home!
Bathrooms at RPCH are shared and equipped with western toilets and hot water showers.
Doing a quick load of hand-wash laundry is a great way to start the day- the weather’s cool, it will get your blood flowing, and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment before most people have their coffee. But, if you need those extra fifteen minutes of Zzz’s, we have two washing machines on the grounds as well. Barring any downpours, your clothes will be dry by noon.
There are mosquitoes and other insects in rural Thailand. They are usually not too much of a nuisance, but you will want to have a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and long pants for the evenings because The Big House, where we spend most of our time, is open to the outside air. Please be sure to bring insect repellent containing DEET. In addition, all sleeping areas at RPCH are covered by mosquito nets.
You’ll want money with you to buy handmade crafts in the villages and souvenirs at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. You may fall victim to the Thai habit of constantly buying ‘ka-nom’ – little snacks or sweets. You may also want to donate some school supplies, sports equipment, or clothes to the kids at the Children’s Home and the school (all of which can be bought in Thailand). Rustic Pathways recommends students bring around AUS $100-$200.
Mae Sariang is hot during the day, but the mountain air cools down a little bit at night. Daily downpours are short and give way to sunny skies. Be prepared for heat. Synthetic fibre clothes are great because they dry quickly and don’t attract mildew.
Don’t expect to tweet your every move! Phones and email will be accessible daily, although we encourage our students to unplug in order to engage more deeply with each other, the Thai students who live at RPCH, and their surroundings. Students will not be allowed to use their phones during group activities, nor at any other time where it is disruptive to the group dynamic.
Each Rustic Pathways trip is staffed by a combination of western (usually, but not exclusively, American) and local leaders. In addition to our Thai staff, we are lucky to have a number of our Burmese staff working at the Children’s Home. Some of our local and western staff live in Mae Sariang year-around to ensure our commitment to the community. The size of the group at RPCH will vary along with the number of staff on hand. We never have less than one staff member for every seven students.
You will be with other Australian Yr. 12 students. You may find yourself in a smaller, cosier setting or part of a big high-energy crew. You’ll feel part of the RPCH family no matter its size!
Thailand is famous for its food, and this trip will awaken your taste buds to flavours you didn’t even know existed. You will eat a wide variety of Thai food, as well as a good deal of Western food, especially at breakfast when you can expect pancakes, eggs, or cereal. Almost all dietary concerns can be accommodated, but please alert us of any relevant restrictions beforehand just to make sure. Vegetarians are welcome!
You will be drinking only bottled water on this trip, and bringing a reusable water bottle is highly recommended. Bottled water is safe and readily available in Thailand.
Safety is a top priority, and all of our programs have staff certified with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or lifeguards.
Australians travelling to Thailand on an Australian passport do not require a visa. A tourist visa will be granted upon arrival into Thailand. Please note that non-Australian passport holders may need visas for entry into their selected destination(s). Please contact us for details or check with the appropriate consulate or embassy.
Participants will not be accompanied by a flight leader. Our program staff will greet participants when they arrive at Chiang Mai Airport in Thailand.
Chiang Mai is 12 hours by air from Brisbane, 13 hours by air from Melbourne, and 10 hours by air from Perth.
The start date listed is when you need to be in Thailand and the departure date listed is the date you will depart Thailand.
Participants need to arrive in the afternoon/evening on the arrival date and need to depart in the afternoon/evening on the departure date.
The Rustic Pathways Children’s Home is located in Mae Sariang in northwest Thailand. The trip begins and ends in Chiang Mai, with students traveling by VIP vans to and from the RPCH.
Please visit HX Global or Smart Traveller for an up to date report on current situations regarding visiting Thailand. Staff will alert participants if any changes to safety occur within the country.
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 following websites for country specific information around immunizations and traveller’s health. Please let us know if you have specific questions.
www.traveldoctor.com.au – The Travel Doctor
www.smartraveller.gov.au – Australian Government Travel Advice
www.cdc.gov – Centre of Disease Control (US)
HX Global is one of the world’s leading providers of medical evacuation and travel services. All participants traveling with Rustic Pathways will have access to HX Global benefits through Rustic Pathways’ membership.
As a member you will have access to HX Global’s extensive travel information database to help you make informed decisions prior to travel. Additionally, all travellers who travel outside their country of residence will have access to medical evacuation support during their program.
Mae Sariang has a hospital with reliable medical care that caters to hundreds of Westerners every year. For the short time we will be in more rural areas, our staff will have a clear plan and route to the nearest healthcare facility in case of emergency.
Personal gifts, Internet, phone calls, and snacks are not included. All other costs (accommodation, meals, in-country transportation, and activities) are included in the program price.
There is no greener green in the world than the rice paddies of Mae Sariang. Don’t believe us? See them in person!
Rustic Pathways Travel Pty Ltd
ACN 145 984 452 ABN 82 145 984 452
Vic Travel Agent's License No. TA-0032954-C
1800 321 435 (within Australia)
+61 3 5972 0862 (outside Australia)
+61 3 8738 1553 (fax)
PO Box 3453
Mornington VIC 3931, Australia